Roy’s first and perhaps only novel is an ambitious, imaginatively structured narrative that casts a spell on its readers. The God of Small Things is stunning and complex, making it easy for readers to assume that its author is a seasoned writer, well versed and experienced, who expertly employs, at will, a number of literary styles, tropes, and rhetorical devices. The God of Small Things seems infinitely far from the work of a debut novelist. Yet Roy has offered many disclaimers in the interviews she has given to the media which fail to account for her unique writing style: “‘I don’t read,’ she insists, ‘so I don't know what my literary influences are; I don’t know the rules of writing so I can’t say I’ve broken them; I don’t ever rewrite because writing for me is like breathing how can you rebreathe a breath?’” (Ritu ¶2). Roy’s statement seems hard to believe, especially for those familiar with Rushdie’s work who may recognize similarities between the two authors. But these semblances may be the result of a vibrant and influential Indian culture, imparting upon these authors a preternatural ability to use symbolism, metaphor and a variety of other literary tropes. Roy masterfully employs a number of such tropes in The God of Small Things; among significant examples is the concept of “spatial poetics,” another, her vivid use of color.
Before concentrating on spatial poetics and the use of color within The God of Small Things, it is worth taking a look at a sampling of Roy’s more obvious use of tropes along with some of the commentary surrounding them. Frumkes, in an interview with the author, adds something to the discussion of Roy’s writing style. In the interview, Roy explains that she speaks three languages, Hindi, Malayalam and English, yet she chose to write The God of Small Things in English. Citing the fact that more people speak English in India than in England, Roy insisted that the book be published in India before anywhere else, and that it be published in English. Frumke also asks Roy about her musical use of language, to which Roy responds “Because Indians tend to speak more than one language . . .I think that sort of revitalizes the language that I write in. I try to make my language do what I want it to do; I don’t like to do what the language wants me to do” (24). This unusual position helps to explain Roy’s unconventional use of language; she bends the rules of grammatically correct English in order to use language to “do what she wants it to do.” Her manipulation of the language is successful and adds to the vibrancy of the text. A bit of Roy’s philosophy is also elicited in the interview when she explains, “The book . . . isn’t really about India or about Kerala. It’s a book about how, over the years, human society continues to behave in very similar ways, even though the details may be different” (23). This statement is certainly plausible, as much of the novel’s plot could be duplicated in virtually any culture, and, as evidenced by Roy’s knowledge of multiple languages, the rhetorical devices she employs transcend any one language.
In Curb’s review of The God of Small Things, he states, “Every character has a story, but the reader must be patient: the fabric of their interconnected lives is revealed piecemeal. And, to mix metaphors further, the technique of the revelations is kaleidoscopic, with the same events and flashes of personality occurring again and again, but in ever-changing contexts” (83-84). Curb is alluding to Roy’s nonlinear mode of telling this story; another tool in her repertoire which augments her unusual writing style. Curb adds: “This kind of dexterity, when it succeeds--and it succeeds here ravishingly--makes for a real narrative virtuosity. But even more remarkable is Roy’s mercurial use of language” (84). Curb expands on this, noting Roy’s fluency in three languages as he asserts, “She snatches evocative words and phrases from everywhere, using Malayalain, Hindi, Anglican hymns, nursery rhymes, Oscar Hammerstein lyrics (songs from The Sound of Music are an incongruous leitmotif), and advertising jingles (‘Things go better with Coke’) in a mix of contexts” (84). What is amazing is that Roy is able to combine these seemingly disparate uses of language into a cogent and alluring narrative. Roy’s mercurial use of language may be feverish and at times puzzling, but as the story progresses the nuanced use of language melds with the flow of the narrative and becomes one of its most important components.
Curb goes on the say, “Roy even has her own brand of Homeric epithets, which, depending on placement, can be either funny or poignant” (84). Curb invokes Sophie Mol, citing how she is called “thimble-drinker” because she likes to drink from Mammachi’s thimble. Sophie Mol is also “coffin-cartwheeler” because Rahel imagines her springing acrobatically out of her casket. Rahel’s seven year old brother Estha has a puff of hair that reminds Rahel of Elvis Presley, so throughout the story he is “Elvis Pelvis” (84). In his review Curb posits “Even Rahel is symbolized by the kind of knotted band that holds her hair in place, called a ‘Love-in-Tokyo’, and once we understand how loveless her life turns out to be, this oft-repeated phrase elicits a heavy pang of pathos” (84). Roy’s personification of these characters through the use of symbolic and metaphorical names proves to add depth, and as Curb mentions, a certain pathos to the characters. These sobriquets are scattered throughout the pages of The God of Small Things; unpredictably located, supplementing Roy’s spontaneity of style.
Friedman introduces the first of the two literary tropes which help to define Roy’s eccentric writing style: spatial poetics, or in the case with this first of Friedman’s articles, spatial trajectories. In an article which focuses primarily on the gender and caste relations in the context of postcolonialism within the novel, Friedman offers a brief synopsis of the plot in linear and chronological terms. After her retelling of the story Friedman adds, “The story I have just told takes the fragments of events we actually read and puts them in chronological sequence, precisely the form of ordering which the novel itself refuses to provide in its insistence on spatial trajectories” (119). Friedman discusses the notion that in The God of Small Things, rather than history containing space, different spaces in the novel contain history. She claims the novel moves associatively in and out of these spaces, rather than sequentially in linear time. Essentially, the reader is told most of the story and the major components of the plot in the first chapters, but the details are elusive and incongruous, inviting a close reading and perhaps even requiring a rereading. The spaces Roy creates are essential to the story as they not only frame action but, indeed, create much of it.
Friedman claims, “Each of these spaces contains multiple borders of desirous and murderous connection and separation, borders that are continually erected and transgressed in movements that constitute the kinetic drive of the plot” (119). In her article Friedman suggests mapping these spaces as sites of repeated border crossings provides an alternative way of reading the novel. A way, in her words, which is “more in tune with its unfolding than the sequential narrative I reconstructed” (119). At this juncture Friedman offers a fascinating opinion which helps to explain Roy’s writing style. She suggests this intentional nonlinear format is a reflection of Roy’s profession as an architect, where each space is architecturally embodied. Friedman goes on to explain how buildings function as tropes in the novel, and are more than just settings or backgrounds for human action (119). Instead, Friedman claims, “They are locations that concretize the forces of history. They are places that palimpsestically inscribe the social order as it changes over time. Containing history, they constitute the identities of the people who move through them” (Friedman 120). Some of these places figure into the novel more prominently and dramatically than others—the Meenachal River serves as both border and place, and is the one space that drives the story more than any other.
Friedman elaborates on this example by explaining its spatial significance. The Meenachal River runs through the middle of two dominant buildings and, according to Friedman is a figural representation of the dangers and allure of fluidity. The river in the spatial representation of transition and transgression, since the Meenachal gets crossed and re-crossed on the days leading up to the day of everyone’s doom; the day that changes life forever. On one side of the river lies Ayemenem House, the ancestral site of the Ipe family and their Paradise Pickles and Preserves Factory. Here, Friedman notes, the intercultural boundary crossing of East and West descends through the generations, beginning with the legacy of the Syrian Christians who shared a belief that they were descendants of the one hundred Brahmins whom St. Thomas the Apostle converted to Christianity when he travelled East after Christ’s Resurrection (64). Friedman sets up the house’s significance as a plot driving force by pointing out important events that transpired there. The Ayemenem House is where Pappachi had practiced his fascination with science, discovering the moth species for which another got the undeserved credit. The house is also the location where his sister Baby Kochamma lives out her life; soured first by her failed romance with the Irish priest, she continues to waste away and by 1992 Baby Kochamma is subsisting entirely on daily rounds of television shows from America. The house is the locale where the nearly blind Mammachi plays the Nutcracker on her violin to greet her granddaughter Sophie Mol on her first visit from Britain. Ayemenem House is where Chacko resides when he returns from Oxford after his brief marriage and it is where he introduces Western marketing methods to the successful factory his mother had begun; methods which eventually destroy the business. Friedman says of the Ayemenem House, “Here, the journey of his ex-wife Margaret and daughter Sophie Mol becomes a ‘passage to India’ that uncannily echoes, undoes and redoes E.M. Forster’s novel with a vengeance” (64). On the other side of the river stands the History House, an equally important space which Friedman elaborates on in the next article. Before she makes the comparisons between the two houses and further explains their importance with regard to spatial poetics, Friedman examines the predominant critical thought and stresses the need for more critics to consider place as just an important factor as time in narrative theory.
Friedman expands on her concept of spatial poetics in another essay devoted solely to this topic. The article begins with a discussion in which Friedman examines the concepts of space and time, and then offers some opposing theoretical views, quoting Foucault, Bakhtin and others. Friedman frames her argument by sharing one of Foucault’s observations: “The great obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know, history. . . . The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space” (192). Friedman also paraphrases an argument Edward Soja made that calls for a compensatory emphasis on spatiality to counteract the emphasis on temporal modes of thought. Citing the success of Soja’s call for such emphasis, Friedman asserts, “there’s been a sea change in cultural theory, a veritable flood of spatial discourses proliferating across the disciplines in the 1990s, as an effect (I believe) of the intensified form of globalization in the late twentieth century” (192). Although theory has begun to afford space more importance, Friedman stresses that narrative theory still largely privileges narrative time over narrative space.
In spite of Bakhtin’s insistence in the 1920s and 1930s on topos as a constituent of narrative along with chronos, prominent narrative theorists including Ricoer, Genette, and Brooks mute or even delete considerations of space in their analysis of narrative (Friedman 192). Friedman adds: “Space in narrative poetics is often present as the ‘description’ that interrupts the flow of temporality or as the ‘setting’ that functions as static background for the plot” (192). In her article, Friedman explores some alternative views on time and space, and then tests what she terms a “revisionist emphasis on space in narrative poetics” with a reading of Roy’s The God of Small Things. Before applying her theory on Roy’s novel, Friedman supplements her argument by stating, “Space restored to its full partnership with time as a generative force for narrative allows for reading strategies focused on the dialogic interplay of space and time as mediating co-constituents of human thought and experience” (195). Space and time certainly do occupy a major role in Roy’s novel, as her spaces are visited and constantly revisited at different times, creating the “dialogic interplay” Friedman describes.
Friedman applies her ideas to The God of Small Things, asserting “the novel’s narrative discourse privileges space over time, tropes locations as ‘figures’ on the ‘ground’ of time, and thus illustrates more than many narratives the compensatory emphasis on space” (197). One such location with resounding narrative power is the Akkara house or, as troped by the twins and the narrator, the “History House.” More than all the other buildings, the History House is the place that serves as an active force that gives rise to the story (201). The house belonged to the “The Black Sahib. The Englishmen who has ‘gone native.’ Who spoke Malayalam and wore mundus. Ayemenem’s own Kurtz. Ayemenem his private Heart of Darkness” (Roy 51). The History House has had a long and malignant history. The house, now empty, is a symbol of India’s colonial and postcolonial past, and lies on the other side of the fated Meenachal River—opposite the Ayemenem House. The mention of Kurtz and The Heart of Darkness is a powerful allegory which helps to provide the History House with its sinister aura and foreshadows its later role in the story.
In an ironic but fitting twist Rahel returns to the History House in 1992—the site of Velutha’s brutal beating—to find it transformed into the modern Heritage Hotel. The History House, “where caste laws had polluted her life ever after” has been reborn “through an infusion of multinational millions into a playground of the past” (202). Friedman points out that the role of the History House and Ayemenem House have been reversed: while the Ayemenem House decays on the other side of the river, the History House “morphs into a postmodern space, burying in its playful façade the sedimented layers of desire and trauma that characterized the erection and dissolution of colonial, postcolonial, caste, and sexual boundaries” (202). Just as the flesh and blood characters have morphed over time, so has this spatial “character.” The irony lies in the idea that nearly all of the characters’ lives have degraded, while on the other side of the river the once foreboding History House has been transformed into a tangible representation of modern “progress.”
Friedman concludes her article by asserting: “Roy tells her story through buildings, through spatial entities that heterotropically draw within their walls the geopolitical and domestic structures that have taken shape through time” (205). She reiterates the narrative’s structural reliance on buildings to move the narrative forward and how this gives a compensatory emphasis to space over time as constitutive of narrative discourse; an emphasis she insists needs to be acknowledged. She ends by noting, “The God of Small Things narrativizes story as a spatial practice, one that doesn’t erase time, but rather constitutes space as the container of history and the generator of story” (205). Space that contains time is what defines spatial poetics. The question now is to ascertain whether Roy consciously wrote the novel with an emphasis on the spaces in mind, or if the spatial poetics that were created were simply the result of her creative writing style. There is little doubt the action in Roy’s novel is driven by these places, and as the story unfolds these places take on personalities—personalities that change, just as with their human counterparts.
The idea of spatial poetics as an example of Roy’s unusual writing style is not overtly obvious; in fact for some both the term and the definition are new. But Roy uses another trope which is much more discernable, and one to which many readers can relate. Roy uses a number of rhetorical devices and literary tropes in the novel, but one of the most striking is her use of color. In her essay Sadaf discusses Roy’s use of color and claims color-codes are a “connecting mesh” within the novel, giving The God of Small Things direction and coherence. Sadaf claims that colors are “used as a suggestive device to help invoke the required feelings in the readers” (73). Whether the required feelings are those deemed important by Sadaf, or those she infers to be Roy’s formulated/required feelings is an idea that is up for debate. More importantly, however, is the additional symbolic and metaphorical dimension Roy’s intentional use of color brings to the novel. The use of color-coding in The God of Small Things is a carefully and creatively constructed rhetorical device which adds to the intense visual and sensory appeal of the story. Although Roy ingeniously uses color to evoke an emotional response in The God of Small Things, the prominence of color and its psychological effect is not a new phenomenon.
Sadaf relays that the importance of color and the perception of color in philosophical studies can be traced as far back as Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In his essay Locke theorizes that the perception of color by each individual may be a subjective experience. Inversely, and perhaps antipodal to Locke’s observation is research that claims “colored light can powerfully affect the human condition” (Sadaf 73). Stated differently, color can be used intentionally for manipulative purposes. These two ideas are at odds: subjectivism in color theory means that the hues we attribute to physical objects’ color are mental qualitative properties of visual states themselves. Our personal experiences color the objects around us. Sadaf asserts “the strategic use of primary colors in The God of Small Things reflects a color subjectivism that is hard to ignore” (73). Through Roy’s narrator, the reader experiences colors as a personal emotional response which can be connected to various characters in the novel. Sadaf again offers a seemingly opposing view by relaying common analogical characterizations submitted by Hardin in his book Colour for Philosophers: Hardin posits that in the most common characterizations red and yellow are labeled as “advancing” or “warm”. Blue and green are seen as “receding” or “cool” colors, in kinetic and thermal terms respectively (74). Sadaf, in an attempt to reconcile and combine the two oppositional ideas claims that these colors propel The God of Small Things, where four colors control the narrative: red, blue, yellow and green (74). But these are not the only colors that punctuate the novel; many other colors Sadif does not address also figure into The God of Small Things in ways that may be processed in a strictly subjective manner, independent of accepted characterizations. If a reader is not conscious of the common characterizations Hardin poses, then, essentially, the reader may process Roy’s use of colors in a “pristine” subjective manner. This concept poses an interesting idea in that a reader may experience these colors in a way that is unadulterated, based on their personal experiences, not the fusing of Hardin’s model with the subjective experience Sadaf suggests. Even in the first paragraph other colors and ‘quasi’ colors are introduced, with the counter intuitive statement “Red bananas ripen” tossed in to upset our preconceived notions of which colors should go with which things—bananas are typically green, ripening to yellow, not red. Black crows are juxtaposed next to bright mangoes, and flies die as they crash into clear windowpanes (Roy 3). However, Sadaf presents evidence that red, blue, yellow and green drive the narrative, and she makes interesting and compelling connections among these colors.
In the 321-page novel, the word red appears 113 times; blue 96 times; yellow 72 times; and green 59 times (Sadaf 74). She adds, “Mostly adjectival, these colored word-pills do more than augment the nouns they represent; they set the mood for the surrounding vocabulary” (74). She claims these colors “jostle for control over the page, at times appearing alone in overwhelming clusters in the same paragraph. Elsewhere all four colors are crammed competitively together in the same sentence” (74). This statement combined with a close reading of The God of Small Things have the ability to invoke a sense of physical or spatial importance with respect to how the colors are located on the page, but Sadaf does not directly comment on or attempt to acknowledge this. The “geographical” location of colors on the tangible page adds another dimension to the trope of color-coding, raising the question of whether Roy intended to use colors for more than their ability to invoke a subjective emotional response. The colors could be used as a quantitative way of adding “weight” to certain passages. Again, Sadif does not comment on this notion and it may just be one reader’s subjective response, but it arises because of Roy’s complex use of other rhetorical devices. The reader, especially a close reader with some knowledge of literary devices, is, and should be receptive to Roy’s nuanced use of these tropes while cognizant of her ability to bend literary rules as she uses words in unconventional ways. But the numbers speak for themselves, and Sadaf employs Hardin’s common characterizations of color to account for and connect many of the hundreds of instances color is placed in the novel.
Of the four colors, red and blue are considered the warring parties. The main characters are associated with a color loyalty, as are the silent yet powerful inanimate objects in the novel. Pappachi, Baby Kochamma and Margaret Kochamma are the main representatives of the old social order that is under the threat of losing its grip on the local community. Everything about them is blue, symbolized by the “skyblue Plymouth” which sits rotting outside the Ayemenem House (the rotting car itself a powerful metaphor). Ammu, Rahel, Estha, Velutha, and Comrade Pillai represent rebellion and change, with “red flags” (Roy 64; 65; 71; 79; 80; 81; 205) as their predominant insignia (Sadif 74). Interestingly, Sadif initially leaves Chacko out of this list, perhaps because he takes a much more pragmatic approach to the policies these two colors symbolize. The “red flags” Sadaf alludes to are metaphors for what each of these characters represents, and it is worth looking at the page numbers she includes from The God of Small Things to make the connection between these warring colors; red and blue.
On page 64 the reader learns of the changing political situation in Kerala. The old social structure, symbolized by the skyblue Plymouth and Pappachi, Baby Kochamma and Margaret Kochamma is at war with the “red” social policies of Communism. Roy introduces the conflict: “in Kerala the Syrian Christians were, by and large, the wealthy, estate-owning (pickle-factory-running), feudal lords, for whom communism represented a fate worse than death” (64). The war between these two social policies was not a battle fought in a single explosive instance, rather “communism crept into Kerala insidiously. As a reformist movement that never really overtly questioned the traditional values of a caste-ridden, extremely traditional community” (64). Shortly after Chacko is discussed and the reader gets an early sense of his pragmatic tendencies when it comes to choosing between the two sides; a choice which becomes even more nebulous as he grows older. The narrator admits, “Though Chako was not a card-holding member of the Party, he had been converted early and had remained, through all its travails, a committed supporter” (64). The conflict between what these two colors represent is directly shown on the next page: “Every morning at breakfast the Imperial Entomologist derided his argumentative Marxist son by reading out newspaper reports of the riots, strikes and incidents of police brutality that convulsed Kerala” (65). “Imperial” and “Marxist” used in the same sentence adds a dramatic aura of opposition, yet we see that these two opposing forces are living under the same roof.
Pappachi and his old social order are revisited on page 71. Here, Pappachi is characterized as a man who “would not allow Paravans into the house. Nobody would. They were not allowed to touch anything that Touchables touched” (Roy 71). Mammachi’s sentiment is also revealed in this passage through a discussion she has with Estha and Rahel; a passage which juxtaposes the two colors without ever mentioning them directly—Estha and Rahel representing red to Mammachi’s old order blue. Mammachi tells the twins that she could remember a time when Paravans (like Velutha, their father-figure) were expected to crawl backwards with a broom in order to sweep away their defiling footprints (71). Mammachi adds, “They had to put their hands over their mouths when they spoke, to divert their polluted breath away from those whom they addressed” (71). Mammachi relays this as a story from her childhood, but the novel later reveals that she still holds this sentiment closely, thus showing that the war between red and blue is constantly being waged; and it is a war with casualties very close to home.
Shortly after Mammachi’s discussion with the twins, the story returns to the trip the family is taking to the Abhilash Talkies theatre. While in route the narrator reveals the workings of Rahel’s mind: “The sun shone through the Plymouth window directly down at Rahel. She closed her eyes and shone back at it. Even behind her eyelids the light was bright and hot” (79). The Plymouth is invoked in this sequence, although its color is never mentioned. If the Plymouth represents the old order or “blue” power, then the “bright and hot” light Rahel sees behind her eyelids may very well be red—but Roy does not mention either color, perhaps intentionally. Rahel then opens her eyes to see an orange sun and a “transparent Roman soldier on a spotted horse” (79). Roy has introduced a panoply of colors and non-colors in this paragraph which can be interpreted in any number of ways. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the ominous foreshadowing Ammu creates with Rahel’s recollection of her mother’s story regarding Brutus’ betrayal of Ceasar: “’It just goes to show,’ Ammu said, ‘that you can’t trust anybody. Mother, father, brother, husband, bestfriend. Nobody’” (79). The tragic reality of this foreshadowing unfolds after Baby Kochamma betrays Velutha. Velutha, the man who once held the red flag, is beaten to death by the police, representatives of the “blue” faction.
What could only be several minutes after the recollection of Ammu’s words regarding Caesar and Brutus, an argument erupts within the car as it draws closer to the Abhilash Talkies theatre. Rahel reacts by putting on her sunglasses and “The World became angry-colored” (81). Again, Roy does not explicitly say the sunglasses have red lenses. In all but the last of the pages (64; 65; 71; 79; 80; 81; 205) Sadaf offers as examples of the conflict between red and blue, the actual names of the colors are never mentioned. “Red” or “blue” never shows up; readers can infer or deduce the colors based on what is presented in other passages. It seems as if the absence of the color labels in these passages only reinforces their importance and power, perhaps as a reaction to red and blue’s pervasive nature throughout the novel. The color blue is only mentioned in Sadaf’s final example during Ammu’s dream sequence when she leaves trails of gooseflesh on his body “like jet streaks in a church-blue sky,” on a beach that was “littered with broken blue-glass bottles” (205-06). The use of blue in this context is esoteric, and at the very least, ambiguous. As in all Ammu’s dream sequences, color plays a significant role, but the meaning of these colors is not as clear—almost as if dreaming negates the war between the opposing colors.
Sadif surmises that other characters are “constantly being pulled from one color zone into the other: Mammachi’s ‘mounds of red chillies’ for pickle-making show the first sparks of a rebellion against Pappachi’s ‘skyblue’ rule” (74). In this context Sadaf includes Chacko, who otherwise appears lazily neutral but establishes a preference when he changes the color of Paradise Pickles & Preserves labels from green to distinct shades of blue shortly after the arrival of Margaret Kochamma in the Ayemenem House ‘with her blue dress and legs underneath’ (Roy 270)” (74). Sadif claims from the beginning readers are struck by the “skyblue Plymouth” with its chrome tailfins. The fact that the reader is informed about the car’s history reveals its importance as color-code. Readers are told that Pappachi bought it from an Englishman, adding to its ‘blue’ characterization and significance. “For all the blue in the narrative,” Sadaf asserts, “the novel does offer some consolation and a hope for changing tides” (78). She suggests that as Baby Kochamma ages into a comic figure, so does the old order of things, “including the symbolic Plymouth which rusts, and, with every successive monsoon, ‘settled more firmly into the ground … grass grew around its flat tires [and] the Paradise Pickles & Preserves signboard rotted and fell inwards like a collapsed crown’ (Roy 295)” (78). Sadaf construes with the skyblue Plymouth withering outside the Ayemenem house, and with the soap inside the house “crumbling bright blue”, the last remains of blue crumble away; by contrast red becomes more pervasive (78). The old order starts to crumble as a new order, symbolized by red, begins to take over.
In the novel, red appears not only as a color signifying rebellion, but also as an omen of bad consequences. Sadaf invokes “Hardy’s symbolic red ribbons, strawberries and blood in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, all of which foreshadow the misfortunes that befall the central character” (78). Sadaf claims that if red in Tess is a symbol of Tess’s final sacrifice at the altar of the gods, so is Velutha’s blood symbolic of his sacrifice at the blue altar of the Ayemenem Police Station. Velutha pays the ultimate price for daring to reach beyond his class, up towards an untouchable blue sky (Sadaf 78-79). The passages Sadaf uses in these examples show Roy explicitly naming these warring colors. Perhaps this is an instance where Roy is adding visual or on-page weight to the text as, at the same time, she presents the symbolic significance of the colors. Roy is not using any specific rules or patterns in presenting these colors; instead her color-coding is spontaneous yet at the same time intentional.
Sadaf also discusses yellow and green as color-code in The God of Small Things and cites specific examples. Yellow, according to Sadaf, predominantly represents fear in the novel, although most of the negative characteristics attached to the color yellow in the context of color psychology, like cowardice, illness, dishonesty, and weakness, also have ample representation throughout the novel (81). She goes on to say, “Green, outnumbered in its occurrence as a word, is, nevertheless, more pervasive as a steady backdrop in the novel than the brighter flashes of the other colors. Green is the color of earth, fertility and youthful inexperience, but also the color of undergrowth” (81). Yellow and green are important to the novel, but are placed less frequently than red and blue and, arguably, are secondary to those dominant warring colors. Yellow and green, as Sadif relays, create emotion and backdrop but do not define or embody the characters like red and blue prove to. Nevertheless, these colors work together to create a vibrant, meaningful and unique reading experience.
Sadaf suggests that spontaneity is an overriding factor in the success of Arundhati Roy’s first, and by her own admission, perhaps only novel. The prevalent use of personal symbols may limit the novel’s appeal to a wider audience, but firmly establishes its unique narrative style. Roy’s use of color in the novel helps to define her writing style, with both the colors Sadif discusses and the ones not mentioned playing an important role in the story. Sadif claims the subjectivity of Roy’s semi-autobiographical characters “seeps into the color of the narrative with ease. It would not be easy to follow up a novel like The God of Small Things without the danger of losing the one thing that makes it memorable: its coloration” (84).
Following up The God of Small Things would take more than just Roy’s ingenious use of colors. Spatial poetics must also play a role in any subsequent novel that hopes to match the ambition and virtuosity of Roy’s first novel. But it is more than just these two tropes that help to make The God of Small Things such a success, and often criticism falls short of explaining what exactly makes a novel so effective. Percy Lubbock notes: “To grasp the shadowy and phantasmal form of a book, to hold it fast, to turn it over and survey it at leisure—that is the effort of the critic of books, and it is perpetually defeated” (1). The God of Small Things is full of color, yet psychologically dark. The limited amount of literary criticism helps to shed some light on Roy’s ambitious and imaginative writing style, but plenty more can be said. Perhaps it is because of her unique writing style and ingenious combination of rhetorical devices and tropes that more critics have not been able to “grasp the shadowy and phantasmal” form of Roy’s book. Perhaps they are rereading it for the second and third times—a necessary exercise if one is to truly appreciate this spellbinding novel.
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