In 1969 Sophie Mol wakes up and thinks about Joe. She and Margaret Kochamma are staying in Chacko’s room, and Sophie looks around at the broken airplanes, thinking that her mother was the only one to escape and fly away. She sees a picture of her mother and Chacko on their wedding day.
Sophie Mol finally gets her own voice, as she becomes more of a real character and less of the ideal of which Rahel is jealous . The tragedy is that Sophie doesn’t consider the Ipes her family at all, as she doesn’t think of Chacko as her father.
The narrator explains Chacko and Margaret Kochamma’s relationship. Margaret was working as a waitress in London when Chacko came to her café one day. He was slim then and looked like a disheveled intellectual. He told Margaret a joke as she served him, and then he started coming back to the café to see her. They began to date, and Margaret felt her “horizons expanding,” and she confused her growing self-acceptance with love for Chacko.
Chacko, like the other Ipes, is an Anglophile, so he both loved Margaret and was proud to be dating a white woman. This is one of the healthier relationships in the book (as there is no violence at least), but Margaret Kochamma confuses her self-love with love for Chacko, while his devotion to her is full and intense.
Chacko loved Margaret’s English self-sufficiency. He rarely spoke about his home to her, as it seemed so small and unreal, and even on his visit where he stopped Pappachi from beating Mammachi he was still in a “trance” of love. He and Margaret got married against Margaret’s family’s consent, and Chacko didn’t even tell his family.
What meant the world to Mammachi was just a passing exchange for Chacko, who is trying to escape Ayemenem both emotionally and intellectually. We see a small glimpse of English racism in the fact that Margaret’s family disapproves of Chacko.
They soon had financial troubles and Chacko got very fat, and Margaret’s parents wouldn’t speak to her. Then she met Joe, who was the opposite of Chacko. Chacko finally wrote to Mammachi about his marriage and asked her for money. After Sophie was born, Margaret asked Chacko for a divorce. The brokenhearted Chacko returned to India and started teaching at a college.
Chacko does not seem to reciprocate Mammachi’s desperate affection, as he only tells her about his marriage to ask for financial help. Margaret’s parents are insistent in their disapproval of Chacko because he is Indian, just as Mammachi disapproves of Margaret for her class.
When Pappachi died, Chacko moved back to Ayemenem to become a “pickle baron.” He purposefully seemed to cultivate his sloth and bad habits just because he knew Mammachi adored him despite everything. Margaret Kochamma would write him about Joe and Sophie Mol. She still thought of Chacko as an “extraordinary man,” so she didn’t realize how much she had hurt him.
Despite his Marxist intellectual ideas, Chacko still hoped to profit off of his family’s high class and his mother’s relentless doting. Margaret, meanwhile, seems to have found a better relationship with Joe. Despite all his privilege and support, Chacko is basically a case of potential being squandered.
Margaret Kochamma was working as a teacher when Joe died in an accident, and she dealt with her grief by sticking to a strict routine for herself and Sophie Mol. She relented when Chacko invited her to Ayemenem for the holidays, however. The narrator then jumps ahead, saying that Margaret Kochamma never forgave herself for taking Sophie to India. She and Chacko had been buying plane tickets in Cochin, and when they returned to Ayemenem she saw Sophie Mol’s drowned, fish-nibbled body laid out in the drawing room.
Margaret Kochamma is not explored deeply as a character, but she experiences just as much tragedy as anyone in the novel and has her own familial relations and obligations. Once again Roy shifts the narrative so that it spirals inward on the climactic moments of the story, returning to images like Sophie’s body without explaining the circumstances of her death yet.
The morning of Sophie Mol’s death all three of the children had been missing for breakfast, Ammu was locked in her bedroom, and the river was swollen with a recent rain. Mammachi and Baby Kochamma got news that a fisherman had found Sophie Mol’s body, and then Ammu remembered what she had yelled through the door in her blind rage: she had called the twins “millstones around her neck” and told them to leave her alone.
Just as Rahel’s careless words cause her to fear Ammu loves her less, so Ammu’s angry words partially set the events of the “Terror” in motion. Past events come together, mostly Estha and Rahel’s fear of being unwanted by Ammu, and the hideout they have created at the History House to escape the Orangedrink Man.
The previous afternoon Kochu Maria is cleaning a fish when Vellya Paapen shows up outside, drunk and crying in the heavy rain. Kochu Maria gets Mammachi, and Vellya Paapen begins listing all the great things Mammachi’s family had done for his family. Then “the Terror” takes over and he tells Mammachi what he has seen – Velutha and Ammu are lovers, and they take a little boat across the river every night to Kari Saipu’s house. He says others have seen too, and the whole village knows by now.
The two tragic events that become linked by circumstance are Sophie Mol’s accidental death and Velutha’s purposeful one. Vellya Paapen is the ultimate example of familial love doing battle with social obligation. He loves his son dearly, but he also has all the shame and sense of duty of an Untouchable, and he feels he owes the Ipes and society for anything good he has.
Mammachi is filled with rage and she screams at Vellya Paapen and shoves him away from her, forgetting his Untouchability. Baby Kochamma hears the commotion and appears, and Kochu Maria tells her the story. Baby Kochamma immediately “blooms,” seeing all this as righteous punishment for Ammu, the twins, and Velutha. Baby Kochamma tells Mammachi they must send Velutha away before the family is ruined.
Mammachi too breaks the social taboo by touching Vellya Paapen, though for her the emotions pushing her across the caste divide are anger and hate, not love. Baby Kochamma suddenly becomes a more important character, as her petty, jealous hand guides the Terror along. Self-centered as always, she sees herself as a martyr, and feels no guilt for her actions.
Baby Kochamma makes a little comment to Mammachi about the smell of Paravans, and at that Mammachi’s rage “unspooled.” She imagines her daughter and an Untouchable together and the shame Ammu has brought on the family forever. She, Baby Kochamma, and Kochu Maria trick Ammu into her bedroom and lock her inside, and then they send for Velutha, planning to get him to leave before Chacko returns from Chochin. But by then Sophie Mol’s body has been found.
Again it is a single small phrase that sets huge events in motion. In reality such divides as caste are meaningless and are even abolished by the Indian government, but in Mammachi’s mind and the small, traditional community of Ayemenem these roles are everything. Mammachi automatically chooses her social duty over any kind of loyalty to Ammu.
The narrator describes the fisherman finding the body of a white child that morning, and realizing that one can never underestimate the Meenachal river. Afterward Baby Kochamma goes to the police station, where she tells Inspector Thomas Mathew that Velutha came to the house and tried to rape Ammu the night before. She says the disappearance of the children and Sophie Mol’s death must be his fault as well. She goes into the details and her imagination takes over, and Mathew believes her story. He is very helpful and only worried when she says Velutha might be a Naxalite.
In this first lie Baby Kochamma basically sacrifices Velutha to preserve the Ipe family honor. She assumes that Ammu will also be deathly ashamed of the taboo relationship, so Baby Kochamma just tries to “simplify things” and spare the family any more humiliation. The juxtaposition of this traditional mindset with the threat of Velutha’s Naxalite ties shows how the Ipes are totally self-absorbed, unaware of the revolutionary things happening beyond Ayemenem.
Inspector Thomas Mathew comforts the “weeping” Baby Kochamma and promises to catch Velutha soon. After she leaves he sends for Comrade Pillai to make sure that Velutha doesn’t have any important political connections. The narrator describes both men as “terrifyingly adult,” the kind of people who control the machine of the world. Pillai says Velutha is on his own, and he doesn’t tell Mathew that Velutha had showed up at his house last night.
Both Pillai and Mathew use Velutha like a chess piece in their political game instead of like a human. Mathew wants to punish Velutha to send a message that the divide between Touchables and Untouchables is not to be crossed, and to preserve the status quo. Pillai could support Velutha as a Party member, but instead he betrays him for being an Untouchable.
When Baby Kochamma returns to the house Chacko and Margaret Kochamma have gotten back from Chochin. Margaret sees Sophie Mol’s body laid out on the chaise lounge and she goes insane with grief. She only vaguely remembers the following days: Chacko’s presence, the funeral, and Ammu’s eviction from the house.
Margaret Kochamma experiences her own horrible tragedies, but she is exempt from the political and social forces that destroy the rest of the family.
Margaret Kochamma comes to irrationally hate Estha and Rahel for surviving, and in her grief she connects Estha with Sophie Mol’s death – which is unknowingly prescient, considering it was Estha’s idea to run away and he who rowed the boat. In her trauma she finds Estha a few times and slaps him. It is only after she returns to England that she sends a letter apologizing for her behavior, but by then Estha has been sent away to Baba. And Margaret never knew anything at all about what happened to Velutha, “the God of Small Things.”
In her grief Margaret Kochamma blames the twins, which only adds to the guilt they already feel – mostly built up by Baby Kochamma, as we will see. Roy puts everything in perspective here. Margaret runs from the trauma of her daughter’s death and eventually gains some level of insight, but the twins can’t escape as Margaret does, and they must face what she never has to: what happened to Velutha.
The narrator then jumps back to two weeks before, as Sophie Mol wakes up and digs through Margaret Kochamma’s bags – Margaret has packed everything, just in case, for her trip to “the Heart of Darkness.” Sophie finds her presents for her cousins and goes out to “negotiate a friendship.” Unfortunately it would be a brief friendship, and the “Loss of Sophie Mol” would live much longer than Sophie Mol herself.
Sophie Mol only begins to exist as a character in the novel just before she dies. Roy seems to point out this brief characterization by bringing up the “Loss of Sophie Mol” again, which to the twins is a more important, potent thing than Sophie Mol herself was. The ideas and memories of people and events can be become more important or powerful than the people themselves.