Hybridity in Arudhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

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Hybridity in Arudhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

Post by qaisar waheed on Wed Feb 02, 2011 12:09 pm

Hybridity in Arudhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

Postcolonialism deals with the effects of colonization on cultures and societies. As originally used by historians after the Second World War in terms such as the post-colonial state, ‘post-colonial’ had a clearly chronological meaning, designating the post-independence period. However, from the late 1970s the term has been used by literary critics to discuss the various cultural effects of colonization. The term has been widely used to signfy the political, linguistic and cultural experience of societies that were former European colonies. In the present age we can say without any shadow of doubt that post colonialism has been primarily concerned to examine the processes and effects of, and reactions to, European colonialism from the sixteenth century up to and including the neo-colonialism of the present day. No doubt that postcolonialism possesses many characteristics and talks about Identity, Racial and social discrimination, Hybridity, etc, but here we are mainly concern with the question of Hybridity especially with reference to examine Arudhati Roy’s epoch making work named The God of Small Things (1997).
Every human being, in addition to having his own personal identity, has a sense of who he is in relation to the larger community--the nation. Postcolonial studies is the attempt to strip away conventional perspective and examine what that national identity might be for a postcolonial subject. To read literature from the perspective of postcolonial studies is to seek out--to listen for, that indigenous, representative voice which can inform the world of the essence of existence as a colonial subject, or as a postcolonial citizen. Postcolonial authors use their literature and poetry to solidify, through criticism and celebration, an emerging national identity, which they have taken on the responsibility of representing.
Ania Loomba is one the most remarkable writers on postcolonial discourse. Loomba states, "Perhaps the connection between postcolonial writing and the nation can be better comprehended by understanding that the 'nation' itself is a ground of dispute and debate, a site for the competing imaginings of different ideological and political interests" .
Hybridity commonly refers to the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization. As used in horticulture, the term refers to the cross-pollination to form a third, ‘hybird’ species. Hybirdization takes may forms: linguistic, cultual, political, racial, etc. The word ‘hybridity’ has been most recently associated with the work of Homi K. Bhabha, whose analysis of clonizer/colonized relations stresses their interdependence and the mutual construction of their subjectivities. Bhabha contends that all cultural statements and systems are construced in a space that he calls the Third Space of Enunciation. Cultural identity always emerges in this contradictory and ambivalent space, which for Bhabha makes the claim to a hierarchical ‘purity’ of cultures untenable. For him, the recognition of this ambivalent space of cultural identiy may help us to overome the exoism of cultural diversity in favour of the recognition of an empowering hybridity within which cultural difference may operate:
It is significant that the productive capacities of this Third Space have a colonial or postcolonial provenance. For a willingness to descend into that alien territory … may open the way to conceptualizing an international culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscriprion and articulation of cluture’s hybridity.
It is the ‘in-between’ space that carries the burden meaning of culture , and this is what makes the notion of hybridity so important.I believe that this "dispute and debate" can be successfully joined and undertaken only with a knowledge of the work of Homi K. Bhabha, as it relates to the concept of "cultural hybridity."
Bhabha put forth his idea of hybridity to explain the very unique sense of identity shared and experienced individually by members of a former colonized people. He maintains that members of a postcolonial society have an identity which has been shaped jointly by their own unique cultural and community history, intertwined with that of the colonial power. Thus, for example, a Parsi in Bombay will have incorporated into his or her personal and national identity the traditions inherent in being Parsi, being Muslim, and being an "Indian"--a member of a formerly oppressed society. Bhabha writes,
"These hyphenated, hybridized cultural conditions are also forms of a vernacular cosmopolitanism that emerges in multicultural societies and explicitly exceeds a particular national location" ("The White Stuff,").
Thus, having illustrated the difficulties inherent in the postcolonial subject's attempt to formulate a new personal and national identity, we return to the initial, basic point of this discussion: How does a postcolonial author, playwright or poet provide a reader with a true representation of a particular postcolonial condition? Who does the author claim to represent? If an author is Indian in origin, does his writing represent the state of affairs for all Indians living in postcolonial India? In this respect nothing else but the name of an Indian author Arundhati Roy comes into our mind whose name and fame requires no furthur praise. If we carefully and critically examine Arudhati Roy’s epoch making work named The God of Small Things (1997) in postcolonial perspective, reality dawns upon us tha the work under discussion directly throws light on the question of Identity and Hybridity. It is a story about the childhood experiences of a pair of fraternal twins who become victims of circumstance. The book is a description of how the small things in life build up, translate into people's behavior and affect their lives.
The story is set in the small town of Ayemenem in the Kerala province, southwest India. The main part of the plot takes place in 1969, a time when the caste system in India was still very strongly imbedded. It is also the time of increased awareness around the world and a peak of communist ideology and influence.
India is a very complex society with various cultural and religious habits and beliefs. Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims share the same space. Society is divided not only by the very strict caste system but also by class consciousness. There are a number of languages spoken in India, but the higher classes make a point of speaking English, sending their sons to study in England and adopting certain English habits.Kerala,where the story is set itself has a complex social setup with Hindus, Muslims and Christians having lifestyle and traditions different from each other. It also has a considerably larger number of Christian population compared to other parts of India, predominantly Saint Thomas Christians.
The God of Small Things is a book about India, not India as seen by the western world or by western standards. This is a story about the real India, beautifully written by one of its own nationals. The book is filled with deep emotion that is closely tied to place. Arundhati Roy describes her book as "an inextricable mix of experience and imagination.”
To understand the points of our concern, first of all we will have to go through the plot of the novel. The story starts when Ammu, without sufficient dowry for a marriage proposal, becomes desperate to escape her ill-tempered father and bitter, long-suffering mother. Finally, she convinces her parents to let her spend a summer with a distant aunt in Calcutta. To avoid returning to Ayemenem, she marries a man who assists managing a tea estate (who she later discovers to be a heavy alcoholic, who beats her and attempts to prostitute her to his boss so that he can keep his job). She gives birth to two children, dizygotic twins Estha and Rahel, but ultimately leaves her husband and returns to live with her mother and brother in Ayemenem.
Also living at the house with Ammu, Chacko, and Mammachi, is Pappachi's sister: Baby Kochamma (Kochamma is an honorific name for a female). As a young girl, Baby Kochamma had fallen in love with Father Mulligan, a young Irish priest who had come to Ayemenem to study Hindu scriptures. In order to get closer to him, Baby Kochamma, against her father's wishes, became a Roman Catholic and joined a convent. It then became apparent that she couldn't compete with the others there, for his attention. Physically sick - because of convent food, lonely and depressed, she wrote several times to her parents. Her father eventually pulled her out, and sent her to the US for an education, since, to his mind, no one would accept her as a wife anyway. She came back, two years later with a degree in ornamental gardening, extremely large, and still in love with Father Mulligan.(Father Mulligan later converts to Hinduism). Because of her own misfortunes, Baby Kochamma delights in the misfortune of others. She also hates those who she sees as unfortunate - like the twins, Estha and Rahel.
While studying at Oxford, Chacko had fallen in love and married an English woman named Margaret. Shortly after the birth of their daughter Sophie Mol (Mol means girl), Chacko and Margaret get a divorce (Margaret having fallen in love with another man, Joe, whilst pregnant). Unable to find a job, Chacko returns to India to teach. Chacko never stops loving Margaret, and the two of them keep in touch (even though she no longer sees him in a romantic light). After the death of Pappachi, Chacko returns to Ayemenem and expands his mother's pickling business into an ultimately unsuccessful pickle factory called Paradise Pickles and Preserves.
Margaret remarries, but her husband Joe is killed in an accident. Chacko invites the grieving Margaret and Sophie to spend Christmas in Ayemenem. On the way to the airport, the family (Chacko, Ammu, Estha, Rahel, and Baby Kochamma) encounters a group of communist protesters. The protesters surround the family car and force Baby Kochamma to wave a red flag and chant a communist slogan. She is humiliated and begins to harbor a deep hatred towards Velutha (a man from the factory), who Rahel claims to have seen in the crowd. After this, the family visits a theater playing "The Sound of Music", where Estha is molested by the "Orangedrink Lemondrink man" (the food vendor).
Velutha is an untouchable (the lowest caste), a dalit. His family has been working for Chacko's for generations. Velutha is extremely gifted with his hands, an accomplished carpenter and mechanic. Unlike other untouchables, Velutha has a self-assured air. While his skills with repairing the machinery have made him indispensable at the pickle factory, there is a lot of hostility about the fact that he is an untouchable working in a factory of touchables who resent him. His self-assured air does not help.
Rahel and Estha look up to Velutha and he becomes a father figure to them. This relationship is further solidified figuratively on the day of Margaret and Sophie's arrival. Ammu and Velutha realize that they are attracted to one another. When her intimate relationship with Velutha is discovered, Ammu is tricked and locked in her room and Velutha is banished. When the twins ask their mother why she has been locked up, Ammu (in her rage) blames them as the reason why she cannot be free and screams at them to go away. She says they are the two millstones around her neck, and she says she should have taken them to an orphange the day they were born. Rahel and Estha decide to run away, and Sophie convinces them to take her with them. During the night, while trying to reach an abandoned house across the river, their boat capsizes and Sophie drowns. The twins cannot find her. Wearily, they fall asleep at the abandoned house where they had already been storing food and toys in preparation for their departure. They are unaware that Velutha is there as well, for it is where he secretly meets with Ammu.
When Sophie's body is discovered, Baby Kochamma goes to the police and accuses Velutha of being responsible for Sophie's death. She claims that Velutha attempted to rape Ammu, threatened the family, and kidnapped the children. A group of policemen hunt Velutha down and savagely beat him for crossing caste lines. The twins witness this terrible scene, and are deeply affected. When the twins reveal the truth of Sophie's death to the chief of police, he is alarmed. He knows that Velutha is a communist, and is afraid that the wrongful arrest and impending death of Velutha will cause a riot amongst the local communists. He threatens Baby Kochamma, telling her that unless she gets the children to change their story, she will be held responsible for falsely accusing Velutha of the crime. Baby Kochamma tricks Rahel and Estha into believing that unless they accuse Velutha of Sophie's death, they and Ammu will all be sent to jail. Estha bears an even heavier burden, when at the police station he is called in to respond "yes" to police questioning that will reveal Velutha as guilty. Not only does he carry the extra guilt of being forced into testifying against Velutha, but he also sees the aftermath of the police beating. Velutha dies from his injuries.
However, Baby Kochamma has underestimated Ammu's love for Velutha. Hearing of his arrest, Ammu goes to the police to tell the truth about their relationship. The policemen abuse her and ask her leave the matter alone. Afraid of being exposed, Baby Kochamma convinces Chacko to believe that Ammu and the twins are responsible for his daughter's death. Chacko forces Ammu to leave the house. Ammu, unable to find a job, is forced to send Estha to live with his father. Estha never sees Ammu again, as she dies alone and impoverished a few years later.
Rahel, when grown up, leaves for the US, gets married, divorced and finally returns to Ayemenem after several years working as a waitress in an Indian restaurant and as a night clerk at a gas station. Rahel and Estha, both 31 at this time, are reunited for the first time since they were 7 years old. Both Estha and Rahel have been damaged by their past, and by this time Estha has become perpetually silent because of his traumatic childhood. The twins stay together for most of a day and it is implied that their intimacy grows culminating in incest.
After going through the story we can easily judge that alongwith many other themes and issues, Hybridity is also one of the most strong feature of the novel. A usual consequence of migrating is the formation of hybrid identities when the migrants interact with the local population. Biologically speaking a hybrid is an offspring with parents who belong to different races. This makes Sophie Mol the only real hybrid in The God of Small Things, since her father Chacko is an Indian and her mother Margaret is an Englishwoman.
Another, extended form of hybridity is mentioned by Baby Kochamma herself.
“Baby Kochamma disliked the twins, for she considered them doomed, fatherless waifs. Worse still, they were Half-Hindu Hybrids whom no self-respecting Syrian Christian would ever marry.”
She calls the twins hybrids in reference to their religion, because their father Baba is a Hindu and their mother Ammu is a Syrian Christian like the rest of the Ipe family, a circumstance that had already caused disapproval of the marriage itself:
“She wrote to her parents informing them of her decision [to get married to a Hindu]. They didn’t reply.”
After Ammu’s divorce, the whole affair leaves especially Baby Kochamma completely speechless:
She subscribed wholeheartedly to the commonly held view that a married daughter had no position in her parents’ home. As for a divorced daughter – according to Baby Kochamma, she had no position anywhere at all. And as for a divorced daughter from a love marriage, well, words could not describe Baby Kochamma’s outrage. As for a divorced daughter from a intercommunity love marriage – Baby Kochamma chose to remain quiveringly silent on the subject.
In her essay Language, Hybridity and Dialogism in The God of Small Things, Anna Clarke explains why discussing hybridity is relevant to postcolonialism in particular.
Hybridity as a critical concept has had a privileged place in postcolonial studies. This is because contact and intermixture between different cultural groups have often taken place in the historical context of colonization. Since colonial relationships were often relationships of power between what the colonizers saw as the privileged ‘enlightened’, ‘civilized’, ‘rational’ and ‘advanced’ colonizer and the subaltern ‘barbaric’, ‘superstitious’, ‘backward’ colonized, hybridity in such contexts has often taken on a politicized dimension.
Similarly, in his prominent work The Location of Culture, Homi Bhabha looks for the space where culture actually can be found. He speaks of conceptualizing an international culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture’s hybridity. To that end we should remember that it is the ‘inter’ – the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between space – that carries the burden of meaning in culture. Anna Clarke summarizes this:
“To put it simply, the location of the meaning of culture is the contact zone between cultures: the space of culture’s hybridity.”
Bhabha calls this space the ‘Third Space’, in addition to the first two spaces or the two separate sides. In my opinion it depends on the hybrid himself to define exactly what this Third Space looks like or where it is located, because he is left with two alternatives: Does he feel like somebody who is a part of both sides, for example the colonizer and the colonized, or does he feel like somebody who belongs to no side at all, which corresponds to a scenario that Chacko describes:
“We belong nowhere. We sail unanchored on troubled seas. We may never be allowed ashore.”
I think of all the characters in The God of Small Things, this description applies to Chacko the most. On the one hand he is very English, because he has lived in England for a long time as a father of a family, he has become accustomed to English habits and English culture and on the basis of these values he, for example, stops his father from beating his mother. But on the other hand, he falls back into a pattern that follows the strict Indian moral concepts when he batters down Ammu’s bedroom door and expels her from the Ayenemen Hose: “‘Get out of my house before I break every bone in your body!’”
I want to return once again to Sophie Mol and her hybrid identity. The thing about her hybridity is that, although being half English and half Indian, she is not at all seen as a hybrid in Ayemenem, but only as an English girl:
“It was about nine in the morning when Mammachi and Baby Kochamma got news of a white child’s body found floating downriver where the Meenachal broadens as it approaches the backwaters.”
Sophie is always referred to as being white and being English, her Indian heritage is not mentioned. She is from the beginning preferred to the twins by her anglophile Indian relatives. Only Ammu remains reserved towards Sophie and Margaret. As much as Sophie is not seen as a hybrid by her family, but as being different, or even better then her Indian family members, just as much does she herself try to adapt to her cousins. She wants to be with them when they escape – it never was Estha’s plan to take Sophie Mol with him – and wants to make friends with them, be it by giving them presents:
“Sophie Mol put the presents into her go-go bag, and went forth into the world. To drive a hard bargain. To negotiate a friendship.”
I think it is justified to say that Sophie acts like a hybrid, although she is not perceived as one.
On a formal level, in terms of language, The God of Small Things is full of hybridity, too. The author Arundhati Roy is Indian, but writes her novel in English. Throughout the text, however, the reader frequently comes across Malayalam words, poems or verses of songs. Sometimes an English translation is given, but sometimes the reader is left with the Malayalam sentences only:
“A song from the Onam boatrace filled the factory. ‘Thaiy thaiy thaka thaiy thaiy thome!’ Enda da korangacha, chandi ithra thenjadu? (Hey Mr Monkey man, why’s your bum so red?)”
Whereas here the reader who does not know Malayalam can not understand what is said, ignorance also appears the other way round. Sometimes characters in the book do not speak English and can not understand the other characters, for example Kochu Maria:
Estha would rise from the dead, stand on his bed and say, ‘Et tu? Kochu Maria? – Then fall Estha!’ and die again. Kochu Maria was sure that Et tu was an obscenity in English and was waiting for a suitable opportunity to complain about Eshta to Mammachi.
But it also happens that characters speak English, but do not know what they are saying. They have learned to pronounce a word, but it has no meaning for them. Comrade Pillai’s son Lenin is a good example for this, when he cites Shakespeare: “‘lend me yawYERS;’”. But the twins, too, often play with English words and when they are the focalizers of the story, sometimes words are written as they imagine them:
“They had to form the words properly, and be particularly careful about their pronunciation. Prer NUN sea ayshun.”

The thumbnail sketch of the whole discussion is that Hybridty, wtihout any glimse of doubt is the most important feature of postcolonialism and the great work of the famous postcolonial writer Arudhati Roy’s The God of Small Things can be quoted as a true example of Hybridity in which she makes Sophie Mol the only real hybrid , since her father Chacko is an Indian and her mother Margaret is an Englishwoman.

Topic Hybridity in Arudhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

Presented by Qaisar Waheed

qaisar waheed
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