The God of Small Things | Study Guide

Arundhati Roy

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The God of Small Things | Chapter 10 : The River in the Boat | Summary



On the day Sophie Mol arrives at Ayemenem, Estha disappears. The story now finds him in the pickle factory, where he has gone to think about the horrible encounter he had with the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man. He fears the fact that the man knows where to find him. As he thinks, Estha stirs a batch of banana jam. He comes up with three important thoughts related to his ordeal:

  1. Anything can happen to anyone.
  2. It's best to be prepared.
  3. One needs a boat to row across the river.

In essence he sees the need to have an escape plan should the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man come for him. Rahel finds him shortly after he settles on these ideas, and he shares them with her. He says the escape will involve going across the river to the History House in a boat. This is rather shocking, as no one has gone to the old home since Velutha's father, Vellya Paapen, claimed to see the ghost of Kari Saipu there and pin it to a tree with a sickle. The twins decide they should take a communist flag when they go there, which will make the statement that they don't believe in ghosts.

Rahel agrees to sneak out from her nap to meet Estha at the river. There they find a long-buried boat. They wash it, but it sinks, so they decide to carry it to Velutha's hut so he can fix it for them. Kuttappen, Velusha's paralyzed brother, is the only one at home, but they are obviously used to being around him; he is even well informed about the events happening at the house. He advises them that they should be able to fix the boat, and Velutha confims it when he gets home. So the twins get busy sanding the boat until Rahel remembers she must get back to the house before Ammu wakes up and finds her gone.


Woven throughout the chapter are warnings about the dangers of the river. The twins are good swimmers, but they have been taught to respect the rushing currents, and they think about this as they ponder crossing in the small boat they have found. When Kuttappen hears of their plans for the boat, he warns them of the river's dangers. These warnings are heavy foreshadowings of events to come. The inclusion of a ghost story about the History House is also important. For the children, the idea that the place is haunted might be helpful in dealing with the evil that will eventually happen there. This mysticism is also apparent in the fact that Rahel seems to intuit that Estha is sitting on the boat before she meets him at the river. The events are all set to happen by the universe; the twins do not bring them about.

Another key point in this chapter is Roy's blatant statement for the first time that Ammu and Velutha will have an affair. Ammu will use the boat to cross the river, "(t)o love by night the man her children loved by day." The clues given throughout the book are all starting to add up.

When the twins find the boat, Roy uses the word white repeatedly to describe the "boatworld" it sits in. Then as the twins move it into the water, a white boat-spider drowns, but her babies are released, only to be swept away. Readers should recall that Velutha's name means "white" in the native Malayalam language. It is a joke because he is so black. But it is not funny. This boat, this spider, this love that Velutha will share with Ammu—it will only end in tragedy. As fresh and pure and new as the ideas seem, blackness will overtake it all and sweep people away in the endless rush of an unfair caste system.

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