The Destructive Impact of the Caste System on Relationships in "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy



The Destructive Impact of the Caste System on Relationships in The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy


The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is set in the village of Ayemenem and explores the impact of the caste system on society. The caste system, which has long been in place in India, is a social structure that divides people into different hierarchies depending on their births and occupation. Through the characters' storylines, the author exposes the caste system that creates deeply rooted oppression, violence, discrimination, and prejudices against the lower caste. The relationship between Ammu and Velutha, in particular, illustrates the impact of the caste system in perpetuating marginalization and inequalities in society. The author specifically employs the flashback technique to connect each character’s past with their present, providing readers with in-depth insights into the motivations and values behind their efforts to survive in the caste system.

The narrative centers around a Syrian Christian family, and their relationship with the lower-caste Paravans. While Rahel and Estha, the main protagonists, are raised in a privileged family, their mother, Ammu, falls in love with a lower caste Paravan named Velutha. The Paravans are regarded by society as “Untouchables” and are exposed to different sorts of prejudice and violence just because they belong to that social hierarchy. Paravans, for example, are not permitted to stroll on the roads, cover their top bodies,  or even carry an umbrella. They must also cover their mouths when speaking “to divert their polluted breath away from those whom they address” (Roy, 123). As higher castes consider the Paravans as less human, they are not permitted to interact with higher-caste individuals. Despite these societal norms, Ammu and Velutha fall in love with each other.

             Roy’s theme of forbidden romance demonstrates that love is a formidable and unstoppable force that no traditional, oppressive social norm cannot stop. Ammu and Velutha’s relationship displays such unstoppable force. However, traditional society attempts to extinguish genuine love, which is why their relationship is consistently associated with suffering, mortality, and sorrow in the novel. Their love for each other is genuine, yet society frowns upon their relationship. Their respective families disapprove of their romance, and Ammu and Velutha face severe consequences for their love. Her family and community ostracize Ammu, while Velutha’s father fears the consequences of violating caste lines. Their love is considered a sin and a challenge to the established society. Nevertheless, Ammu and Velutha continue to see each other and develop a strong emotional bond. 

Their relationship, however, ends tragically. Ammu is beaten and expelled from her “distinct” caste, while Velutha is almost beaten to death by a policeman. The tragic end of Ammu and Velutha's relationship demonstrates the caste system's impact on people's lives. The caste system limits individual freedom and social mobility, fostering prejudice, violence, and injustice. Baby Kochamma and Pappachi are examples of those who rigorously and maliciously attempt to uphold the caste system, while Ammu and Velutha display the complete opposite, being the most unorthodox and courageous in their attempts to disrupt it. Ammu and Velutha defy the established institution with the power of love, but they pay the ultimate price for their "defiance." Through this relationship, Roy illustrates the weight of the caste system on individuals’ choices and freedom, implying that the caste system decides an individual’s fate, which cannot be changed whatsoever.

In the novel, the author uses the flashback technique as a powerful tool to understand the characters’ motivations and actions in the present. Ammu’s past experiences with love and marriage shape her attitudes and behaviors towards love in the present. Before Velutha, Ammu failed her marriage with Baba, which is seen as a social failure for women in Indian society. While divorce has no negative consequences for men, it does affect women’s reputation and position. Ammu’s reputation suffers greatly as society perceives her failure to fulfifll her duty as a wife. Love and marriage are more established customs that are dictated by one's social standing and are heavily dominated by men. Women in Indian society must conform to traditional gender roles, and if not, they face social stigma, just like Ammu did. Despite such negativities and dire consequences, Ammu constantly attempts to escape from this oppressive environment through a divorce from Baba and her love for Velutha, a lower-caste man.

Roy also uses the flashback technique to indicate that Velutha's defiance against the caste system began in his early years, long before his relationship with Ammu. Lower-caste workers face limited opportunities in pursuing their passion. Their social status simply does not allow any attempt at social mobility. Velutha was fortunate enough to be recognized and appreciated by Mammachi for his talent as a carpenter. However, Mammachi even said “he hadn’t been a Paravan, he might have become an engineer. (Roy, 72)” This shows that his caste identity prevented him from pursuing certain professions and reaching his full potential. His background story also demonstrates how the caste system perpetuates social and economic inequalities in Indian society and how lower-caste members cannot overcome these barriers. These social limitations motivate Velutha to join the communist march in an effort to abolish the caste system. Through the stories of Velutha, Roy emphasizes the dark reality that lower-caste members face and why he was motivated to challenge the established system.

In conclusion, The God of Small Things portrays the destructive power of the caste system and the damaging consequences through the characters' intricate and strained relationships. Each character struggles to survive within the rigid caste system and faces dire consequences when they challenge the existing social norms. Through each storyline, the novel vividly depicts the existing limitations and inequalities perpetuated by the caste system. Overall, Roy casts light on the oppressive and unjust nature of the caste system, emphasizing the injustice that exists in all facets of Indian society.


Jeffrey Kang


Jeffrey Kang is a student at St. Paul's School. He is interested in studying economics or psychology in the future. He also enjoys skiing competitively.


  1. Sounds like very interesting and dramatic work.

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