The God of Small Things | Study Guide

Arundhati Roy

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The God of Small Things | Chapter 13 : The Pessimist and the Optimist | Summary



This long and important chapter is set on the afternoon of Sophie Mol's arrival, in Chacko's room where she and her mother are napping. However, the events described do not happen in that room. What is described comes from the past and from the future.

First readers learn about how Chacko and Margaret Kochamma met. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in England, and he came to a café where she was a waitress. Friendly and good-looking, he charmed her, and before long they were dating. After a year they were married, although her father disapproved and his family knew nothing of it. Chacko struggled to find work, and Margaret soon fell out of love with him and in love with Joe. She was newly pregnant with Sophie Mol. When the baby was born, she asked Chacko for a divorce. He returned to India, where he could easily find work, and then moved to the house in Ayemenem once Pappachi died. He became lazy and fat and content to live with his adoring mother. Margaret Kochamma wrote him regularly with news of Sophie Mol. Their friendship was deep enough that she accepted his invitation to visit Ayemenem after Joe's death. But that decision would haunt her for the rest of her life. She never got over seeing the drowned body of Sophie Mol, stretched out on a chaise lounge.

The narrative fast forwards to the future, to the day of Sophie Mol's death about two weeks after her arrival in Ayemenem. Estha, Rahel, and Sophie Mol are discovered missing that morning, and then a child's body is found floating in the river. It is Sophie Mol. Chaos had occurred on the night before, with a visit from Vellya Paapen and the locking of Ammu in her bedroom. When her children asked her why, she had screamed through the door, "Because of you! If it wasn't for you I wouldn't be here! ... I should have dumped you in an orphanage the day you were born! You're the millstones round my neck!" Then the twins had left.

The visit from a very drunk Velya Paapen was nothing short of earth-shattering. He told Mammachi that Velutha and Ammu were having an affair, that they met every night at the History House. Mammachi's response is violent, and Baby Kochamma, happy at this news that will finally get Ammu out of the house, immediately comes up with "the Plan." Ammu is locked in her room. Velutha is sent for. And the next morning Baby Kochamma goes to the police station to file a false report—a report that Velutha has raped Ammu and threatened the family. By the time she returns to the house, Chacko and Margaret are back from their trip to the airport to check on the airline tickets, Sophia Mol has been found and her body placed on the chaise lounge, and her parents have seen it. Margaret goes into shock. She directs her rage at the two children who survive, Estha and Rahel, but especially Estha. She never learns what really happened.

The chapter ends with a return to Chacko's room, to the first afternoon of the visit, two weeks before tragedy strikes. Awake from her nap, Sophie Mol takes the gifts she brought from England for her cousins and goes to find them, "[t]o negotiate a friendship."


Layers of false information and misunderstandings are built into this chapter. When Margaret Kochamma meets Chacko, she doesn't really know much about him. She is ill-prepared to enter into marriage; "She never believed that she would ever consent to be his wife." Yet, marry him she does. She is disappointed with who he really turns out to be and quick to get out of the marriage. For his part, Chacko returns to India to demand his mother's adoration while torturing her for it. He lives in the afterglow of the only love he ever felt for a woman, a love that can never be returned. So he builds a fantasy around his ex-wife and his daughter.

When things fall apart around Sophie Mol's death, no one is in possession of all of the facts. Action against the unthinkable—Ammu sleeping with an Untouchable, even one who has been welcome in the family—is swift, but then the story is twisted and tangled in an attempt to save the "family honor." Meanwhile this family doesn't even notice the absence of its young children until it is too late, and then that also becomes part of the elaborate cover-up in process. The one who has not been a part of the dysfunction is dead, and her death can now be used as the reason for everything that will continue to go wrong.

Inspector Thomas Mathew also participates in the ruse. He seems to know the story is not correct and is suspicious enough to check with Comrade Pillai about Velutha and whether or not the communists will try to protect him. The inspector has his own reputation to guard, and he knows the caste system is too powerful to go up against.

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