The God of Small Things

Pappachi’s Moth Symbol Icon
The actual moth was an insect that Pappachi discovered while he was Imperial Entomologist, and he believed it to be a new species. Later in his life, other lepidopterists decided that the moth actually was a new species, but they didn’t name it after Pappachi and he considers this the greatest failure of his life. The narrator muses that this moth has haunted the family ever since, beginning with Pappachi’s bursts of rage and domestic abuse. In the present day of the novel, Pappachi’s moth becomes an eerie symbol of fear and unhappiness, particularly for Rahel. When something bad happens she feels the moth with “unusually dense dorsal tufts” land on her heart, and when she feels safer or more loved the moth lets go for a while.

Pappachi’s Moth Quotes in The God of Small Things

The The God of Small Things quotes below all refer to the symbol of Pappachi’s Moth. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family and Social Obligation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of The God of Small Things published in 1998.
Chapter 4 Quotes

“D’you know what happens when you hurt people?” Ammu said. “When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.”

A cold moth with unusually dense dorsal tufts landed lightly on Rahel’s heart. Where its icy legs touched her, she got goosebumps. Six goosebumps on her careless heart.
A little less her Ammu loved her.

Related Characters: Ammu (speaker), Rahel Ipe
Related Symbols: Pappachi’s Moth
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 16 Quotes

“Sophie Mol?” she whispered to the rushing river. “We’re here! Here! Near the illimba tree!”
Nothing.
On Rahel’s heart Pappachi’s moth snapped open its somber wings…
There was no storm-music. No whirlpool spun up from the inky depths of the Meenachal. No shark supervised the tragedy.
Just a quiet handing-over ceremony. A boat spilling its cargo. A river accepting the offering. One small life. A brief sunbeam. With a silver thimble clenched for luck in its little fist.

Related Characters: Rahel Ipe (speaker), Rahel Ipe, Sophie Mol
Related Symbols: Pappachi’s Moth
Explanation and Analysis:

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Pappachi’s Moth Symbol Timeline in The God of Small Things

The timeline below shows where the symbol Pappachi’s Moth appears in The God of Small Things. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Pappachi’s Moth
Family and Social Obligation Theme Icon
Indian Politics, Society, and Class Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Change vs. Preservation Theme Icon
Small Things Theme Icon
Earlier in life Pappachi had worked as an “Imperial Entomologist,” and once he discovered a moth he believed was a new species. He was not believed about this until years later,... (full context)
Chapter 4: Abhilash Talkies
Family and Social Obligation Theme Icon
Indian Politics, Society, and Class Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Small Things Theme Icon
...Rahel that when you hurt someone, they love you a little less. Rahel feels Pappachi’s moth land on her heart, and she is terrified that Ammu now loves her less. (full context)
Chapter 6: Cochin Kangaroos
Family and Social Obligation Theme Icon
Change vs. Preservation Theme Icon
...a curtain and won’t come out, as she is afraid of Ammu’s anger and the moth on her own heart. (full context)
Chapter 7: Wisdom Exercise Notebooks
Family and Social Obligation Theme Icon
Change vs. Preservation Theme Icon
Small Things Theme Icon
In 1993 Rahel looks through Pappachi’s study, where mounted moths and butterflies have disintegrated into dust. Rahel reaches into her old hiding place behind a... (full context)
Chapter 16: A Few Hours Later
Small Things Theme Icon
...swim to shore and grab a low-hanging tree, but Sophie Mol disappears. Rahel feels Pappachi’s moth land on her heart as she realizes Sophie is probably drowned. (full context)