Everyone was, or at some point in their lives, will be, afraid. Fear is an unstoppable, unruly force that refuses to discriminate, unveiling itself at any moment throughout every person’s life. In The God of Small Things, fear pervades through the novel’s disjointed narrative, showing its prominence in its relevance to characters’ lives. It builds upon each character in the book, as they are either haunted by their past, unsettled by their present, or fearful of the future. As their lives progress, the characters in this novel rediscover their fears, and slowly uncover their origins. The characters, specifically Ammu, Velutha, Rahel and Estha, all encounter fear in different ways, such as through dreams, flashbacks of the past, or head on. In face of their fears, each character copes differently; individually, Ammu isolates herself, Velutha is consumed, Rahel runs away from her past, and Estha amplifies his guilt. Fear lurks within and warps characters’ perceptions of the world and themselves, driving their actions along the way. Ammu’s fear stems from the idea of being caught between two worlds, “touchable” and “untouchable”. By entering into a sexual relationship with Velutha, Ammu extricates herself from her own caste, but will never be fully accepted into Velutha’s caste. Before this relationship, Ammu was different from many of those in her society because social ranking was never something she cared much about. After divorcing Baba, Ammu is more upset that she wasted years of her life married to someone she didn’t care about, rather than embarrassed of her divorce. Her relationship with Velutha is an escape from the confines of the caste system. However, this relationship quickly leads downhill and after Velutha’s death, Ammu’s disinterest in the caste system is replaced with fear of it, along with her newfound fear of death. Following his death, Ammu is completely lost, both in her life and her society. This is highlighted in one of her dreams when she “gathered up her heavy hair, wrapped it around her face, and peered down the road to Age and Death through its parted strands” (213). The representation of life as a road shows that Ammu perceives life as defined, narrow, and inescapable. Fear has warped her perception of life by narrowing down the possibilities for her future, so that at present, all she can see ahead of her is age and death. By emphasizing Ammu’s insecurities, fear drives her to separate herself from society as an oddity. Rather than fighting for what she believes in, Ammu runs away, isolating herself from everyone in her life. In one of her dreams, she sees a “thin red cow with a protruding pelvic bone” swim out to sea “without wetting her horns, without looking back” (Roy 206). In this dream, the ocean juxtaposes Ammu’s world; the ocean is a realm of limitless possibilities, while Ammu’s world is full of limitations. After Ammu dies, she leaves everyone behind without a second glance; “Ammu got up from the table and left without saying a word. Not even good-bye” (153). In face of her overwhelming fear, Ammu resorts to complete isolation. Velutha’s fear of the caste system enforces barriers between him and Ammu that remain pertinent throughout their relationship. On their first encounter, when Ammu approaches Velutha and lays her body against his, he stands stoic, frozen by fear, shivering “Partly with terror. Partly with aching desire” (316). Fear of the “touchables” had been drilled into Velutha until it became an innate part of his nature, which he carried wherever he went. This causes him to pause and freeze in terror in the face of a person who could set him free, because even though “his body was prepared to take the bait”, his mind carried the barriers of social hierarchies with him. Even when they have intercourse, Velutha’s fear of the consequences of this relationship is so strong that it contaminates an otherwise perfect expression of freedom;”Biology designed the dance. Terror timed it.” (317). Even though the act of sex itself was a demonstration of rebellion against the persecution of the caste system, it did not eradicate the prevalence of fear within Velutha. Velutha’s fear was so prevalent that it didn’t just haunt him; it controlled and “timed” his actions. He fed his fear with uncertainties about the consequences of his actions and his belief in the caste system, to the point where he created a barrier between himself and freedom. When Velutha finally gave in to his yearnings and had intercourse with Ammu for the first time, he “sailed on her waters”, and when “he had touched the deepest depths of her, with a sobbing, shuddering sigh, he drowned” (318). The ocean used to describe Ammu is symbolic of fear, in the sense that Velutha is surrounded by it and cannot escape. Fear made Velutha realize how much he desired Ammu and how far he was willing to go to be with her, binding it intrinsically to his desire. Like Ammu, Rahel’s fear stems from Velutha’s death, which catalyzes Estha and Rahel’s fear of abandonment and insecurity. Throughout the book, it is clear that Rahel has a extreme fear of abandonment; she’s afraid of losing love from Ammu. We first see this when she mocks her mother after Estha’s encounter with the Orangedrink Lemondrink man and the “cold moth” first appears. Following this, Rahel carries the fear and “sadness of Ammu loving her a little less” (110). After Velutha dies, Rahel claims that “He left behind a Hole in the Universe, through which darkness poured like liquid tar” and her mother followed, leaving her and her brother behind “with no moorings, in a place with no foundation” (182). By describing his death as leaving a “Hole in the Universe”, Rahel expresses that her world is dependent on the people in it, and by removing one of the people she loved, a part of her is lost in a metaphorical “Hole”; the loss of such an important adult in her life magnifies her fear of abandonment. This experience, coupled with Ammu’s abandonment, drives her out of Ayemenem, hoping to escape her past. Rather than choosing to run away from Velutha’s death like Rahel, Estha let himself be haunted by the memories, and as a result, his fear of the past dominates his present. When Estha was asked whether or not Velutha was sleeping with his mother, he “had looked into that beloved face and said: Yes” (32). His refusal to let go of these memories resulted in him carrying his guilt with him, therefore engendering his fear to speak. Estha’s fear of expressing his opinions stems from his guilt in causing Velutha’s death. In a sense, Estha’s quietness helped him come to terms with this. His use of silence as a coping mechanism is shown through how the quietness “sent its stealthy, suckered tentacles inching along the insides of his skull, hovering the knolls and dells of his memory, dislodging old sentences, whisking them off the tip of his tongue” (13). His part in Velutha’s death haunts him; “he carried inside him the memory of a young man with an old man’s mouth. The memory of a swollen face and a smashed, upside-down smile. Of a spreading pool of clear liquid with a bare bulb reflected in it. Of a bloodshot eye that had opened, wandered, and then fixed its gaze on him. Estha” (32). Estha’s memories of the past, specifically the initial fear and preceding guilt regarding Velutha’s death, became so ingrained in Estha’s memory that they exacerbated his guilt to extreme heights. This guilt silenced him, in fear of inciting pain and death on the people he loved. Fear attaches itself to individual characters, festering in times of calm and manifesting in times of weakness in different ways. This results in a varied perception and reaction to fear, as it draws strength from characters’ insecurities and past experiences. Through Roy’s various forms of descriptive imagery, each character’s perception of the world and reactions to fear are illustrated differently. In doing so, Roy weaves the common fear of civilization, powerlessness, and isolation into the lives of each character, all the while showing that they are uniquely affected. Whether they decide to embrace their fears or choose to run away from them, each character will always be trapped in their own personal molds of fear.
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