FEMINIST READING OF ARUNDHATI ROY’S (Part 5)

Posted by Kathryn Schwartz on December 21, 2013
Feminist

ROY’S (Part 5)

The optimism in Rahel makes her confident to continue with life in her own way. The separation from Larry never leaves her depressed. Like an independent woman she plunges into the battle ground for earning bread and butter for herself. She “worked for a few months as a waitress in an Indian restaurant in New York. And then for several years as a night clerk in a bullet-proof cabin at a gas station outside Washington, where drunks occasionally vomited into the money tray, and pimps propositioned her with more lucrative job offers”.

Ammu has to pay with her life for defying the love laws imposed by patriarchal society. Rahel knows it very well. She knows about the destructive consequences for doing anything which orthodox society does not approve. In spite of these consequences, what she does is more dangerous in society’s moral eyes than what her mother does. Her incestuous relationship with her brother at the age of thirty-one cannot be accepted at any cost. But she does not care a fig, and here lies the victory for women which Rahel wins.

Baby Kochamma is the most odious, detestable and nauseating character in the novel who acts as a vile agent of male chauvinistic society. She fails to gain even the least sympathy from the readers. She is the culprit on ruining the lives of Ammu, Estha, Rahel and Velutha. She may have reasons for her vile behaviour, but she cannot be absolved of all responsibilities because of them. She herself is the victim of patriarchy who turns into the tool of social oppression to others, especially the female characters in the novel. In her youth she had fallen in love with father Mulligan, a handsome Irish monk, and to get him, she converted herself to Roman Catholic belief against her father’s will so that she could be near Father Mulligan. When she realized the futility of her effort to get her loved one, because he was already monopolized by the senior nuns, frustrated Baby Kochamma came back home to her father. It ought to be noted that Baby Kochamma’s father could not understand his young daughter’s motive for her conversion to Roman Catholic faith. Baby Kochamma’s father realized that his daughter had developed a ‘reputation’ and “was unlikely to find a husband. He decided that since she couldn’t have a husband there was no harm in her having an education. So he made arrangements for her to attend a course of study at the University of Rochester in America”. This passage voices patriarchal prejudice which considers daughter’s education as a poor substitute for marriage, not as something desirable and valuable for its own sake. Although the hope of getting Father Mulligan is shattered totally, she never forgets him, even at eighty-three years of age.

She is a frustrated woman who is jealous of those who succeed in getting their love. Her frustration for her unconsummated love and accumulated repressed desires make her cold, calculating and inhuman in making Ammu’s life miserable. She also incites Mammachi and Chacko to send Estha to his father in Calcutta, and to drive Ammu away from home. She is a neurotic who “had lived her life backwards. As a young woman she had renounced the material world, and now, as an old one, she seemed to embrace it”. Her indulgence in makeup and fashion at the age of eighty-three proves her a complete narcissist.

She is a complete bully. She is also jealous of those who are successful in life and she cannot find pleasure in seeing other women happy. She deliberately intimidates Ammu for her daring to exercise her right to choose the man she marries and to leave him when found unworthy. “Baby Kochamma resented Ammu, because she saw her quarreling with a fate that she, Baby Kochamma herself, felt she had graciously accepted. The fate of the wretched Man-less woman. The sad, Father Mulligan-less Baby Kochamma”.

Madhumalati Adhikari in her essay ‘Power Politics in The God of Small Things’ remarks:

It is very interesting to note that in the text Roy has carried out covertly the emasculation of men by women and also imasculation of women but not in the conventional derogatory sense. Her women learn to think and act independently and take on the role of the protector but in the process do not sacrifice their feminine qualities.

Mohit Kumar Ray comments: “Seen from the feminist perspective, the novel records a progress, albeit slow, in feminism, offers some rays of hope and seems to suggest a distinct possibility of redemption.” Arundhati’s portrayal of Rahel shows her hope and optimism for the emancipation and liberation of women in future from the clutches of male-dominance.

Roy relentlessly fights for the cause of women. Her feminist concerns are also reflected in her scathing reviews of Shekhar Kapur’s ‘Bandit Queen’, in the film script In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, and in her non-fiction writings. In the novel she attacks the male chauvinist society which takes women as legal, economic and sexual property. A woman is a puppet in the hands of her father before marriage, of husband after marriage and at her old age in the hands of her son. Mammachi receives this kind of brutality and suppression from three generations of patriarchal dominance. Mammachi, Baby Kochamma, Ammu and Rahel are the relentless sufferers at the hands of the males. Pappachi and Chacko appear to be the eternal suppressors and controllers of women. Baby Kochamma, being a woman, takes the side of patriarchy because of jealousy and her unrequited love. Later Mammachi joins hands with patriarchy to accentuate male dominance. Mammachi’s submissive, compliant and meek nature towards her father, husband and son makes her become torturer and suppressor of women later. Ammu rebels against male chauvinists, but fails to defy the age old norms. Her challenge to the traditions and love laws made by the males to dominate women brings a heavy price to pay, and ultimately she has to surrender to fate. Rahel is an embodiment of Roy through whom Roy voices her own protest against male chauvinist society. Rahel is portrayed as a rebel who challenges all sorts of social norms formed to suppress women. Through the eyes of Rahel, Roy dreams of a utopia where there will be no disparity between male and female in rights and dignity.

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