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The God of Small Things | Symbols


Pappachi's Moth

Pappachi is a well-known entomologist who holds prestigious positions within the government. He is also a cruel man who is prone to violent outbursts. Family members link his horrible temperament to his bitterness over having discovered a new species of moth and not receiving the proper credit for it. Even though the discovery was an accident, he is very angry that the moth was not named after him. So Pappachi's moth represents his anger and the fear in others that accompanies his temper tantrums. In a broader sense, the moth symbolizes any uncomfortable feelings in uncontrollable situations.

For Rahel especially, Pappachi's moth is ever present in her imagination. When she is afraid, she feels the moth on her body. It might be in her mouth or tiptoeing across her heart. She feels its cold feet tickling her organs, and these images always fill her with dread. She feels sure something horrible will happen when she senses the moth, whether it is losing her mother's love or seeing Velutha viciously beaten to death. It is especially linked to cruelty, making itself more strongly felt according to how cruel the things happening to and around Rahel are.

Readers realize it's sad that a small harmless animal comes to represent terror for Rahel. She truly loves the natural world of Ayemenem, including its many creatures. It seems just one more way that the small things are taken from her as a child.

Paradise Pickles & Preserves

The family factory is much more than a building where products are made. It is a place where things are preserved, put into a state that cannot be changed. Just like the family, which wishes to keep its standing and status unchanged, the factory ensures that its products will remain stable for the foreseeable future. As the family freezes at the time of Sophie Mol's death, so the factory will stand unchanged for years and years after closing, a kind of museum of the past.

At the same time, the factory is the center of unrest among its workers. They are interested in the promises of the Communist Party. Yet the workers are also frozen in time when it comes to their acceptance of Velutha. They resent that an Untouchable is given special recognition and privileges. Chacko tries to use his modern education to smooth things over, but he also remains interested in preserving the family in their leadership position. The fact that the factory cannot survive the changes of the modern era is linked to the family's inability to move forward as well. For example, the banana jam that the factory discontinued because it could not be properly classified compares with the family who is unable to give up the classifications of the caste system.

Rahel's Watch

As a child, Rahel always wears a toy watch. It is part of the look she loves to sport that also includes a Love-in-Tokyo band that holds her hair up on top of her head like a fountain and yellow-rimmed red plastic sunglasses. The watch has hands painted on so that it always says the same time: 10 minutes to two. Although she longs for a real watch "on which she could change the time whenever she wanted to (which according to her was what Time was meant for in the first place)" she is content with the toy watch.

Several times in the novel the time 10 to two is mentioned. Sometimes it's just because Rahel looks at her watch, and that's what time it always shows. At other times, however, it is the real time of a major happening. For example, at the end of Chapter 4, on the night before the family finally meets Sophie Mol at the airport, Arundhati Roy states the time: 10 to two. The twins are asleep together in Chacko's room, dreaming of the river, as their uncle restlessly awaits the trip to the airport. Things will never be the same after that night.

The watch is left behind by the police officers at the History House on the night of Terror. It symbolizes how the events of that night will freeze Rahel and Estha there for the rest of their lives, unable to move past what they witness. Like the two hands on the watch, the twins cannot move forward. They cannot change the time, even though as a child Rahel knew that is what "Time was meant for." Time was taken away from them even as life as they had known it disappears.


Soon after Chacko threatens Pappachi that he must never hit Mammachi again, Pappachi buys a sky-blue Plymouth. Pappachi will not let anyone else drive it; he will not even let anyone in the family ride in it. To him it represents his importance and manhood, as he drives proudly around Ayemenem in the car, sure that people are admiring him in his fine suits in such a fine car. It also represents his revenge for having been disrespected and told what to do.

After Pappachi dies, the rest of the family can finally use the car, but it still symbolizes status. Where people sit in the car indicates their rank and roles in the family. Chacko even mounts a Paradise Pickles & Preserves billboard on the roof as a sign of the family's status as owners.

When the communist protest marchers surround the car as the family travels to pick up Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma at the airport, they react angrily against it as a status symbol. To them the Plymouth represents everything they resent about the bourgeoisie. That is why they literally invade the car to mock the family and create fear.

Twenty-three years later when Rahel and Estha reunite at Ayemenem, the car is still next to the house. Now it represents the decay of the family and their possessions. It is being overtaken by the earth. Inside is a dead sparrow, trapped and unable to get free, just as Rahel and Estha are trapped by the events of their family.

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