Defiant Deviances:Arundhati Roy’s the God of Small Things

Abstract: This article is a stylistic analysis of Arundhati Roy’s. The God of Small Things which attempts to assess the nature and incidence of linguistic deviations in Roy’s use of literary language, and also to determine their special effects in the context of her narrative style. Liberating herself from the fetters of conventional thinking and writing, Roy shows remarkable talent in the invention of a new idiom and vocabulary. The study of the linguistic deviations and parallelisms in the novel highlights the different ways in which the author has surpassed the normal creative resources of the English language. The diversity of techniques used by Roy may not find many parallels in the world of fiction.

Keywords: The God of Small Things, linguistic deviations, narrative style, narrative style, stylistic innovation, vernacular language, typographical device, parallelism, alliteration, neologism

Arundhati Roy has achieved the unprecedented success and fame that any creative writer — debutante or otherwise — can hope for with her maiden venture, The God of Small Things (1997). Ever since she shot into literary limelight with the winning of the 1997 Booker Prize, her novel has been subjected to the close scrutiny of admirers and detractors alike. The highly innovative and deviant language with which she spices her narration has earned her the title ‘the Princess of prose’ (Kinger 132) even while being denounced as a ‘self-hypnotized word retailer’ (Narasimhaiah iii). This article is an endeavour at a stylistic analysis of Roy’s single as well as singular fictional work. It attempts to assess the nature and incidence of the linguistic deviations in Roy’s use of literary language, and also to determine their special effects in the context of her narrative style.

Roy’s novel, The God of Small Things, is a re-enactment of the oft-told tale of ill-fated love and forbidden passions that lead to tragic eruptions on the domestic, social, interpersonal and intrapersonal forefronts. The story line, narrated in cyclic style mainly through the meandering consciousness of Rahel as a seven-year-old child and as an adult, is partly fact — the strikingly autobiographical semblances are manifold — and partly fabrication. Reduced to simplistic terms, it is a multilevelled transgression of the age-old ‘Love Laws’ which have dictated ‘who should be loved, and how. / And how much’ (33).

Ammu, the pivotal character of the story, is a high-caste Syrian Christian, a young woman estranged from her alcoholic Bengali husband, and also the mother of seven-year-old dizygotic twins — Estha and Rahel — with whom she has sought refuge in her parental home at Ayemenem where, obviously, she is bereft of any locus standi. Her unchaste love for the low-caste Paravan, Velutha, defies socially sanctified norms and precipitates unforeseen and violent upheavals. Precariously balanced relationships with her mother Mammachi, aunt Baby Kochamma and brother Chacko are upset; Sophie Mol, Chacko’s half-English daughter, is drowned to death; Estha and Rahel become mute and hapless witnesses of the brutal breaking up of Velutha by the police; an emotionally blackmailed Estha denounces the only man the twins really loved, and Velutha is tortured to death in police custody. Estha’s enforced return to his father in Calcutta, the untimely and ignominious death of Ammu at the age of thirty-one, and the subsequent aimless drifting of an unmoored Rahel — all these are intensely and powerfully drawn for the sympathetic reader. The ultimate shock-end takes place when the ‘re-Returned Estha’(9) who is reduced to a silent and shadowy figure and Rahel, come back from America to be with her long-lost twin, once again seek each other’s comforting presence after twenty-three years of separation. Drawn by their sense of unutterable grief and long-burdened conscience, they transgress the love laws and become guilty of the ultimate of all cardinal sins — that of incestuous love.

Reactions to Arundhati Roy and her fictional work range from whole-hearted admiration to full-throated detraction, generating enough controversial heat to fuel a whole gamut of criticism based on diverse political, moral, social and religious viewpoints. Most critical opinions are, however, appreciative of the evocative power and originality of Roy’s language. At the citation ceremony, the formal Booker tribute read out by the jury chairperson Gillian Beer, also a distinguished Professor of English at Cambridge, has commended Roy’s ‘extraordinary linguistic inventiveness’ (qtd. in John 25). Jason Cowley, one of the five 1997 Booker Prize judges, also has pinpointed Roy’s ‘verbal exuberance’ as the prime factor that turned the decision in her favour (28). In a much publicized review of The God of Small Things, John Updike, the eminent American novelist, describes it as a ‘Tiger Woodsian debut’ (159) which, in keeping with ‘a novel of real ambition,’ has invented its own language: where its ‘mannerisms . . . underline the eccentricity of the language in relation to the tale’s emotional center’ (156). Though highly critical of her ideology and political positioning vis-à-vis communism, Aijaz Ahmad also testifies to the fact that ‘Within the possibilities available in Indo-Anglian literature at the present moment, Arundhati Roy is exceptional in the use of language and form as these have evolved so far in this literature . . .’(108).

Roy’s ‘misuse’ of language or the utilisation of stylistic inversions or deviations from the standard language has also angered many critics who are specially concerned about the standards of the language: ‘Roy has enriched English language but as a standard-bearer or trend-setter, she will mislead our future writers as well as language users’ (Patil 127). The most consistent as well as virulent attack against Roy has been launched by C. D. Narasimhaiah who considers the Booker Prize as ‘A Curse to Creativity,’ and her use of language as a ‘busy peddling’ of words (1997 i, v).

Some of the outstanding features of Roy’s highly individualised and innovative use of language have been summed up by T. Vinoda as ‘novel use of metaphors, similes, puns, synecdoche, personification, oxymoron, parody, irony, alliteration, end-focus, antithesis, parallelism, anaphora etc. Creative use of selection-restriction rule violation and an ample use of graphological sentences and heavy punctuation marks . . .. Overuse of capital letters, fancy spelling, italics . . .’ etc. (‘Small is Beautiful’ 33). Since most of these style markers can be subjected to a thorough critical investigation, Roy’s appropriation of the English language and her deviant style are taken up as worthwhile topics meriting serious study.

The main aim of stylistic analysis is stated by Mick Short to be an explication of ‘how our understanding of a text is achieved by examining in detail the linguistic organisation of the text and how a reader needs to interact with that linguistic organisation to make sense of it’ (53). Stylistics, an interdisciplinary field that draws its sustenance from literary and linguistic theories, shows how such an interpretation can be achieved, thereby providing support for a particular view of the work under discussion. Therefore, it is adopted as a constructive tool for arriving at a closer scrutiny of Roy’s much flaunted linguistic prowess, especially when viewed against the backdrop of her literary deviances.

Literature, popularly defined as the creative use of language, can linguistically be equated with the use of unorthodox or deviant forms of language. The normal patterns of language in literature are relevant only as a background to set off the deviant usages. Hence, any linguistic account of literary language has to contend with the notion of linguistic deviation. In ‘Linguistics and the Figures of Rhetoric,’ G. N. Leech explains the typical deviation in literary language as being unique to the text in which it occurs. It is well nigh impossible to describe literary language on account of its abundance of unique deviations and therefore, studying it in terms of linguistic deviations becomes imperative. Leech also identifies the term ‘foregrounding’ as roughly corresponding to this notion of ‘unique deviation’ (144). Foregrounding refers to a process of giving special attention to the elements of language which are of vital importance to a particular effect or meaning in a literary work, the distinctiveness of which was first emphasised by the Russian and Czech formalists; as ‘the use of the devices of the language in such a way that this use itself attracts attention and is perceived as uncommon, as deprived of automatisation, as deautomatised . . .’ (‘Literary Language’).

The concept of foregrounding has been dealt with from other differing viewpoints also. Unlike Jan Mukarovsky and other structuralists, who are concerned with deviation or distortion, Roman Jakobson emphasises parallelism or the extreme regularities introduced in a text by a writer. In The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, deviation and parallelism are cited as the two main instances of foregrounding, with deviation taking place when the rules of grammar or semantics are broken. Parallelism includes anything which involves repetition and ranges from lexical parallelism to a more complete one involving whole structural units (‘Literary Language’).

One of the main problems raised in connection with this formalist view of literary language is that deviation is difficult to measure due to the complexity of defining a norm. This negative approach is to an extent countered by Michael Riffaterre in ‘Criteria for Style Analysis.’ He points out that such a norm ‘is irrelevant because the readers base their judgement (and the authors their devices) not on an ideal norm, but on their individual concepts of what is the accepted norm . . .’ (425). In order to side step various possible limitations in establishing a norm, he suggests substituting the ‘context’ for the norm. According to him, ‘The hypothesis that context plays the role of the norm and that style is created by a deviation from it is a fruitful one’ (426).

As has already been pointed out, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, which abounds in literary foregroundings of almost all kinds, has evoked critical outpourings both appreciative as well as hostile. While some have outrightly condemned her violation of the “Love-Laws” of standard language’ (Patil 124), others commend her stylistic innovativeness and artistry. According to K. V. Surendran, ‘Probably, Roy does exactly what Narayan has said — going for a Bharat brand of English or a brand of English that very often deviates from the standard conventions’ (52). He includes in her list of stylistic innovations the use of words, phrases and sentences from the vernacular language; overuse of italics and uppercase letters; elliptical and even single-worded sentences; misspellings and deviations from the normal word order; interchanging of word classes and a variety of such techniques. In place of a random enumeration of these linguistic flourishes, an attempt is made here to categorise them as coming under the distinct heads of deviations and parallelisms.

Roy has been acclaimed by Aijaz Ahmad as ‘the first Indian writer in English where a marvellous stylistic resource becomes available for provincial, vernacular culture without any effect of exoticism or estrangement, and without the book reading as a translation’ (108). Hence, the need arises to stylistically evaluate her appropriation of the Malayalam language in a novel written in English, as deviation from the English language itself, and to prioritise it before any other type of foregrounding. It is an accepted fact that in The God of Small Things, what immediately strikes the reader’s attention is the strong, even overpowering regional element. The setting of the novel itself — in Ayemenem, a small rural village near Kottayam in Kerala, with its lack-lustre community dominated by the historical Ayemenem House and its inmates, the Ipe family, for over four generations — is conducive for such expressions of regionalism.

The extensive use of Malayalam in Roy’s novel has raised the moot question as to what the writer gains by it. On the conscious level, resorting to the vernacular tongue serves to moor the novel firmly in the locale itself. Quoting D. H. Lawrence’s dictum — that ‘All creative art must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of the place’ — Indira Nityanandam declares Roy’s novel as born in the soil of Kerala and as incapable of taking root elsewhere (‘God’s Own Country’179). The natural flavour of Kerala is enhanced by graphic descriptions of the magic spell cast by Kathakali. Apart from the many topographical descriptions of the Ayemenem landscape, including that of the weather and one of its most prominent landmarks — namely the Meenachal river, which abounds in varieties of fish with local names like ‘pallathi,’ ‘paral,’ ‘koori’ and ‘karimeen’ (203) — it is the use of the native language that actually promotes the provincial overtone.

Taking the many vernacular usages into consideration, distinctions can be drawn between glossed and unglossed Malayalam words, and also between italicised and non-italicised ones. Words and expressions in the writer’s native language, that are glossed for the sake of non-Malayalee readers, are found interspersed throughout the novel. With very few exceptions, most of such expressions occur as part of the narrative itself and are in the voice of the narrator/author. Those provided with explanations can also be further differentiated into italicised and non-italicised ones. While the italics function as definite indicators of the native tongue, those without italics catch the reader’s attention only due to the feeling of strangeness that is associated with the non-English words. However, the problems which are likely to be faced by readers in comprehending the alien language are soon solved, on recognising that the words which immediately follow contain their literal translation into English. Such non-italicised Malayalam words are very few in number and include examples like ‘Ammukutty. Little Ammu.’ (175), ‘Modalali in Malayalam means landlord.’ (80), ‘Kochu Thomban (Little Tusker)’ (154), ‘Akkara. The other side.’ (196), and ‘It was a boat. A tiny wooden vallom’ (202).

Besides having their equivalents in English juxtaposed or placed side by side, some of these Malayalam words are provided with self-explanatory notes, thereby posing no difficulty in comprehension even for a reader unfamiliar with Malayalam. The italicised ones are additionally set off from the rest of the English words by their typographical difference. ‘Punnyan Kunju — Little Blessed One’ (23); ‘Emperors of the Realm of Taste . . . a literal translation of Ruchi lokathinde Rajavu’ (46); ‘From Karna Shabadam — Karna’s Oath — to Duryodhana Vadham — the death of Duryodhana’ (234); ‘themmady kuzhy — the pauper’s pit’ (321); ‘Chappu Thamburan, Velutha called him. Lord Rubbish.’ (339); ‘ She referred to her husband as addeham which was the respectful form of “he,” whereas “he” called her “edi” which was, approximately, “Hey, you!” ’ (270) etc. are examples of the above-mentioned type of words.

The parenthetical explanations, provided in plain type, are all the more evident in the depiction of popular Malayalam folk as well as film songs. The discourteous-sounding lines of the boat song that Estha sings in the pickle factory are rendered alternately in the native language and in English:

Enda da korangacha, chandi ithra thenjadu?

(Hey Mr Monkey man, why’s your bum so red?) . . . (196).

Later, the same technique is used by the writer to represent the scatological rhyme, which the paralysed Kuttappen shouts repeatedly in his desperation:

Pa pera-pera-pera-perakka

(Mr gugga-gug-gug-guava,)

Ende parambil thooralley.

(Don’t shit here in my compound.) . . . (206).

Similarly, when the ever-popular Malayalam song from the film Chemmeen is sung by Ammu and her twin children in accompaniment to the radio, some of the key lines from the song are reproduced along with their English translation:

Pandoru mukkuvan muthinu poyi,

(Once a fisherman went to sea,)

Padinjaran kattathu mungi poyi,

(The West Wind blew and swallowed his boat,) . . .

Arayathi pennu pizhachu poyi,

(His wife on the shore went astray,) . . .

Avaney kadalamma kondu poyi.

(So Mother Ocean rose and took him away.) (219-20)

A gist of the context of the song is also provided, not just for the sake of the readers who are unfamiliar with it but probably for the purpose of evoking a vague sense of foreboding through the subtle employment of irony.

Yet another type of the glossed vernacular language appears in the form of direct speech, although its occurrence is very minimal. After the unleashing of the terror on Velutha, one of the policemen asks: “Madiyo?”and the rejoinder is: “Madi aayirikkum.” The narrative voice promptly translates these non-English words as: ‘Enough? / Enough.’ (310). Despite the fact that they belong to different languages, this kind of reiteration succeeds in underscoring the horror and gravity of the police atrocity. The only other instance of the above-mentioned type of Malayalam word is found in the closing page of The God of Small Things: “Naaley.” / ‘Tomorrow.’ (340). Although these form the very last words of the novel, they should have come much earlier in the linear depiction of the story. And coming as they do at the very end, they cannot be considered as being ironic in tone. Instead, in the already known context of the story, even while ‘Naaley’ emphasises the futility of Ammu’s hope from the narratorial point of view, seen from the author’s perspective, it perhaps augurs the wish for the outcastes of today a better morrow.

A close perusal of the unglossed native expressions reveals that in keeping with the cultural milieu, there is a sustained use of Malayalee kinship terms like ‘Kochamma,’ ‘Pappachi’ and ‘Mammachi,’ while referring to characters such as Baby or Margaret, Benaan Ipe and his wife Soshamma respectively; as well as mention of others denoting relationship like ‘Chachen,’ ‘Chetan and Cheduthi,’ ‘Ammaven,’ ‘Appoi and Ammai’ (37), and ‘Ammachi’(30); and also words like ‘Mon’ and ‘Mol’ (60). Although the last two are explained for non-Malayali readers as: ‘In Malayalam, Mol is Little Girl and Mon is Little Boy,’ the rest are left unexplained enough for the meaning to be inferred from the context alone. In sharp contrast to the usual practice amongst writers, the above-mentioned Malayalam words are also presented in the text without any italics, thereby appropriating them into the language and assigning them the same status as that of English.

Other Malayalam words that are accorded a similar unitalicised and unglossed treatment are items of apparel or ornament such as ‘mundu’ (14), ‘chatta’ (170), ‘mundu and kavani’ (270), and ‘kunukku earrings’ (30), as well as items of food that are of special appeal to the Malayalee palate like ‘chakka vilaichathu’ (138), ‘kappa and meen vevichathu’ (140), ‘idi appams . . . kanji and meen’ (210) and ‘avalose oondas’ (273). Words, like ‘chenda’ (192), ‘koojah’ (209), and ‘mittam’ (219), are also used without any special effect or effort to draw the reader’s attention to them.

Of the rest of the unglossed but italicised Malayalam words, the first one encountered in the novel is ‘veshya’ (8) as an epithet contemptuously used by Inspector Thomas Mathew to imply that despite Ammu’s high family connections, he rates her as low as a prostitute on account of her liaison with an untouchable. The use of italics reveals the non-English status of such words; yet at the same time they also draw attention to themselves in the narrative by their typographical difference.

A further investigation of the unglossed Malayalam words discloses that their predominant use is by people belonging to the lower or ordinary strata of society, like Kuttappen — Velutha’s invalid brother, who expresses his surprise as well as consternation at the sudden appearance of the twins in his hut with “Aiyyo, Mon! Mol!” (208); Kochu Maria, the cook of the Ayemenem House, shooing off a stray dog with “Poda Patti!” (90), her “Kandoo” in response to Mammachi’s query as to whether she has seen Sophie Mol, and her reference to the white child as “Sundarikutty” (179), and to Rahel as “Kushumbi” (185); the workers of the pickle factory, announcing Chacko’s arrival with “Chacko Saar vannu” (171); the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man, addressing Estha as “Eda cherukka!” (101); Velutha, refuting to Rahel his presence amongst the protesters with “Aiyyo kashtam” (177), thereby pretending sorrow at being so wrongly identified; and Muralidharan, the level-crossing lunatic, counting his keys as ‘Onner. / Runder. / Moonner.’ (64).

However, the majority of the utterances in Malayalam are assigned to Comrade Pillai: ‘‘Aiyyo, Rahel Mol! . . . Orkunniley?” (128), and “Orkunnundo?” (134) are addressed directly to Rahel, while “Aiyyo paavam” (131) is used to express his false commiseration with Estha’s condition. It has been pointed out by Cynthia Driesen how reverting to the vernacular during speech ‘serves as a mode of reinforcing a sense of special intimacy, even a collusion between speaker and person addressed’ (369). This is specially applicable to Pillai when, despite his insistence on conversing with Chacko in stilted, idiomatic English, he switches over to Malayalam during a discussion of Velutha’s role as a communist and as a worker with undue privileges at the pickle factory. While secretly plotting Velutha’s downfall, in a conspiratorial tone he comes out with: “Oru kaaryam parayattey?” and “keto” (277). The subservient role in which he sees his wife, as well as his affectionate familiarity with her, is well-reflected in his addressing her as “Edi Kalyani” (273), and “Allay edi, Kalyani?” (278). Comrade Pillai’s chameleon-like ability to change his speech, tone and register in accordance with his listener is once again made evident as he faces Velutha with the abrupt and rather rude query “Enda?” (287), when the latter approaches him for help after his denunciation by Mammachi. This, in all probability, is on account of Velutha’s low-caste Paravan status.

Another prominent use of Malayalam is by Adoor Bhasi, the ace-comedian of Malayalam films. He makes a brief appearance in the scene at the Cochin Airport and, as explained by the narrative voice, provokes laughter amongst his admiring audience by dropping his unmanageable packages, and then following it with interjections such as “Ende Deivomay! Eee sadhanangal!” (143). This lends not only a touch of local colour to the story but it also provides a tone of authenticity and periodicity to the various characters.

The only instance of the Oxford scholar Chacko resorting to Malayalam is when, in a tone of comraderie, he thanks a protester for shutting the car bonnet for him at the level crossing near Cochin — “Thanks, keto! . . . Valarey thanks!” (70) — which, very much in keeping with his character, is an affected mixture of English and Malayalam. The lone use of the native tongue by Mammachi is directed towards Kochu Maria: “Kando” (178), when she asks the cook whether she has seen Sophie Mol, and by Baby Kochamma who resorts to the Malayalam for moustache — “meeshas” — while talking to the twins at the Kottayam police station in order to refer to the inspector (318). Since they belong to an avowed family of anglophiles, this aversion to the vernacular tongue, especially by the older generation of Ipes, should come as no surprise to the readers.

Though the children are dissuaded by Baby Kochamma from talking in Malayalam, Rahel uses Malayalam spontaneously, particularly in her dealings with Velutha whom she considers to be her dearest companion. When she recognises Velutha in the march she promptly calls out to him to disclose her unexpected presence there: “Velutha! Ividay! Velutha!” (71). Later, she is found playfully tickling him saying ‘Ickilee ickilee ickilee!’ (178), an act which every child enjoys doing or being done to him/her.

Besides the use of brief colloquial expressions, like the term of assent “Oower” used by Rahel (128), a man engaged in conversation with Comrade Pillai (129), and Velutha (184), there are other prominent occurrences of Malayalam in the form of popular songs. As Estha stirs the jam in the pickle factory, the act of stirring becomes one of rowing, which naturally brings to his mind the most popular of boat songs — that of the Onam boat race: “Thaiy thaiy thaka thaiy thaiy thome!” (196). Similarly, the ever-so popular children’s song ‘Koo-koo kookum theevandi . . . ’ echoes through the mind of Velutha even as he stumbles along his way through the driving rain, after his bitter showdown with Mammachi (285). Perhaps his overburdened and guilt-ridden mind subconsciously seeks recourse and solace in the only safe certainties of his life — those of childhood memories.

A close look at the use of Malayalam words in The God of Small Things reveals a few obvious flaws. The word ‘Modalali’ has been translated as ‘landlord’ (80). Perhaps a better equivalent would have been ‘proprietor or owner’ — which is borne out by Roy’s own later use of the phrase ‘the factory Modalali himself’ (273). Similarly, referring to an elephant as ‘Kochu Thomban (Little Tusker)’ (154) appears to be rather inappropriate. Since the Malayalam word for ‘tusk’ is ‘kombu,’ this may be rephrased as ‘Kochu Komban.’ In the brief exchange between the policemen regarding the sufficiency as well as efficacy of the punishment meted out to Velutha, the offender of social mores, the words “Madi aayirikkum” are just translated as ‘enough’ (310). The phrase ‘may be enough’ appears to be a better attempt at explaining this native expression. Yet again, ‘Mon’ and ‘Mol,’ besides just being ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Little Girl,’ are also terms of endearment which can be turned to one of mock respect, as in Comrade Pillai’s use of these as terms of reference to the grown-up Estha and Rahel (130-31). Suggestions such as these are made here, taking into special account the specific cultural sensibilities of Malayalees.

Roy’s free use of Malayalam in her novel, without explanatory notes or bracketed meanings, is described by Visalakshi Menon as ‘typical of a new style in Indo-Anglian writing,’ which reflects a new confidence in the use of the English language by Indian writers: ‘No longer is adherence to the Queen’s English the norm. Perhaps it is not even desirable. Regional flavours as allowed [sic] to enrich the language and those not familiar with Malayalam (in this instance) are left to discover the meanings for themselves’ (111). Mohan Ramanan, however, finding this ‘exotic orientalism’ of the book as sufficient mainly to delight the western readers, comments: ‘Like Rushdie she “chutneyfies” English by using Malayalam words, very often without explanation’ (47).

Cynthia Driesen describes the attempt made by postcolonial writers to take over the language of the coloniser as an effort to express ‘in a language which is not their own the spirit which is their own,’ thus acting ‘as filters of the indigenous experience.’ She considers Roy’s use of untranslated words as ‘perhaps the most arresting mode of appropriation,’ which forces ‘the reader of the master text to negotiate this encounter with the opposed cultural identity of the racial Other’ (369). This appropriation of the English language, by bringing it under the influence of the vernacular, has been related by Gopinatha Pillai to a postcolonial feminist attempt to negate the aesthetic assumptions of the centre, as ‘a device to destroy the power structure, colonial and patriarchal.’ English is defamiliarised enough by Roy to make it carry the burden of the indigenous culture by embedding Malayalam words, even untranslated ones, into the text, thereby introducing a truth of culture into it. The process of ‘decentring of male domination’ is also believed by him as achieved through Roy’s ‘dislocated and deviant style’ (91).

Roy’s successful experimentation with language in subverting the master narrator’s communication is acknowledged by Mani Meitei as one of the redeemable features of The God of Small Things. Meitei also finds in Roy’s writing an example of the unpunctuated feminine prose, which is professed by Virginia Woolf as the apt medium to represent women’s protean self. So even while retaining the rhythmic cadence of speech, Roy is acknowledged as redoing the syntax and sentence patterns of English by a violation of the traditional rules of grammar and punctuation. Although a writer’s right to ignore the rules and conventions of the language can be conceded as poetic licence, it is only appropriate to assess the linguistic deviations in Roy’s novel as a disruption of the normal process of communication. The gap in the reader’s comprehension of the text can be filled and the deviations rendered significant by perceiving a deeper connection between the two, thereby compensating for the superficial oddity. The typology offered by Leech in A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry (1969), where he accounts for the linguistic deviations in poetry can, with equal validity, be extended and applied to the realm of prose fiction also. Since most of these techniques are identifiable in Roy’s novel, they become relevant in the following discussion of its deviant style of writing.

Any study of lexical deviations will highlight how the normal resources of the language are usually bypassed in literary writing through the invention of new words or neologisms. These include nonce formations that are made up for the nonce or a single occasion only. Leech, however, points out that most neologisms, instead of violating an existing lexical rule, extends the use of it with greater generality than is often customary, as in T. S. Eliot’s novel use of the verb ‘foresuffer’ in: ‘And I Tiresias have foresuffered all’ — by prefixing ‘fore-’ to a verb in the sense of ‘beforehand’(Linguistic Guide 42).

The most common means of word formation are affixation, the addition of a prefix or suffix to an already existing item in the language, and compounding, the joining of two or more items to make a single compound one, as is evident in Hopkins’s phrase from The Wreck of the Deutschland: ‘the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps.’ Vocabulary in English can also be extended through functional conversion or zero affixation, which consists of adapting an item to a new grammatical function without changing its form. This is a noticeable feature of Shakespearean writing, as evidenced in the anachronism in Antony and Cleopatra, where Cleopatra anticipates her impersonation by young boys enacting the female role on the Shakespearean stage as: ‘I shall see some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness’ (Leech, Linguistic Guide 43).

The unorthodox ways in which Arundhati Roy extends the dynamism of the language in The God of Small Things can be unravelled by a careful investigation into some of its lexical deviations. Neologisms, typifying compression and economy of expression, include words like re-Returned (9), co-unfortunate and Ex-nun (45) which are formed by adding prefixes, while the addition of suffixes has contributed to the creation of adjectives like Man-less and Mulligan-less (45), outdoorsy (13), dinnerfull and dinnerless(116). The abundant formation of nouns using –ing participles, i.e. verbal nouns or gerunds, is evident even in sentences like ‘The pickling (and the squashing, the slicing, boiling and stirring, the grating, salting, drying, the weighing and bottle sealing) stopped’ (emphasis added) (171). The multifarious activities taking place on a railway platform are depicted merely by presenting a string of unpunctuated gerunds: ‘Scurrying hurrying buying selling luggage trundling porter paying children shitting people spitting coming going begging bargaining reservation-checking’ (300). The rare use of zero affixation is noticeable in verbs like ‘to Jolly Well Behave’ (150), which is formed by adding the expression ‘jolly well’ to ‘behave’ and giving the phrase the force of an infinitive verb; and ‘blooded on memories’ (12), where the noun ‘blood’ is given the grammatical function of a verb.

Neologisms, made up of compounding two or more items, consist of a variety of nouns such as suddenshudder (15), thunderdarkness (10), carbreeze and daymoon (87), The green-for-the-day (187), dullthudding (7), a furrywhirring and a sariflapping (6), Estha-the-Accurate (217), Thimble-drinker/ Coffin-cartwheeler (135); and a sprinkling of verbs like force-bathed (23). The novel, however, abounds in adjectival formations as in Sicksweet (6), dinner-plate eyes (55), soapslippery arm (23), fishswimming sense (30), bluegreyblue eyes(147), a greenwavy, thick-watery, lumpy, seaweedy, floaty, bottomless-bottomful feeling (107), Orangedrink Lemondrink Man (2), vinegar-hearted (15), Elvis Presley-puffed (2), a chromebumpered sharksmile (153), fan-whirring, peanut-crunching darkness (98), Sad-about-Joe silence (173) and trying-not-to-cry mouth (324). The list of compounded lexical deviants, which function as adjectives, also includes those that show internal typographical differences, such as italics and brackets, as in: ‘What Will Sophie Mol Think? week’ (36), ‘Welcome Home, Our Sophie Mol melody’ (183), ‘What Happened to Our Man of the Masses? suit’ (173), ‘Coming Soon! posters’ (101), ‘an Ambassador (disguised as a Stick Insect disguised as an Airport Fairy)’ (178), ‘merry-go-(not all the way)round’ (170), and ‘kind-schoolteacher (that sometimes slapped) voice’ (173). Roy’s excessive fondness for adjectives is described by Caroline Moore as something distinctly Indian, since in her rating ‘English writers are often afraid of adjectives.’ This almost unselfconscious revelling, although not to be mistaken for a sign of lack of sophistication, is seen as a ‘reflection of an uninhibited and ultimately infectious confidence in the powers of the English Language’ (qtd. in Thomas Abraham 102).

Unlike the neologisms one encounters in ordinary conversations, a writer’s lexical innovativeness can possess a more enduring quality on account of the probabililty of the literary work being read by contemporaries as well as future generations. The degree of strangeness that is experienced with lexical innovations, such as the ones mentioned above, which varies greatly from item to item and context to context can, therefore, be evaluated only in terms of its present purpose or effect. Besides the density and thrift of expression contained in affixation and compounding, the newly coined words can also be commended for their concept-making power. Thus, the oddity of neologisms is, as suggested by Leech, related to the general usefulness of the concepts they represent (Linguistic Guide 44).

Grammatical deviations consist of many types involving morphology –the structure of the word — and syntax — the structure of sentences. Roy’s morphological distortions have led to the creation of linguistic oddities like ‘getting-outedness’ (172), which refers to the action of getting out of a car, in a way analogous to ‘preparedness’ or the state of being prepared. ‘Stoppited’ (141) is repeatedly used with impunity by Roy in the sense of ‘stopped it,’ since the usual way of conveying the idea is by saying ‘stop it.’ This, in rapid speech, may be pronounced as just one word, without any intervening pause — as ‘Stoppit’ (141). A child’s unconscious way of responding to the command is therefore deviantly represented as ‘stoppited,’ following the morphological rule of adding ‘-ed’ as the past tense marker.

Similarly, the adjective ‘die-able’ is coined on the model of words like ‘changeable,’ in order to signify a person who has reached an age that is suitable for dying. In the context in which the word is found in the novel, it also has the added advantage of rhyming with ‘viable’ — in the phrase ‘a viable die-able age’ (3). A coinage like ‘afternoon-mare’ (217) is formed by substituting another time of the day in place of the ‘night’ in ‘nightmare,’ which appears perfectly logical enough to a child who uses it to imply a dream that occurs during a nap in the afternoon. Numerous such examples of morphological deviations are to be found interspersed within the pages of this work, which at first reading itself offer a challenge to the very concept of conventional rules of word formation.

Syntax deals with the rules and principles of arranging words into higher units like phrases, clauses and sentences. The importance accorded to the distinction between the Deep Structure (DS) and the Surface Structure (SS) of a sentence is emphasised by Leech. DS which reflects the meaning of a sentence is the semantic end of syntax, whereas SS or the phonological end is related to how a sentence is actually uttered. Violations of surface structure are termed by Leech as ‘superficial’ since they have no fundamental effect on the way in which a sentence is understood. They, therefore, include those described as ‘bad or incorrect grammar’ as well as those showing a syntactic rearrangement, as in ‘I doesn’t like him’ or ‘He me saw.’ (Linguistic Guide 45).

Instances of deviation in the surface structure of sentences can easily be located as occurring in The God of Small Things, as in: ‘Oho! Going to the dogs India is’ (140). This ungrammatical statement reflects the rather supercilious attitude of the ‘Foreign Returnees,’ who react with a shudder to the dirt and squalor that await them at Cochin Airport. Besides adding to the humour and the native flavour of the situation, it also subtly throws light on the low educational status of most of these people despite their stylish appearance and affectations. The English spoken by Comrade Pillai also offers itself to a similar technical assessment. Though he is armed with an M. A. degree, Pillai’s stilted talk in English is invariably characterised by the locutions and idiosyncracies of Malayalee English. He asks the grown up Rahel, after her return from America, ‘I think so you are in Amayrica now?’ (129). His unasked for advice to Rahel, on the same occasion, on the highly personal and sensitive topic of bearing children, is: ‘One is must. Boy girl. Anyone . . .. Two is of course your choice’ (130). As though having one or more children can be anything other than Rahel’s own choice! The explanation offered by him to Chacko for his absence from home is expressed thus: ‘My sister Sudha met with fracture sometime back . . .. So I took her to Olassa Moos for some medications. Some oils and all that. Her husband is in Patna, so she is alone at in-laws’ place’ (274). The tongue-in-cheek comment made by the omniscient narrator to this is: ‘. . . as though Fracture were a visiting dignitary.’ However, in spite of the incorrect grammar of these sentences, they do not pose any difficulty in comprehension.

It is common knowledge that the minimum elementary structure required for a sentence in English is that of Subject + Intransitive verb, as in ‘Birds fly.’ Even a perfunctory examination of The God of Small Things will reveal the profusion of ungrammatical sentences which, strictly speaking, violate the rules of traditional grammar and thereby constitute a type of syntactic deviation, especially that of surface structure since they deal with the actual utterances of sentences. The omission or deletion of elements, whose meaning is understood since it is recoverable from the context, is termed as ‘ellipsis’ (Leech and Short 244). There is a multiplicity of elliptical sentences made up of single words, phrases and non-finite clauses, which are identified as sentences only on account of their initial capital letters and heavy pauses. Though these minor sentences lack one of the essential constituents of a complete sentence, the meaning is fully conveyed by their context. For example, Estha who is being returned to his father in Calcutta is depicted thus: ‘He had a tiffin carrier with tomato sandwiches. And an Eagle flask with an eagle. He had terrible pictures in his head. / Rain. Rushing, inky water. And a smell. Sicksweet. Like old roses on a breeze’ (32). The context makes it abundantly clear that the short one-worded as well as phrasal sentences are references to the rainy night on which Sophie Mol gets drowned in the flooded waters of the Meenachal. By a cruel quirk of fate, it also turns out to be the same night on which Velutha is discovered and inhumanly tortured by the posse of policemen. In the scene at Abhilash Talkies, when Ammu goes back to fetch Baby Kochamma and Rahel, due to Estha’s feeling of sickness, the atmosphere inside the theatre is described thus: ‘The back-inside smell. Fan shadows. Backs of heads. Necks. Collars. Hair. Buns. Plaits. Ponytails. / A fountain in a Love-in-Tokyo. A little girl and an ex-nun’ (110). Thoughts of the Meenachal River, which appear in Estha and Rahel’s dreams very often, are also described in a similar manner:

They dreamed of their river.

Of the coconut trees that bent into it and watched, with coconut eyes, the boats slide by. Upstream in the mornings. Downstream in the evenings. And the dull, sullen sound of the boatmen’s bamboo poles as they thudded against the dark, oiled boatwood.

It was warm, the water. Greygreen. Like rippled silk.

With fish in it.

With the sky and trees in it.

And at night, the broken yellow moon in it. (122-23)

Violations of deep structure consist of ‘cases of mistaken selections’ like Dylan Thomas’s ‘a grief ago,’ where a position that is reserved for words of a certain class is filled by one from another class. Though it is also grammatically possible for words of the same syntactic class to replace one another in a sentence, the change will not usually be acceptable if there is a violation of selection-restriction rules. However, a highly deviant coinage like ‘Meeters from the Met, and Greeters from the Gret’(142), where nouns such as Meeters and Greeters are created from their corresponding verbs by adding ‘-er,’ and a past tense form Gret derived from the verb ‘greet,’ based on the model of ‘met,’ can be included under this category.

Deviations from the syntax of normal discoursive prose such as ‘the Bloom language’ or the style used by James Joyce to represent the interior monologue of Bloom in Ulysses, also belong to this type (Leech, Linguistic Guide 45). Roy has been compared to James Joyce in that her narrative style often makes use of the technique of interior monologue for representing the continuous flow of related ideas, memories and sense impressions of characters. Though lacking in typographical devices to indicate the difference between ordinary narrative and interior monologue, Roy’s writing usually consists of minor sentences without verbs, with the sense and grammar alone sufficing to convey to the reader as to which is which. Roy makes use of standard sentence constructions, mostly in those dealing with direct narration (NR), but lapses into incomplete or elliptical sentences when the narratorial voice merges with that of the character’s:

Then she sat up and put her arms around him. Drew him down beside her.

They lay like that for a long time. Awake in the dark. Quietness and Emptiness.

Not old. Not young.

But a viable die-able age. (327)

In this direct narration of the circumstances that lead the twins to their ultimate act of transgression, Roy is seen to resort to the standard sentence construction of English. But the phrasal sentences that follow reflect a mergence of the narrator’s voice with that of the characters’ consciousness.

Longer sentences are found to provide a counter-balance to the shorter ones in many instances. Rahel’s contemplative mood, which is suggestive of her aimless condition after her return from America, is described thus:

In the abandoned ornamental garden, Rahel, watched by lolling dwarves and a forsaken cherub, squatted by the stagnant pond and watched toads hop from stone to scummy stone. Beautiful Ugly Toads.

Slimy. Warty. Croaking.

Yearning, unkissed princes trapped inside them. Food for snakes that lurked in the long June grass. Rustle. Lunge. No more toad to hop from stone to scummy stone. No more prince to kiss.

It was the first night since she’d come that it hadn’t rained. (187)

The examples cited above also suffice to substantiate that the longer, regular sentences are mostly used by Roy to project the narratorial voice whereas the shorter elliptical ones, whether forming a series within a paragraph or a series of single-sentenced paragraphs, represent the consciousness of the characters.

Phonological deviations are considered by Leech as being ‘of limited importance’ since they are ‘even more “on the surface” than those of surface syntactic structures’ (Linguistic Guide 46). Irregularities of pronunciation in English are generally included under conventional licences of verse composition but any special pronunciation and placing of word stress in unusual places, even in prose writings, can be included under this kind of superficial deviation. In The God of Small Things, the evocation of childish language by Roy is mainly achieved through a phonological play with words, resulting in linguistic as well as stylistic exuberances. Though Estha and Rahel are only seven years old, they are portrayed as being precocious in their reading habits and yet, at the same time, as being under pressure from the self-declared anglophiles of the Ayemenem family, especially persons like Baby Kochamma and Chacko. The dynamics of many words and phrases thus become based on explorations and incursions into original areas of meaning-formation. As pointed out by Laxmi Parasuraman, it is ‘The tabula rasa of a child’s mind [which] makes language malleable and divests it of the rigidities of adult usage’ (103).

It is this easy familiarity with the English language that prompts the twins to sport with it, that makes Rahel distort a detested nap in the afternoon into an ‘Afternoon Gnap’ (183). ‘Infinite joy’ is turned into ‘Infinnate Joy’ mainly because of the sad tone used by Chacko while listing the many possibilities in human nature, and this sounded the saddest (118). Estha’s “Thang God” (154) shows a spontaneous use of the principle of contextual assimilation, since the final /k/ of ‘thank’ is unconsciously enough modified into /g/ due to the influence of /g/ in ‘God.’ When Sophie Mol’s coffin is lowered into the earth, the phrase ‘dust to dust’ keeps echoing in Rahel’s mind as ‘Dus to dus to dus to dus to dus’ (7). The loss of pronunciation of the letter ‘t’ in ‘dust’ can be seen as an example of contextual elision taking place due to the next word beginning with the same sound /t/.

Another major phonological deviation can be noticed in the wrong application of juncture, which deals with the phenomenon of pauses in speech. Thus, the disyllabic ‘later’ becomes split into two separate words as ‘Lay. Ter.’ (146), because of the intimidation implied in the word when used by Ammu. An ordinary barn owl, on gaining prominence in a child’s view of the world around it, is converted into ‘Bar Nowl’ (193). Chacko, in his role as the next male heir to the Ayemenem estate, insists on his sole legal claim to everything, while openly declaring Ammu as having no locus standi. The alarming propositions, entailed in such a situation, are aptly enough summed up in the childish misrepresentation of the phrase as ‘Locusts Stand I’ (57). This new version also, perhaps, ironically implies that the small world of the twins is always under constant threat of a locust-like invasion from some quarter or other.

The opposite kind of phenomenon to juncture may be said to be at work when words are made to run into other words without any pause in between. Such a telescoping of words, as can be seen in “Whatisit? Whathappened?” (6),‘Thiswayandthat’(101), ‘longago’ (97), ‘lemontoolemon’ (105), ‘CocoColaFantaicecreamrosemilk’ (301) etc., is sure to catch the attention of any reader. For example, the various types of beverages implied in the last word quoted above are not typographically separated by the use of any punctuation marks, as they rightly should be.

Though there is no absolute correspondence between spelling and pronunciation in English, any strangeness of one will be represented by a strangeness of the other. In The God of Small Things, oddities of spelling are noticed in the phonetic rendering of words like ‘Myooozick’ (95) and “eggzackly” (324), which evidently reflect the overcautious effort made by a child who is specially tutored to speak like the British and pronounce words correctly. The distortion in spelling of the word ‘pronunciation’ into ‘Prer NUN sea ayshun’(36), shows an orthographic representation of the actual sounds heard as well as its division into syllables. The capitalisation of ‘NUN’ is probably to stress the fact that the syllable is to be articulated as the word ‘nun,’ and not as ‘noun,’ as most people mistakenly do. In the song which begins: ‘Rej-Oice in the Lo-Ord Or-Orlways’ (36), the hyphenation signifies the peculiar way in which the disyllabic word ‘rejoice’ and ‘always,’ as well as the monosyllabic word ‘lord,’ are incorrectly broken up into syllables by the children during the long-drawn out process of singing. The distorted spellings are thus, perhaps, intended to convey the actual sounds that are produced in their articulation.

The most obvious kind of graphological deviation, which exists only in the written form of the language and which has no counterpart in speech, is the characteristic line-by-line arrangement of poetry on the printed page, with irregular right-hand margins. Though the typographical line of poetry, like the typographical stanza, is described by Leech as a unit not usually seen in nonpoetic varieties of English (47), there are many instances of a similar arrangement of words or ‘derangement’ in Roy’s prose fiction, as is clearly evident from the following example, as well as others quoted earlier in substantiation of other types of deviation.

Kochu Maria watched with her cake-crumbs.

The Fond Smiles watched Fondly.

Little girls Playing.


One beach-coloured.

One brown.

One Loved.

One Loved a Little Less. (186)

Orthographic deviations consist of discarding capital letters and punctuation where convention calls for them, or of their unconventional overuse, jumbling of words, and eccentric use of parenthesis and spacing. As in the poetry of E. E. Cummings, these symbols do not always act in accordance with typographical custom but as expressive devices also. Such a liberal and unconventional use of the compositor’s case is, according to Leech, comparable to that of an artist’s use of his palette (Linguistic Guide 47).

Linguistic experimentations in The God of Small Things also consist of most of the above-mentioned typographical deviations. The liberal and extensive use of capitalisation, even in places where it is not conventionally required, is seen as a probable attempt ‘to emphasise certain things that the novelist thinks are different from the ordinary’ (Surendran 55). Any special perception or thought or idiosyncracy of a particular character, major or minor, also appears to be conveyed on the page by the author through the visual medium of upper case letters. Thus, the child Rahel’s overimaginative nature makes her think of Sophie Mol as being awake for her own funeral and as showing Rahel ‘Two Things’ (5). In the context of the novel, any reference to Estha being sent back to his father in Calcutta is always represented as ‘Returned’ and his return to Ayemenem, after twenty-three years, as ‘re-Returned.’ Baby Kochamma, in her old age, ‘used her windows for specific purposes. For a Breath of Fresh Air. To Pay for the Milk. To Let Out a Trapped Wasp. . .’ (28). Rahel and Lenin, Comrade Pillai’s son, are as children taken to ‘Dr Verghese Verghese (Kottayam’s leading Paediatrician and Feeler-up of Mothers)’ (131), since both suffer from the ‘same complaint — Foreign Objects Lodged up their Noses.’ Lenin’s strangely passive state, even at the prospect of being presented before the doctor, is depicted humorously as follows: ‘Perhaps he was a little too young to know that Atmosphere in Waiting Room, plus Screams from Behind Curtain, ought logically to add up to a Healthy Fear of Dr V. V.’ (132).

The frequent use of italicised words, sentences and even entire paragraphs forms yet another prominent but deviant typographical feature of Roy’s novel. Italicisation is chiefly resorted to for the sake of emphasis as well as for the purposes of making ironic statements, expressing the strong feelings or thoughts of a character and creating comic effects. Apart from the many non-English words, the names of books, films, firms, newspapers, theatre and pickle factory, dictionary meanings, excerpts from letters, slogans, quotations, impositions and reverse readings etc., to name a few others, are also italicised. In short, italicisation of any thing or thought that is out of the ordinary seems to be a technique adopted by Roy in the medium of print.

A sample survey of the second chapter of Roy’s novel will illustrate most of the above-mentioned diversity in the application of italics. The normal use of italics, as a typographical indication of emphasis, is most apparent in examples such as the following: ‘She thought that anything, anyone at all, would be better than returning to Ayemenem’ (39), ‘but simply because he didn’t believe that an Englishman, any Englishman, would covet another man’s wife’ (42); ‘But for the rest of her life she advocated small weddings in ordinary clothes’ (44), and ‘he always referred to it as my factory, my pineapples, my pickles’(57). Non-English words which are italicised include those in Malayalam as well as the French “Et tu? Brute?” (83), the Hindi ‘chhi-chhi poach’ (51), and the Tamil ‘Rombo maduram’ (323).

The utilisation of italics is also noticeable in the names of books, such as ‘The Reader’s Digest World Atlas’ (42), ‘The Tempest,’ ‘Jungle Book,’ and ‘The Adventures of Susie Squirrel’ (59); words, like ‘Anglophile,’ and ‘disposed,’ (52) which are looked up for their dictionary meaning; excerpts from famous books, such as: “Gatsby turned out all right at the end . . .” (38), “Where the bee sucks, there suck I” (59), and “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done” (61); films, like ‘The Sound of music’(35), ‘Meet Me in St Louis’ and ‘The Bronze Buckaroo’ (40); songs, like ‘Rej-Oice in the Lo-Ord Or-Orlways’ (36) and “Some people like to rock, some people like to roll” (37); expressions in Malayalam, such as ‘Ruchi lokathinde Rajavu,’ and its literal translation of ‘Emperors of the Realm of Taste’ (46); the logo of the pickle factory–‘Paradise Pickles & Preserves’ (46); the newspaper, ‘Indian Express’ (50);words from popular advertisements, such as ‘Things go better with Coca-Cola’ (62); imposition lines, as in ‘I will always speak in English’ (36); slogans, such as “Inquilab Zindabad” (66); the communist term ‘Comrade’ (65); the political treatise, titled ‘The Peaceful Transition to Communism’ (67); caste names, like ‘Parayan,’ ‘Paravan’ and ‘Pulayan’ (69); snatches of conversation, such as Murlidharan’s imaginary dialogue with his superior officer: ‘I’m sorry, Colonel Sabhapathy, but I’m afraid I’ve said my say’ (63), Baby Kochamma’s “How could she stand the smell?” (78); and the depiction of thoughts, such as Rahel’s which continue to haunt her even in America: ‘A sourmetal smell, . . . with an old man’s mouth’ (72).

The twins’ curious imaginings regarding some of the words in English are made prominent by their italicisation, as in: ‘Rahel thought that boot was a lovely word. A much better word, at any rate, than sturdy. Sturdy was a terrible word’ (46). Again, ‘Cuff + link = Cuff-link. . . . Cuff-links gave them an inordinate (if exaggerated) satisfaction, and a real affection for the English Language’ (51); and ‘(Humbling was a nice word, Rahel thought. Humbling along without a care in the world)’ (54), etc.. The children’s extraordinary habit of reverse reading, of words as seen reflected in a mirror, is also given emphasis in a similar way: “ehT serutnevdA fo eisuS lerriuqS. enO gnirps gninrom eisuS lerriuqS ekow pu.” (60). The profusion of such examples, including the ones listed above in various other contexts, also serves to establish the excessive use of italics in Roy’s novel.

In keeping with the deviant typographical set up of The God of Small Things, Roy resorts to a large number of parenthetical structuring as an effective technique of her narrative style. Parenthesis is ‘an explanatory or qualifying word, clause or sentence inserted into a passage with which it has not necessarily any grammatical connection’ (Freeborn 68). The bracketed words can consist of select pieces of additional information which may or may not be important. This is provided mostly in the form of narratorial/authorial comments that serve to augment the reader’s understanding of the context, if not the plot itself. For example, in the first chapter itself, Rahel’s life after the death of her mother is briefly narrated thus:

After Ammu died (after the last time she came back to Ayemenem, swollen with cortisone and a rattle in her chest that sounded like a faraway man shouting), Rahel drifted. From school to school. She spent her holidays in Ayemenem, largely ignored by Chacko and Mammachi (grown soft with sorrow, slumped in their bereavement like a pair of drunks in a toddy bar) and largely ignoring Baby Kochamma. In matters related to the raising of Rahel, Chacko and Mammachi tried, but couldn’t. They provided the care (food, clothes, fees), but withdrew the concern. (15)

When viewed against the background of the novel, the first parenthetical reference quoted above gives vital details in brief regarding the death of Ammu, an incident that is to be described in all its tragic intensity later on in the novel. The second use of parenthesis serves only to emphasise the extent of the sorrow experienced by Chacko and Mammachi at the death of Sophie Mol, although the simile used is not quite in keeping with the sad tone of the context. The third one just supplies further explanatory details that in no way concern the progression of the story, and hence could perhaps even be dispensed with.

There are also several instances of incidents given within brackets which, though actually irrelevant, become part of the narration since they are set off by disconnected thoughts that shuttle between various time and place zones. For example: ‘Rahel at the bathroom door. Slim-hipped. (“Tell her she’ll need a Caesarean!”a drunk gynaecologist had said to her husband while they waited for their change at the gas station.)’ (92). It is to be noted that the bracketed incident occurs while Rahel is in America before she gets divorced, and this leap in the narrator’s memory is from the narrative present to the past, with the provocation for the thought just being the slimness of Rahel’s hips. Another similar treatment of parenthetical information is to be found where Rahel is impressed by the enormity of Baby Kochamma’s legs, during the toilet scene at Abhilash Talkies: ‘Rahel studied her baby grand aunt’s enormous legs. (Years later during a history lesson being read out in school – The Emperor Babur had a wheatish complexion and pillar-like thighs – this scene would flash before her. . . . Poor little tiny feet to carry such a load!)’ (95). Here, Rahel’s thoughts are depicted as progressing unnaturally–from the time of narration of the incident to that of one which takes place years later.

Roy’s use of brackets in The God of Small Things can thus be seen as an effective tool offering authorial comments, whether necessary or not. Since the parenthetical information also gives an insight into the mind of particular characters, following the wake of the stream of consciousness method, this device is considered as standing apart from the conventional use of it by writers in general (Surendran 56).

Another extraordinary typographical deviation noted in Roy’s novel pertains to that of spacing which is most evident on pages 33 and 34 of chapter one, pages 251, 252, 265 and 266 of chapter 13, pages 282 and 283 of chapter 14, and pages 326 and 327 of chapter 20. The last sentence of chapter one is separated from the penultimate one by a gap of more than half a page, which itself is a totally unusual feature. Added to the lone status of this sentence on a full page is its incompleteness indicated by elliptical dots: ‘HOWEVER, for practical purposes, in a hopelessly practical world . . .’ (34). The visual peculiarities of this sentence also seem to give it the force of an ‘after thought.’ This reading can be substantiated by closely investigating the last section of chapter one, where the narratorial focus is on locating the exact time when ‘it all began.’ The conclusion reached is: ‘That it really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. / And how much.’ (emphasis added) (33). The capitalisation of ‘HOWEVER’ and the elliptical dots of the last sentence typographically set it off from the rest of the chapter as well. Besides setting aside the probability of the story beginning at some vague point of time in the distant past, the narrator chooses to begin the story, at least on practical considerations, from a more recent time. Chapter 2, which begins with elliptical dots, therefore, appears to be a logical sequence to the first one, since it not only completes the elliptical sentence of the previous chapter but also tries to fix the story as beginning on ‘a skyblue day in December sixty-nine (the nineteen silent)’ (35).

Beginning with Sophie Mol’s first day at Ayemenem, the first section of chapter 13 proceeds to narrate in detail the story of Chacko and his English ex-wife Margaret. The point of view shifts from Sophie Mol to Chacko and Margaret, and also refers to the child’s tragic death. The circumstances that actually lead to the tragedy are narrated after a spatial delay of about half a page, which begins with the typographically deviant: ‘IT WAS ABOUT NINE in the morning when Mammachi and Baby Kochamma got news of a white child’s body found floating downriver . . . ’ (252). Thus the spacing and the capitalisation emphasise the sudden shift in narration as well as the context of the narration, from the arrival of Sophie Mol to the unfortunately coincidental circumstances that contribute to her death, and the events thereafter (252-265). However, the narratorial attention returning to Margaret Kochamma and Sophie Mol on the day of their arrival at Ayemenem is again indicated by the same deviant technique — that of exaggerated spacing and the overuse of capitalisation: ‘SORROW, HOWEVER, was still two weeks away. . . ’ (266).

A similar technique is to be noted in the method of unusual spacing in chapter 14 also (282-283). The narrative focus shifts, after a vacant gap of more than a page, from Chacko and Comrade Pillai to Velutha, who is totally unaware of the day’s unfortunate happenings: ‘VELUTHA CAUGHT the last bus back

. ’(283), only to receive an emotional battering at the hands of Mammachi and also, immediately afterwards, to suffer another let down by his political comrade — Pillai. The first section of chapter 20 (323-26) describes the heart-rending scene at the Cochin Harbour Terminus, where the seven-year-old Estha is separated from his most beloved mother and twin sister. After a wide gap of more than half a page, the next narrative section focusses on Rahel and Estha as grown-ups, and begins with capitalisation: ‘TWENTY-THREE YEARS LATER, Rahel, dark woman in a yellow T-shirt, turns to Estha in the dark’ (327).

It is to be remembered that Roy has a proven track record as a script writer before she stormed into the arena of literary writing. Just as a camera is made to zoom in on various characters and incidents in a film, at key points in the narration of the story through flash backs and flash forwards, a similar cinematic effect may be achieved through the technique of deviant spacing in the graphological depiction of a story. In The God of Small Things, where the narrative style is nonlinear and unconventional in many ways, the unusual spacing of certain paragraphs or sections can be considered as belonging to a type of deviation which indicates a visual leap in memory or linear time, or a shift in narrative persona.

Though the ‘profusion of capitals, inspired mis-spellings, punctuational liberties, single worded sentences, repetitions, single sentence paras etc.,’ are reminiscent to Ranga Rao of ‘a comic strip-cartoon style’ (2), the ‘archly capitalised phrases, coy misspellings and the liberal sprinkling of italics’ have been criticised by Peter Kemp as ‘typographical tweeness’ (qtd. in Cowley 28). Nayantara Sehgal also considers the book as ‘buried under a great deal of extraneous packaging;’ as having ‘too much artifice’ (Ghose 125). Michael Gorra, however, has an easier time with capitals especially when they are used to denote the workings of a child’s mind, ‘for there they help to capture the child’s powerless awareness of an incomprehensible adult world’ (22).

In books written in English, the usual practice is for writers to make use of a variety of English that is accepted as the standard. Thus, any utterance or passage in a nonstandard variety of English will be foregrounded against the main body of the text written in Standard English. The use in literary writings of regional dialects and slang words can be treated as examples of dialectal deviation. Roy’s humorous attempt to reproduce the ineptitude in English of a self-professed bilingual like K. N. M. Pillai becomes very evident in the use of words like Amayrica (129), Die-vorced, Mo-stunfortunate (130), and mint (134), in place of ‘America,’ ‘divorced,’ ‘most unfortunate,’ and ‘minute’ respectively, as well as that of others such as the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man’s ‘Porketmunny’ (102), and the policeman’s ‘Yooseless goose’ (312), which are used instead of ‘pocket money’ and ‘useless goose’ respectively. Through such clear deviations from conventional spelling, which are merely as orthographic substitutes for phonetic script, Roy is able to indicate the specific Indian English pronunciation of some of her characters.

Another typical Malayalee use of English is illustrated in Latha’s reciting of ‘Lochinvar’ in a way that makes it sound like a Malayalam translation of it: “O, young Lochin varhas scum out of the vest,. . .” (271). The narratorial voice, thereupon, comments about how the words run into each other with the last syllable of one word attaching itself to the first syllable of the next. A similar treatment of English is also noticed in Lenin’s pronunciation of ‘lend me your ears’ as “lend me yawYERS” (274) and “I cometoberry Caeser, not to praise him. . . .” (275). As succinctly expressed by Vinoda: ‘The Western reader of this novel is bound to find K. N. M. Pillai’s family decidedly un-English not merely because the speakers are non-Westernised non-Indian Christians but because the attitudes, assumptions and expressions manifest in their speech are distinctly Indian’ (‘Moving the “Small” ’ 65).

Typical Indianisms or Indianisation of English are most pronounced in the bilingual speech of Pillai, which exemplifies many of its formal features. His delving into highly personal questions in the misguided form of social interaction, especially when he meets Rahel for the first time after her return from America, is a violation of the expectations of social behaviour that the English language brings with it. Other deviations include the misuse of English articles, as in “He is good worker.” (277), and “For you what is a nonsense, for masses it is something different” (279); the use of verbs with ‘be+ verb +ing’ where standard English does not accept the use of such progressive aspects, as in “He’s standing first in class. This year he will be getting double-promotion.” (275); and the disordering of the usual pattern of declarative sentences ‘s +v + o,’ as in — “In front of visitors only he’s quiet.” (274); and wrong use of prepositions, such as ‘send him off’ instead of ‘send him away’ (278). Typical Indianisms may also be noticed, in words like “issues” (130) and “double-promotion” (275); in the addressing of even total strangers by kinship terms like ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle,’ as in “Lenin Mon, tell Comrade Uncle. . .” (274), where the word ‘uncle’ does not imply any relationship but merely the acknowledgement of a casual visitor like Chacko; in the insistence on elaborate kinship terms like “daughter’s daughter” (129), instead of just‘grand daughter;’ in interjections such as “Oho” and in the placing of ‘I suppose’ at the end of sentences, as in “On the way to Cochin, I suppose” (277).

Arundhati Roy has adopted a style here which is a blending of English as well as Indian vocabulary, idioms and mannerisms, thereby lending authenticity and credibility to characters like Comrade Pillai. Though the majority of her characters are anglicised Christians whose English approximates the standard variety, there are average Indians also whose dialectal deviations reveal their socio-linguistic and cultural background. The distinguishing traits of Roy’s style is described by Vinoda as follows:

The God of Small Things uses the Indian English idioms, collocations, vocabulary items, syntax and pronunciation to a telling effect. The disparity between what one has learned to expect from standard English and what one finds manifested in the Indian English here has become a great creative opportunity for the novelist to light up some significant aspects of the common Indian personality. Style here is no longer a mere dress of thought, but is its soul. (‘Moving the “Small” ’ 68)

Deviation of register is yet another means of foregrounding, where language according to use is contrasted with language according to user. Register is described as ‘the term commonly used for language variation of a non-dialectal type’ which, for example, differentiates between polite and familiar language, scientific, religious, legal language etc. (Leech and Short 80). It is possible for a writer to achieve foregrounding by means of register mixing or making use of various kinds of registers. Roy’s sensitivity to the variegated background of her characters becomes evident in the way in which she assigns them the appropriate kind of register. Comrade Pillai’s unshakeable faith in Marxism has become so much a part of his character that even in casual conversations, he unconsciously slips into a political register that is akin to leftist pamphleteering. When Chacko asks him whether the march by Marxist supporters has been a success or not, he immediately retorts: “Unless and until demands are met, comrade, we cannot say it is Success or Non-success.” A pamphleteering inflection crept into Comrade Pillai’s voice. “Until then, struggle must continue” (276). The context where Roy describes the hybrid nature of Indian Marxism is another such example: ‘The Marxists worked from within the communal divides, never challenging them, never appearing not to. They offered a cocktail revolution. A heady mix of Eastern Marxism and orthodox Hinduism, spiked with a shot of democracy’ (66-67).

The effect of Chacko’s younger days as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford is often reflected in his ‘Reading Aloud voice,’ and carried over to what Ammu humorously refers to as his ‘Oxford Moods’ (54). His lofty academic register becomes prominent even when he is explaining something like history to the young twins:

He explained to them that history was like an old house at night. With all the lamps lit. And ancestors whispering inside.

‘To understand history,’ Chacko said, ‘we have to go inside and listen to what they’re saying. And look at the books and the pictures on the wall. And smell the smells. (52)

Baby Kochamma’s passion for ornamental gardening is also convincingly presented through an appropriate botanical register: ‘The flower she loved the most was the anthurium. Anthurium andraeanum. She had a collection of them, the “Rubrum”, the “Honeymoon” and a host of Japanese varieties’ (26). Since religion is what initially provides a common ground for Baby Kochamma and Father Mulligan to be together, the young girl resorts to an appropriate religious register as a ruse to engage him in a conversation: “There’s something I wanted to ask you, Father . . .. In First Corinthians, chapter ten, verse twenty-three, it says . . . ‘All things are lawful for me , but all things are not expedient’. Father, how can all things be lawful unto Him? . . .” (23). The comical effect of the scene is enhanced when the narratorial voice also comments upon the reality of the situation — that ‘both [are] quaking with unchristian passion’ (24).

Interpolation of bits of living foreign languages is another type of deviation in The God of Small Things. To this can be related the many references found in the author’s vernacular tongue in a novel written in English, and its pertinence in the literary as well as linguistic contexts, a detailed study of which has already been made. There is a sprinkling of French as well, as in the twice repeated “Et tu? Brute?” (83), which shows the children’s familiarity with the story of Julius Caesar as narrated to them by Ammu. The awareness of Caesar’s death at the hands of his best friend Brutus is sufficient enough to make Estha imagine the cook Kochu Maria in the role of a betrayer and himself as the betrayed, which is to be found reflected in “Et tu? Kochu Maria? – Then fall Estha!” (83). Though the parodied expression in the actual situation is one of childish humour, it is ironic enough in the larger context of the story line when Estha does turn out ultimately to be the betrayer of his dearest friend, Velutha, as well as the betrayed at the same time. Later, in the context of Ammu’s death, the same expression is modified by Rahel into ‘Et tu? Ammu!’ (162), which shows how the child unconsciously equates her mother also to one who has betrayed the love and trust of her children, who, following the fate of Velutha, ‘left them behind, spinning in the dark, with no moorings, in a place with no foundation’ (191-2). Brief references to Hindi words are also to be found in the derogatory expression ‘chhi-chhi poach’ (51) and ‘Laltain’ (89) meaning lantern, besides the Tamil ‘Rombo maduram’ (323).

A detailed investigation of the linguistic excesses and eccentricities of The God of Small Things, thus, provides enough evidential support to establish that Roy has defied the conventional rules of traditional grammar and syntax in addition to coining neologisms, and distorting the use of orthodox punctuation and typographical devices, with a daring and deftness that are, perhaps, paralleled only by other Indian writers like Raja Rao, G. V. Desani and Salman Rushdie. However, a study of the different levels of deviations remains incomplete without an intrusion into semantic deviation, an area that has direct relevance to the use of poetic language.

Critical studies by Sharma and Talwar, Mani Meitei, Hari Padma Rani and Cynthia Driesen, to name a few, have acknowledged the genre-mixing of realism and the poetic mode in Roy’s novel. Sharma and Talwar explain that the epithet ‘poetic mode’ does not mean that most of the writing is poetry or even poetic; on the other hand, it implies the use of linguistic and rhetorical devices that are characteristic of poetry rather than prose (76-77). According to Rani, it is only ‘The sheer bulk of the text, the narrative, characterisation, plot construction and the structure [that] evidently give away the text for a novel’ (338). Driesen considers the occurrence of poetical devices within the form of the novel as sparking off resistance to Roy’s fictional work since ‘All the stock-in-trade of the poet is pressed into use to make language work overtime’ (336).

The poetic quality of The God of Small Things is rated as being enhanced by an emotivity, which is achieved by using connotative vocabulary as in: ‘And what Ammu knew (or thought she knew), smelled of the vapid, vinegary fumes that rose from the cement vats of Paradise Pickles. Fumes that wrinkled youth and pickled futures’ (224). Though written in prose form, the language is strongly marked by features such as strong rhythm, alliteration, rhyme, and patterns of sound which are usually considered as the distinguishing characteristics of poetry. For example, in ‘Half-Hindu Hybrids whom no self-respecting Syrian Christian would ever marry’ (45), the alliteration on /h/ as well as the stress placed on the sound lend the sentence a rhythmic effect which is an approximate depiction of Baby Kochamma’s contempt for the twins, also contrasted by the slurring alliteration of /s/ that follows.

The way in which Roy upsets the ordinary prose style by resorting to rhetorical and stylistic devices can be illustrated by means of the following text-centred investigation:

1. Simile: ‘Strange insects appeared like ideas in the evenings . . .’ (9).

‘Rahel’s new teeth were waiting inside her gums, like words in a pen’(37).

2. Metaphor: ‘Big Man the Lantern. Small man the Tallow-stick (89).

‘The sky was a rose bowl’ (235).

3. Paradox: ‘Real life was inside the van. Where real death was’ (162).

‘She noticed that Sophie Mol was awake for her funeral’ (5).

4. Oxymoron: ‘noisy Television silence’ (28); ‘Beautiful Ugly Toads’ (187).

5. Personification: ‘Earth Woman’ (53); ‘When the old house had closed its bleary eyes and settled into sleep . . . ’ (331).

6. Alliteration and rhythm: ‘The sad singing started again and they sang the same sad verse twice’ (6).

‘Lace flowers and a lucky leaf bloomed on a black back’ (178).

7. Rhyme: ‘Satin-lined. / Brass handle shined’(4).

‘Thimble-drinker. / Coffin-cartwheeler’ (141).

8. Onomatopoeia: ‘Snapsnap the softsound of breaking bones’ (225).

‘Purple herons with pitiless eyes. Deafening, their wraark wraark wraark’ (305).

9. Chiasmus: ‘And he waited. And waiting he wiped. And wiping he waited’ (101).

‘Shutup or Getout. Getout or Shutup’ (100).

10. Pathetic Fallacy: ‘The grass looked wetgreen and pleased’ (10).

‘Coconut trees bent into the river and watched him float by. Yellow bamboo wept’ (333).

11. Synaesthesia: ‘Estha saw how Baby Kochamma’s neckmole licked its chops and throbbed with delicious anticipation’ (147).

‘Behind her slanted sunglasses, her useless eyes were closed, but she could see the music as it left her violin and lifted into the afternoon like smoke’ (167).

12. Transferred epithet: ‘pickled hands’ (172); ‘sleeping light’ (323).

An exhaustive evaluation of the poetic devices employed by Roy in the depiction of her story is beyond the scope of the present study and hence, no further attempt is being made to quantify such occurrences in the novel.

Semantic deviation includes the irrational element present in all literary works, as for example, in Wordsworth’s famous dictum: ‘The child is father of the man.’ Despite the superficial oddity of this statement, a reader is prompted to look beyond the dictionary definition for a reasonable interpretation. According to Leech, this transference of meaning through metaphor in its widest sense becomes ‘the process whereby literal absurdity leads the mind to comprehension on a figurative plane,’ thus becoming ‘the most important single factor which transcends the normal resources of communication’ (Linguistic Guide 49). Roy seems to have gained critical acceptance as ‘the mistress of vivid, ever fresh and most appropriate similes and metaphors’ (Sharma and Talwar 80). The study of style conducted by Rani has revealed the presence of about three hundred similes in Roy’s novel, which aid the reader’s imagination by rendering a visual as well as other dimensions to it (339). These may therefore be taken as definite pointers to the high degree of semantic deviation contained in Roy’s linguistic style.

Deviations of a linguistic nature are not the only type of foregrounding available in literary works. An opposing kind is made up of the introduction of extra regularities into the language in the form of parallelisms. The various possibilities of analysing a text as a pattern of repeated similar structures, on different levels, is demonstrated by Leech by taking the line–‘The furrow followed free’–from Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner as an example (Linguistic Guide 62):

Alliteration is not considered as a usual type of linguistic foregrounding, since it is not bound by any rules of the language. In poetry, parallelisms like alliteration and rhyme belong to a class of extra regularities and are treated as routine licenses, not in need of any foregrounding. But in prose writings, usually such linguistic effects are considered as ‘a positive distraction and hindrance to communication,’ and their use is avoided unless artistically justified, in which case they become foregrounded (Leech, Linguistic Guide 67). The profusion of alliterative foregrounding in The God of Small Things has already been pointed out under linguistic deviations. The only modification that may be added to it is the suggestion that the study of alliterative and rhythmical effects are better included under the list of parallelisms than under that of deviations.

The exact repetition of syntactic structures consisting of a hierarchy of units such as sentence, clause, phrase, word etc., which help in making a text more organised, can also be considered as instances of parallelism where the writer consistently limits himself to the same option even where a choice is available in the language. The significance of a parallelism, however, depends on a connection either of similarity or of contrast between the elements. Leech points out that ‘in any parallelistic pattern there must be an element of identity and an element of contrast’ (Linguistic Guide 65). This does not imply the exact duplication of a sentence ‘because parallelism requires some ‘variable’ feature of the pattern – some contrasting elements which are parallel with respect to their position in the pattern’(66). In Pope’s famous dictum from An Essay on Criticism: ‘To err is human, to forgive divine,’ the parallelism is one of contrastive connection. The term ‘antithesis’ is assigned to such a formal parallelism that is combined with an implication of contrast.

Stressing the overall importance of parallelism in the structure and significance of works of literature, Leech places parallelism in the context of a broad class of repetitive effects called schemes in rhetoric. Figures of speech, in the study of rhetoric, are traditionally classified into tropes, and schemes or figures. Though the former generally denotes a device that involves content or meaning and the latter refers to one of expression, these terms are not always clearly differentiated. In linguistic foregrounding, parallelism is connected to phonology and surface grammatical structure, while deviation is related to areas of deep structure and semantics and is of primary importance. Foregrounded repetitions of expression or schemes include figures such as alliteration, anaphora and chiasmus, which are ‘abnormal arrangements lending themselves to a forceful and harmonious presentation of ideas.’ Foregrounded irregularities of content or tropes are devices involving alteration of the normal meaning of expression and consist of figures like metaphor, irony and synecdoche, which ‘alter the normal meaning of an expression.’ A great deal of interdependence, however, exists between the two levels (Leech, Linguistic Guide 75-76).

Besides alliteration, The God of Small Things also shows ample evidence of the exploitation of the regularities of formal patterning such as verbal repetitions and antithesis. Words and phrases like ‘re-Returned,’ ‘sourmetal smell,’ ‘a viable die-able age,’ and ‘Like old roses on a breeze.’ are very conspicuous by their frequent repetition and can be considered as constituting examples of free repetition ie., the exact copying of some previous part of a text, whether word, phrase or sentence. In addition, some of the different kinds of verbal parallelisms, where the repetitions are only partial, abound in Roy’s novel and consist of the following types (Leech, Linguistic Guide 80-82):

1. Anaphora (a term applied to initial repetition of words): ‘So if she were granted one small wish perhaps it would only have been Not to Know. Not to know what each day held in store for her. Not to know where she might be, next month, next year. Ten years on. Not to know which way her road might turn and what lay beyond the bend’ (224). Similarly,

Past floating yellow limes . . ..

Past green mangoes . . ..

Past glass casks of vinegar with corks.

Past shelves of pectin and preservatives.

Past trays of bitter gourd . . ..

Past gunny bags . . ..

Past mounds of fresh green peppercorns.

Past a heap of banana peels . . ..

Past the label cupboard . . ..

Past the glue.

Past the glue-brush.

Past an iron tub . . ..

Past the lemon squash. (193-94)

2. Epistrophe (final repetition; the opposite of anaphora): ‘In the lobby, the orangedrinks were waiting. The lemondrinks were waiting. The melty chocolates were waiting. The electric blue foamleather car-sofas were waiting. The Coming Soon! posters were waiting’ (101).

3. Symploce (anaphora and epistrophe together):

Squashed Miss Mitten-shaped stains in the Universe.

Squashed frog-shaped stains in the Universe.

Squashed crows . . . in the Universe.

Squashed dogs . . . in the Universe. (82)

4. Anadiplosis (the last part of one unit is repeated at the beginning of the next): ‘Shutup or Getout. Getout or Shutup.’ (100).

5. Epanalepsis (The final part of each unit of the pattern repeats the initial part): ‘Went where they went. Stopped where they stopped.’ (303).

6. Antistrophe (The repetition of items in a reverse order): ‘Nothing mattered much. Nothing much mattered.’ (19).

7. Polyptoton (the repetition of a word with varying grammatical inflections): ‘Prepare to prepare to be prepared.’ (200).

8. Homoioteleuton (the repetition of the same derivational or inflectional ending on different words): ‘So Small God laughed a hollow laugh, and skipped away cheerfully. . . . He whistled, kicked stones’ (19).

The prevalence of antithetical constructions is also easily established with the help of examples such as the following: ‘It was a time when the unthinkable became thinkable and the impossible really happened’ (31). And ‘As a young woman she had renounced the material world, and now, as an old one, she seemed to embrace it. She hugged it and it hugged her back’ (22).

The presence of repetition as a linguistic stylistic device in Roy’s novel is considered, at least by some readers and critics, as a cause for annoyance since its use is more lavish than is actually justified by the weightiness of the context. Beyond conveying a certain rhetorical effect, these are even critically rated as reflecting an inadequacy of language. In a detailed review of such stylistic devices, Nityanandam declares them as ‘eye-catching and novel,’ but their aesthetic purpose as eluding her comprehension (‘Linguistic Experiment’ 114-15).

In the ordinary emotive use of language, repetitions are fundamental but primitive devices of intensification. They also signify a kind of eloquence, even while being considered as indicating poverty of linguistic resources. However, while evaluating the function of verbal parallelism in poetry, Leech’s argument in favour of repetition is that ‘Man needs to express himself abundantly on matters which affect him deeply’ (Linguistic Guide 84). The same can be said of prose writings too, especially when they set up a special relation between expression and content. Roy’s fictional work is certainly one such supreme example, the veracity of which can unquestionably be established by quoting the writer herself. Acknowledging the importance of repetitions in her writing, she has unabashedly declared: ‘I love repetitions . . . because it made me feel safe. Repeated words and phrases have a rocking feeling, like a lullaby. They help take away the shock of the plot — death, lives destroyed or the horror of the settings — a crazy, chaotic, emotional house’ (qtd. in Rama Nair 251).

Words are like clay in the hands of Arundhati Roy. She treats it just as a master will a slave, to make language suit the shape and style of her thoughts. The masterly power with which she creates words in English is also blended with a unique Indian sensibility. By ‘making an assault on the Queen’s very own English, Roy crafts her words and phrases with panache, making language sing, sigh, scream, weep, laugh and grimace. In her power to evoke a sense of atmosphere there is a certain magic’ (Raveendran 100). Recognising her innate ability to sport with language, Kamala Das has observed that ‘Arundhati uses English as a plaything. She can spit at correct English’ (qtd. in Ghose 125). Rama Kundu (52) rates Roy’s novel as a fresh and fine example of non-canonical New English literatures, which consciously depart from Standard English in the attempt to assimilate English words with the expression of indigenous experience. In a similar vein, Taisha Abraham also feels that ‘Through collaged words, regional aphorisms, and culturally eclipsed meanings, Roy wrenches the English language from its colonial roots, creating her own “Locusts Stand I”(89).

Liberating herself from the fetters of conventional thinking and writing, Roy shows remarkable guts, besides talent, in the invention of a new idiom and vocabulary. She recreates English into a language that is expressive of old concepts in a new way, ‘which is moulded according to every new need, which in anarchic fashion does not obey the rules of grammar or syntax any more’ (Piciucco 321). Speaking of her own use of language, Roy has admitted: ‘Language is a very reflective thing for me. I don’t know the rules, so I don’t know if I have broken them’ (qtd. in Dhawan 21). Seen in the context of this self-admission, her manipulation of the English language may rightly be described as ‘rule-bending creativity’ (Tripathi 307).

The above study of the linguistic deviations and parallelisms in Roy’s novel highlights the different ways in which the author has surpassed the normal creative resources of the English language. The diversity of techniques used by Roy may not find many parallels if not in world fiction, at least in the world of Indian fiction. Because of its daring innovations, The God of Small Things definitely breaks new ground with a highly individualised or idiosyncratic style.

Anthony Burgess, in the Introduction to G. V. Desani’s novel All about H. Hatterr, has discussed F. W. Bateson’s distinction between the native English writer and the ‘meteques’ or writers with a non-English linguistic or racial background (7). According to Bateson, the ‘meteque,’ being on the fringe of a language and its culture, treats the finer rules of English grammar with disrespect. It is this marginalised position which prompts a ‘meteque’ to adopt a style that an English writer would consider as a ‘perverse defiance of the genius of the language.’ Defending the linguistic stance of such non-English writers Burgess, however, asserts that ‘the “meteques” have done more for English in the twentieth century (meaning that they have shown what the language is capable of, or demonstrated what English is really like) than any of the pure-blooded men of letters who stick to the finer rules.’ This recognition of the non-English writer’s creative skill certainly raises the word ‘meteque’ from a pejorative term to that of a writer who is an integral part of the mainstream English linguistic tradition. Roy, with her deviant and defiant use of English, is found admirably suited to be labelled a ‘meteque,’ just as it has been considered so in the case of Desani.


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Roy, Arundhati. (1997) The God of Small Things, IndiaInk, New Delhi. (Subsequent references to the text are indicated only by the page number).

Sharma, R. S. and Shashi Bala Talwar. (1998) Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’: Critique and Commentary, Creative, New Delhi.

Short, Mick. (1995) ‘Understanding Conversational Undercurrents in ‘The Ebony Tower’ by John Fowler’, Twentieth-Century Fiction: From Text to Context, eds. Peter Verdonk and Jean Jacques Weber. Routledge, London. 45-59.

Menon, Visalakshi. ‘A Novel about Suffering? Childhood Cruelty?’ Malayalam Literary Survey 1998, 20. 2-3 : 108-111.

Nair, Rama. ‘Of Roses and Rivers: Thematic Symbolism in The God of Small Things.’ Dhawan 248-55.

Narasimhaiah, C. D. ‘The Booker Prize: A Curse to Creativity. Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things’, Editorial 1. Literary Criterion 1997, 32.3 : i-ix.

Nityanandam, Indira. (1999) ‘God’s Own Country: Kerala in The God of Small Things’, Explorations: Arundhati Roy’sThe God of Small Things.’ ed. Indira Bhatt and Indira Nityanandam, Creative, New Delhi. 179-84.

–––. ‘The God of Small Things: A Linguistic Experiment’, ed. Indira Bhatt and Indira Nityanandam, Creative, New Delhi. 113-119.

Parasuram, Laxmi. ‘The world of Small and Big Things: Transgressions of Rules and Roles in The God of Small Things’, Dhawan 100-103.

Patil, Mallikarjun. (1999) ‘Raja Rao and Arundhati Roy’s Indianisation of English in Their Fiction’, ed. Manmohan K. Bhatnagar, vol 4. Atlantic, New Delhi. 121-127.

Piciucco, Pier Paolo. ‘The Goddess of Small Things: Some Observations on the Fictional Technique of Arundhati Roy’s First Novel’, Dhawan 319-27.

Pillai, C. Gopinatha. (1999) ‘Aesthetics of Post-Colonial Feminism: A Reading of The God of Small Things’, The Critical Studies of Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’, ed. Jaydipsinh Dodiya and Joya Chakravarty, Atlantic, New Delhi. 87-92.

Ramanan, Mohan. ‘The Small God of Indian Fiction’, Journal of Indian Writing in English 1999, 27.1 : 44 – 48.

Rani, P. Hari Padma. ‘The Structural Ambiguity of The God of Small Things’, Dhawan 338-41.

Rao, Ranga. ‘Book(er) of the Year’, Hindu Magazine 23 Nov. 1997: 2.

Raveendran, Vanajam. ‘All’s in the Telling of a Story — Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things’, Malayalam Literary Survey 1998, 20. 2-3 : 97-103.

Riffaterre, Michael. (1967) ‘Criteria for Style Analysis.’ 1959. Essays on the Language of Literature, eds. Seymour Chatman and Samuel R. Levin. Houghton, Boston. 412 – 430.

Roy, Arundhati. (1997) The God of Small Things, IndiaInk, New Delhi. (Subsequent references to the text are indicated only by the page number).

Sharma, R. S. and Shashi Bala Talwar. (1998) Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’: Critique and Commentary, Creative, New Delhi.

Short, Mick. (1995) ‘Understanding Conversational Undercurrents in ‘The Ebony Tower’ by John Fowler’, Twentieth-Century Fiction: From Text to Context, eds. Peter Verdonk and Jean Jacques Weber. Routledge, London. 45-59.

Surendran, K. V. ‘Arundhati Roy’s Innovations in The God of Small Things’, Punjab Journal of English Studies 1999, 14 : 51-61.

Tripathi, Prayag D. ‘Material, Mode/Manner, Musicality with Metaphoric Multiplicity: The God of Small Things’, Dhawan 307-18.

Updike, John. ‘Mother Tongues: Subduing the Language of the Coloniser’, rev. of The God of Small Things, New Yorker June 23 & 30 1997 : 156-59.

Vinoda, T. Moving the “Small” to the Centre: The God of Small Things–A Study in Style’, Kakatiya Journal of English Studies 1998, 18 : 53-69.

. ‘Small is Beautiful: Arundhati Roy’s Universe’, Litttcrit 1998, 24. 46-47: 24-34.


BEENA GOPINATH. Teaches English at the Govt. College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. Her main area of interest is Indian fiction in English, especially those by women writers.

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Teaches English at the Govt. College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. Her main area of interest is Indian fiction in English, especially those by women writers.

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