The God of Small Things | Study Guide

Arundhati Roy

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The God of Small Things | Chapter 2 : Pappachi's Moth | Summary



Set in December 1969, this long chapter tells of a family trip to see a movie, The Sound of Music. However, the trip is much more significant than that, for they are also going to pick up Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma—Chacko's daughter and ex-wife. Margaret has lost her second husband in a tragic car accident, and Chacko doesn't want them "spending a lonely, desolate Christmas in England."

The chapter is full of descriptive details about the looks and attire of the people in the car: Rahel, Estha, Ammu, Chacko, Baby Kochamma. It also reveals details about the lives of the adults up to this time. Ammu had moved with her parents from Delhi to Ayemenem in her teens. She disliked it there, but her father did not believe in college education for girls, so her only way out was to get married. She did just that, after meeting the twins' father at a wedding in Calcutta—even though she wasn't in love with him. She left him when the twins were toddlers because he turned out to be a violent alcoholic and was willing to have her sleep with his boss in order to keep his job, and moved back to Ayemenem. She has a restless spirit that sometimes reveals itself as an "Unsafe Edge." As for Chacko, he thinks of himself as an intellectual and claims to be a writer. He returned to India from England, where he had been an Oxford Rhodes Scholar, after Margaret Kochamma divorced him. He did not make the move to Ayemenem until after Pappachi died. He had not gotten along with his father since making him stop the nightly beatings of Mammachi, who adores her son to an unhealthy degree. The only thing Chacko really works at is putting together model airplanes, although both he and Ammu do help to run the pickle factory begun by Mammachi. The car they are driving in, a blue Plymouth, had been Pappachi's pride and joy but is now a rolling advertisement for the factory, with a billboard mounted on its roof.

The journey is interrupted when a railroad crossing bar comes down. It is a long wait for the train to pass by, so the twins amuse themselves by studying the other vehicles and passengers and Murlidharan, the homeless and crazy veteran who sits by the crossing, naked, day after day. But then a line of marchers appears, carrying communist flags and banners. Even though Chacko is himself a Marxist, Baby Kochamma is very afraid of the protesters and urges everyone to look down and ignore them. But Chacko speaks to the protesters, and then Rahel spies a man named Velutha identified only as "Her most beloved friend" among them and calls out to him. He doesn't respond and disappears into the crowd, but later details are given about him. An Untouchable, he has nevertheless become somewhat a part of the Ipe family. He is a talented carpenter and mechanic and makes furniture for Mammachi, repairs the house, and fixes the factory machines. The twins think of him as their best friend and often visit him at his hut on the river by their house.

When one of the marchers opens Rahel's door of the Plymouth to mock the family, Baby Kochamma's fright escalates. Sensing it, the man then forces her to take his flag and hold it while repeating a communist slogan. The tension in the car following this builds, with everyone becoming testy and arguing until finally the crossing bar goes up and they can continue on their way.


Another unique use of language is introduced and explained in this chapter. The twins, who are obviously very intelligent, have a sort of secret language that they use with each other. They say words backward. So stop, for example, is pots. They began this when a friend of Baby Kochamma, a missionary called Miss Mitten, gave them an insultingly easy book to read. Bored with the "baby language," they read the words backward for more of a challenge. Throughout the novel readers should be alert to what looks like a language other than English but is actually their "backwards speak."

An important symbol is also introduced in this chapter and is its title. Pappachi was a famous entomologist who was very high up in the Indian government. He discovered a new species of moth, but its importance was not fully understood until after he retired. That meant that the moth had not been named after him per the usual science protocol, and this seems to be at the root of his rage and bitterness—which he takes out on his wife by beating her and on everyone else with sullen anger. Rahel refers to Pappachi's moth throughout the novel, and it symbolizes unhappiness and fear.

Rahel also often refers to things that disappear from the world as leaving a mark behind them. She seems to need to know that nothing is insignificant enough to just disappear. In this chapter the images are of holes or stains in the universe.

Roy continues to dole out clues about major events that still cannot be fully understood. In this chapter readers learn:

  • The twins will soon go into the mysterious History House across the river from their home, "where they weren't supposed to be, with a man they weren't supposed to love." They will see something there that is "history revealed" and that will stay with them forever in a scarring way.
  • Velutha's father, Vellya Pappen, worries that his son does not follow the rules of caste society. He will see him touch, enter, and love someone he shouldn't, and he will tell Mammachi about it.
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