(This blog post was written using The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy as well as Ania Loomba’s Colonialism/Post Colonialism.)
In The God of Small Things, we witness a cultural paradox present in an Aymanam based family. Despite their Indian ethnicity, family members often speak in the English language. Loomba’s assertion that “colonial identities…are unstable, agonized, and in constant flux” especially describes characters such as Chako in the novel (Loomba 149). Although Chacko is quick to characterize others as Anglophiles, he himself uses the English language to place himself on a pedestal above his Indian counterparts. Loomba’s quotes resonates well in a post-colonial period, in which Indians struggle to retain their native culture in a backdrop of British influences.
Chacko’s allegiance to the English language heightens after a college education at Oxford. Although he is well versed in his native tongue Malayalam, he uses English to emphasize his superiority against others. As the novel states, “he was permitted excesses and eccentricities nobody else was” (Roy 38). One can argue that Chacko’s upbringing as a favorite against his sister Ammu was the root of his need for superiority. However, as the novel progresses we see that his Oxford background is responsible for his use of the English language. For instance, it was through his Oxford education that Chacko met Margaret Kochamma, his English ex-wife. When Margaret Kochamma visits with Sophie Mol, Chacko advises the family to speak in only English. He introduces his half-English daughter as, “My daughter Sophie” to his family (Roy 137). One can believe that Chacko prides himself in having an English-speaking wife and daughter. He feels most proud when associating with English speaking individuals. Even when Margaret Kochamma makes a comment about how the family cook kisses Sophie Mol like a form of “sniffing” and Ammu responds feeling offended, Chacko does not retaliate against Margaret. Rather he scolds Ammu for her reaction to his English speaking ex-wife (Roy 171).
Throughout the novel, we see Chacko acts as a hypocrite, commenting on his family’s acts of Anglophilia, when he himself also speaks in English. Chacko once said to Ammu, “that going to see The Sound of Music was an extended exercise in Anglophilia” (Roy 54). From Chacko’s perspective, speaking in the English language was less an act of Anglophilia than watching an English show. While Chacko comments on his family’s decision to watch English shows, he fails to speak in complete Malayalam. He will fluctuate throughout the novel in terms of Indian and Anglophilic allegiance.
Once can make the argument that Chacko’s use of English grants him societal power and influence. For instance, although his encounter with Comrade Pillai is casual, without Chacko’s consent Comrade Pillai orders his niece to recite English poetry in front of Chacko. In order to win Chacko’s respect, his neighbors even take a keen interest in the English language. Comrade Pillai wanted to “use Chacko’s visit to impress local supplicants and Party Workers” (Roy 259). Chacko’s English-speaking ability grants him respect from his Kerala community, specifically those individuals who he works with on a social or political basis.
It remains ironic throughout the novel that even when Chacko states how his family represents Anglophiles; he himself expresses this view in English. He states that the Indian war for independence is a “war that has made us adore our conquistadors and despise ourselves” (Roy 52). Although it is debatable whether Chacko had made a reference to the Indian War for Independence, it appears his intentions are to express that conflict between colonizers and the colonized, result in appreciation for the colonizers. Chacko’s words are essentially meaningless, more so said for poetic reasons that for true genuine concern about his family’s assimilation into English culture. Several times in the novel, in English, Chacko states how his family members are Anglophiles, he fails to come up with a solution to change his family’s Anglophilia. Chacko states to the twins that their family was a “family of Anglophiles” who were “trapped outside their own history” (Roy 51). However, following this statement, Chacko simply proceeds further into a poetic rant about how “[they’re] prisoners of war” (Roy 52). In fact, one can argue Chacko’s decision to marry an English women discredits any of his statements about cultural assimilation. If Chacko were genuinely concerned for preserving his Indian culture, he would have thought twice about marrying an English woman or studying in an English university. It is clear in situations where he needs to assert his superiority, Chacko will use English to expose others of their flaws.
We see that throughout the novel Chacko dismisses himself from his familial surroundings as well as to display his superiority. To the line of women in his family he states, “the high incidence of insanity for Syrian Christians was the price they paid for inbreeding” (Loomba 213). Here Chacko states that “inbreeding” was ultimately an act of assimilation into the western culture. Chacko describes a relationship between insanity and women assimilating into Christian culture. Instead of considering his own self, equally at fault for adopting English language and practicing western beliefs, Chacko dismisses himself from the category of Syrian Christians. He puts himself on a pedestal by claiming women are responsible for their own “insanity” (Roy 213).
The God of Small Things exposes an ongoing cultural identity conflict in a post colonial context. Characters such as Chacko feel empowered to criticize Indian society for following British influences, but are often at fault for practicing British culture as well. Chacko’s statements about his family’s Anglophilic nature are ultimately insignificant, because he exercises Anglophilia as well. Unless Chacko and his family speak only in Malayalam and avoid western pastimes such as watching The Sound of Music, they will always live a paradoxical life of Indian and British influences.
Roy, Arundhati, The God of Small Things, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997
Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. 2nd edition. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.