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The Presence of Sophie Mol

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  • Category: Books

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“The God of Small Things” was the first novel written by Ms. Arundhati Roy, a professional architect brought up in southwestern India, in the Kerala State, which is drawn from her own experiences in life. The tragic story of a Syrian Christian family from Ayemenem, at the Kerala State, motivated by internal jealousies and alienated by social prejudices was given life by Ms. Roy’s unique structure and lyrical prose in writing.[1]

Ms. Roy recounted the story in a non-linear mode instead of the usual style of starting from the beginning until it reaches the climax of the story. Through the innocent eyes of the children, the scenarios were presented through flashbacks, effortlessly shifting from past to present and laying bare the story for the readers to see how they are all interconnected and yet contain its significance on its own.

The story was narrated through Rahel’s and Esthappen’s (nicknamed Estha) eyes, both as 7 year olds and during their 30’s when Rahel went back home to Ayemenem to see once again her brother Estha. The lives of the fraternal twin, Rahel and Estha, were presented in the complex and diverse social environment of castes and Syrian Christianity in post-colonial India.[2] Separately and together, the two experienced painful events that will eventually mark them for life, with Rahel later undergoing a divorce due to her inability to lead a normal life with her husband, and with Estha who lived alone and surrounded himself with eternal silence as he coped with his emotional and psychological trauma from childhood.

What really happened that fateful two weeks that affected the lives of the characters in the story? Who is Sophie Mol in the life of Rahel and Estha? What is the significance of Sophie Mol’s death in the unraveling of the twin’s tale?

Sophie Mol is the twin’s cousin from Europe, daughter of Rahel and Estha’s Uncle Chako and Margaret Kochamma. “Mol” is understood as “girl”, while “mon” is defined as “boy” throughout the novel.[3]

The story of the “God of Small Things” opened through the death of Sophie Mol. Her demise would be the start of a string of tragedies that will affect the lives of the Ipe family where Rahel and Estha belonged. In a matter of two weeks, the lives of the twin began to unravel, exposing the family’s little secrets that eventually ruined each of the members of the family.

First, Estha was molested by the “OrangeDrink LemonDrink Man”, who worked the concession stand at the Abhilash Talkies, a movie theater. This traumatic experience which he borne alone was followed by the discovery of his mother’s, Ammu, and the family’s handyman, Velutha’s, affair by Baby Kochamma (the twin’s grandfather’s sister – grand-aunt) and Mammachi (blind grandmother of Rahel, Estha and Sophie Mol and the founder of the family pickle factory).

The discovery of Ammu and Velutha’s affair exposed the eyes of the reader to the issue of caste system in India. Velutha is considered an “Untouchable” based on their social structure, such that it forbids him from ever “touching” and loving a “Touchable” Syrian Christian like Ammu.

Though Ammu is divorced from her alcoholic husband, and finds contentment and love in Velutha’s arms, their environment will never permit her to openly show her emotions and feelings to her lover – for the punishment, if found out, is imprisonment and death for Velutha. Ammu’s God of small things is actually Velutha who could never be more than a lover (and a handyman – in the eyes of her family) as they carry on with what is considered as a taboo relationship.

Velutha, incidentally, was not only a good lover to Ammu, but also the father figure in the twin’s eyes. The children love Velutha due to his gentleness with them, although it is forbidden and would never advanced into a position of permanency within the Ipe family due to the caste system.

The unearthing of this affair, affected the children in such a way that Estha finally decided to escape in The History House, an abandoned dwelling located across the Meenachal River that was rumored as haunted, because he believed that “Anything can happen to anyone…It’s best to be prepared”.[4] Sophie Mol convinced the twin that it was essential that she should also be with them in the said house. This decision to include Sophie Mol resulted in a tragedy, claiming the 9-year old’s life by accidentally drowning in the river.

Events unraveled soon as Baby Kochamma and Mammachi imprisoned Ammu inside the closet and convinced the police officers that Velutha abducted the children. She convinced the twin that the Ipe family will pay for Sophie’s death and that in order to save the family and their mother from imprisonment, they should inform the police that Velutha was not innocent and was in fact instrumental in the death of Sophie Mol. Estha eventually took it upon himself to tell the police that his beloved Velutha killed Sophie Mol so that the Ipe family will not be disgraced in the eyes of the society. This resulted in the handyman’s imprisonment and death.

Rahel and Estha are two dysfunctional products that were created by the events that happened (i.e., lemondrink man, Sophie Mol’s death, Velutha’s destruction, and the anger, dissatisfaction, jealousies and lack of positive emotion from their relatives). The two are victims of the norms and beliefs of the society they lived in and as they seek for love in their lives, they were assaulted by harmful and negative emotions that eventually “killed” them in their adult years. The impact of the story was felt more deeply by Estha, who eventually chose the life of silence, growing more introverted and alone in his adult life.

Having laid out the story as it is, we are then focusing our assessment on the importance of Sophie Mol in the lives of the twin and in the story itself.

I believe that one of the major significance of Sophie Mol’s presence in the story is the whiff of European lifestyle that the writer introduced. Sophie’s actuations, way of dressing, and the difference in terms of culture was somehow subtly presented to the readers. Her culture is different from the Indian way of life that is full of taboo in terms of the caste system (that Europe does not have).

By introducing a culture that is quite different from the one lived by the major characters, the writer somehow produces a sense of discontentment to the reader, raising questions such as “Why is life in India different from other places like Europe?” and “Why is there a social structure in India (caste system) and is it useful to the people?”.

Likewise, her “European-style intrusion into the Indian landscape is said to have caused darkness”[5] for it is her demise that eventually put things into motion, giving reason for jealous relatives to cause further destruction and to put an end to the love affair that is forbidden.

Sophie Mol’s death can also be seen as the twin’s, Rahel and Estha, death from childhood. The bitter and painful events that followed after Sophie Mol’s death brutally propelled Rahel and Estha into the adult life, forever traumatized and stained by the experiences they have gone through together. It required them to be adults within the bodies of 7 year olds, forced to protect their family by choosing a difficult road ahead.

Sophie Mol both embodied a window of change (in terms of culture) as well as those things that cannot be changed. She is Europe, which is a new world and does not have the social structure that India has, and at the same time, Sophie Mol symbolizes death for Rahel and Estha’s innocence.

With Sophie Mol’s arrival in the lives of the twin, they soon learned that “things can change in a day” without warning. The children, together with the readers, learned that in a flash, lives could be twisted and changed into new, ugly shapes that can never be brought back into its original shape again. With Sophie’s death, the twin’s lives are changed forever. Their sense of security and innocence were forever robbed from them as they were forced to face life in its real, ugly, painful face.

Sophie Mol’s presence in the story is crucial as the writer narrated the struggle of humans in oppressive situations. The major characters in the story were finally pushed to an emotional breaking point, forcing them to rely on their own willpower and inner strengths to get through the situation.

One very significant realization that I got from this book is that children have their own ways of coping with disasters or tragedies that are so unlike the way adults do. Rahel and Estha speak in a language that the adults in the family do not understand – not because of grammar but due to context. Children have their own reality inside their minds that eventually help them in coping with sad and painful events in their lives. Just like what the twin did during Sophie’s funeral, they imagined that Sophie is doing cartwheels inside her coffin and that she was just sleeping and would later on wake up buried under the ground. Still, as the children try to escape inside their minds, their outward dealing with the world and the reality is already flawed somehow by the events that traumatized and hurt them.


Arundhati Roy. 10 May 2007. http://www.india50.com/arundhati.html.

Arundhati Roy: the God of Small Things. 10 May 2007.


Brians, Paul. “Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things Study Guide”. 13 December 1998.

10 May 2007. http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/anglophone/roy.html.

Sambasivan, Priya. “Embedded Stories”. 11 April 2004.

10 May 2007. http://www.georgetown.edu/users/ama44/stories.html.

[1] Arundhati Roy. http://www.india50.com/arundhati.html.

[2] Arundhati Roy: the God of Small Things. http://www.megaessays.com/viewpaper/89141.html.

[3] Brians, Paul. “Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things Study Guide”. 13 December 1998. 10 May 2007. http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/anglophone/roy.html.

[4] Sambasivan, Priya. “Embedded Stories”. 11 April 2004. 10 May 2007. http://www.georgetown.edu/users/ama44/stories.html.

[5] Brians, Paul. Ibid.

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