The God of Small Things

Students investigate the complex, nonlinear style of The God of Small Things and its themes of history, colonialism and love, focusing on the novel's literary devices, plot structure, and language.

Unit Summary

Winner of the 1997 Booker Prize, awarded to the best new piece of fiction published in the UK each year, The God of Small Things, by Indian writer Arundhati Roy, is set in the Kerala state of India and takes place over the course of two weeks in 1969 and one day of 1993. It traces the stories of twins, Estha and Rahel, whose lives are forever shaped by a pivotal event that occurs in their early childhood. Told from a variety of perspectives and in a nonlinear format, the book is a complex and rich read that will both challenge and captivate students.

In their examination of The God of Small Things, students will focus on the “small things”—literary devices, plot structure, and language—employed by Arundhati Roy to accomplish the “big things”—her rich commentary on history, colonialism, love, and memory. The nonlinear plot structure of the novel as well as the multiple literary allusions and very creative use of language will provide a challenge to even the most advanced readers. For this reason, the teacher is encouraged to use timelines, guides to literary allusions, and or other classroom visuals or handouts to aid students in accessing and analyzing this complex text.

There are also two primary skill areas of focus in the unit. The first is incorporating a model of reading and discussion that asks the students to not simply answer complex literary questions, but to pose those questions themselves. Identifying lines of text worthy of close examination and conversation will be the first step in this process. The second area of focus is writing. In this unit the teacher will work on developing students’ abilities to offer a complex analysis of the author’s craft, including how the author develops multiple themes within the novel.

This unit has three Supplementary AP Projects related to the theme of environmental justice and the developing world. A substantial portion of these projects is devoted to honing student’s rhetorical analysis skills and crafting rhetorical analysis arguments similar to those required in Free Response Question 2 on the AP English Language and Composition Exam. To learn more about including these Supplemental AP Projects in this English 12 unit, please see our Guide to Supplemental AP Language and Composition Projects.

Texts and Materials

Core Materials

See Text Selection Rationale

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Assessment

This assessment accompanies Unit 3 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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Love

  • Who decides who we should love? What are the consequences when natural things, like love, are regulated or controlled?
  • What effects do love/lack of love have on members of a family? 
  • How should we navigate between commitments to love, to family, and to societal expectations? Should one absolutely be prioritized over the other?

Memory/History/Colonialism

  • What are the consequences when a society dwells on memories and the past? What about when we forget the stories of the past? 
  • How does the freezing and preserving of small moments in time impact lives? Why do we do it?

Political Activism

  • How does Roy use her fiction to convey a political message? What is her political message? 

Motifs and Symbols

  • Motifs: time, color, intertextuality, cold and hot, plays and performances
  • Symbols: Rahel’s watch, Pappachi’s moth, the History House, Paradise Pickles & Preserves

Writing Focus Areas

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Students will be able to offer a complex analysis of the author’s development of one of the major themes of the novel. The successful essay will both accurately convey the author’s message and offer an analysis of the literary techniques used to convey this message.

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

The teacher should use information gathered from students’ previous writing to determine if the focus correction areas above are appropriate and if there should be any spiraled focus correction areas in addition to those listed above.

Writing-About-Reading Focus Areas

  • Clear thesis statement that accurately states the theme
  • Analysis of author’s craft
  • Textual evidence to support the analysis

Vocabulary

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Literary Terms

figurative language (simile, metaphor, imagery), tone, symbolism, theme, multi-perspective narrative style, motif, alliteration, allusion, narration, nonlinear plot structure, postcolonial literature, irony

Roots and Affixes

re – (re-Returned, p. 11; renounce, p. 282); un – (Untouchable, p. 14; uncouth, p. 142; unfeasible, p. 219), mal – (maleficent, p. 50; malevolent, p. 197)

Text-based

brooding (3), suffused (3), immodest (3), vacuously (3), amorphous (4), illegitimate (9), dormancy (12), perturb (16), purloined (17), harbinger (17), obeisance (20), lucrative (21), denounce (23), ambiguous (31), transgressor (31), reconstitute (32), imbue (32), morality (35), levied (36), eccentricities (38), diffidently (41), lurid (41), futile (43), haughty (50), maleficent (50), opulent (63), insidiously (64), euphoria (64), diligence (65), ardent (65), dispossessed (67), cynicism (68), impenetrable (72), assurance (73), insolence (73, 247, 292), prodigal (74), decorously (85), predilection (86), volition (87), shrill (105), pugnaciously (107), arbitrarily (108), pertinent (114), subvert (115), truncated (121), uncouth (142), piously (144), incessantly (152), elation (157), imperceptible (159), languid (159), enigmatic (160), incongruous (162), gullibility (162), smug (167), tactile (167), evanescent (167), nemesis/Nemesis (175), confound (180), colluding (181), decimate (181), exorcize (182), malevolent (197), cleaved (198), laconically (200), misappropriate (218), incidental (218), unfeasible (219), deride (219), denigrate (236), olfactory (244), invalidation (260), coy (264), provocation (268), renounce (282), abrogate (290), deify (292), inoculate (293), ascendency (293), incoherence (295), macabre (301)

Idioms and Cultural References

caste (novel), Siamese twin (5), lungfish (12), Untouchable (14), communism (15), “the old omelette-and-eggs thing”(15), “red herring” (46), Heart of Darkness (51, 119–120), Jungle Book (57), bourgeoisie (59), Mercurochrome (59), hogwash (63), communism, Marxism, Syrian Christian Church, Hinduism, Naxalites (66), “A rose by any other name…” (67), “frying pan into the fire…” (71), Julius Caesar (79), “millstone around my neck” (82), Mutiny on the Bounty (82), busker (85), coolie (85), Popeye (94), Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music (95), anarchy (108), Kathakali dance (121), locus standi (151), “Et tu, Ammu” (154), crematorium (155), locus standi (179), nictitating membrane (179), “AC-DC” (181), Macbeth (186), “walked on water” (201), Kathakali dancers (219), Oxford University (228), gramophone (229), Rhodes Student (232), Sir Walter Scott (257), Julius Caesar – “friends, Romans, countryman…” (260), “chickens come home to roost” (268, 285), Pied Piper (276), Listerine (281), Vaishnavite (281), ashram (281), Heart of Darkness (290), “desperado” (292), “Things go better with Coke” (297)

Content Knowledge and Connections

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  • Modern Indian history
  • European colonialism in South Asia
  • Communism
  • Multiple literary allusions to other works

Previous Connections

Intellectual Prep

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Intellectual Prep for English Lessons

  1. Read and annotate The God of Small Things.
  2. Read and annotate “Unit 1: Background and Context” in the University of Wisconsin's Teaching The God of Small Things In Wisconsin: A Guide for Educators.
  3. Take the unit exam, including writing the essay for the written portion of the exam.
  4. This is a complex and challenging novel. It is recommended that the teacher read as many supplementary texts as necessary to build his/her understanding of the novel prior to teaching. The study materials website Shmoop.com has recently added an analysis of the novel that some may find helpful. The University of Wisconsin guide is also particularly thorough and useful.

Intellectual Prep for AP Projects

Lesson Map

1

  • The God of Small Things

  • “Guide for Educators”

  • “Invitation to World Literature”

“Locate” the novel historically, geographically, and politically speaking.

2

  • The God of Small Things pp. 3 – 5

  • “The Danger of a Single Story”

Analyze the author’s use of literary devices to develop tone in the first pages of the novel.

Analyze the author’s characterization of our twin protagonists.

3

  • The God of Small Things pp. 5 – 11

Analyze the author’s use of tone to characterize the protagonists.

Describe the family dynamics as they are revealed at Sophie Mol’s funeral.

4

  • The God of Small Things pp. 11 – 18

Analyze the author’s characterization of Estha’s and Rahel’s childhoods after the death of Sophie Mol.

5

  • The God of Small Things pp. 18 – 29

Contrast the author’s tone in this excerpt with the tone at the beginning of the chapter.

Analyze the author’s characterization of Rahel as an adult and her characterization of Baby Kochamma.

6

  • The God of Small Things pp. 29 – 34

Analyze the symbolism of Paradise Pickles & Preserves.

Review the two plotlines as they have been presented thus far.

7

  • The God of Small Things pp. 35 – 44

Analyze the characterization of Ammu.

8

  • The God of Small Things pp. 44 – 50

Analyze the characterization of Pappachi and his relationship with Mammachi.

9

  • The God of Small Things pp. 50 – 58

Analyze the author’s characterization of Chacko.

Trace the author’s development of the theme of colonialism.

10

  • The God of Small Things pp. 58 – 68

Describe the turmoil in Kerala in 1969 based on the experiences of the characters in the novel.

11

  • The God of Small Things pp. 68 – 78

Analyze the author’s characterization of Velutha.

Describe how Velutha’s character is used to reveal conflict in India.

12

  • The God of Small Things pp. 78 – 83

Analyze the author’s development of the theme of history.

Mid-unit writing assessment #1

13

  • The God of Small Things pp. 84 – 89

Analyze the author’s use of juxtaposition to characterize adult Estha.

14

  • The God of Small Things pp. 90 – 98

Analyze the author’s development of tone and mood of the scene.

15

  • The God of Small Things pp. 98 – 108

Analyze the impact of the author’s use of juxtaposition.

16

  • The God of Small Things pp. 108 – 117

Analyze and describe the author’s development of the theme of love in this chapter.

17

  • The God of Small Things pp. 118 – 129

Analyze the author’s use of the changes in Ayemenem to develop the theme of memory.

18

  • The God of Small Things pp. 130 – 140

Interpret the effect of the power dynamics developed in the airport scene.

19

  • The God of Small Things pp. 140 – 147

Analyze the author’s development of the theme of love in this chapter.

20

  • The God of Small Things pp. 148 – 156

Analyze the motif of time, specifically the idea of freezing time.

21

  • The God of Small Things pp. 157 – 168

Analyze the author’s development of the themes of history and love in these pages.

22

  • The God of Small Things pp. 168 – 177

Analyze the author's development of character relationships.

23

  • The God of Small Things pp. 178 – 183

Mid-unit writing assessment #2

24

  • The God of Small Things pp. 184 – 193

Describe Estha's fears and the actions that his fears inspire.

25

  • The God of Small Things pp. 193 – 204

Describe how the author creates an ominous mood in this chapter.

26

  • The God of Small Things pp. 205 – 216 — Chapter 11 "How to Analyze Your Dreams"

Analyze Ammu’s dream and the significance of her decisions to the plot and themes of the play.

27

  • The God of Small Things pp. 217 – 238

Analyze the author’s development of the relationship between Estha and Rahel in chapter 12.

Describe Chacko and Margaret Kochamma’s relationship as revealed in chapter 13.

28

  • The God of Small Things pp. 239 – 248

Analyze how the author uses character motivation to develop theme.

29

  • The God of Small Things pp. 249 – 253

Analyze how the author develops the theme of memory in this section of the text.

30

  • The God of Small Things pp. 254 – 272 — Chapter 14 "Lochinvar"

Describe the author’s use of the motif of a play or performance in chapter 14.

Analyze the author’s use of class and caste conflict to develop the theme of history in this chapter.

31

  • The God of Small Things pp. 273 – 278

Describe the impact of the nonlinear plot.

Analyze the themes of love and history as they are developed in these chapters.

32

  • The God of Small Things pp. 279 – 287

Analyze the development of the theme of memory.

33

  • The God of Small Things pp. 288 – 296

Analyze the impact of this scene on the development of the characters and themes of the text.

34

  • The God of Small Things pp. 297 – 312

Analyze how the author’s characterization of Baby Kochamma impacts the reader’s understanding of the plot.

Track the author’s development of the theme of love.

35

  • The God of Small Things pp. 313 – 321

Describe the meaning of the phrase “small things” as used in this chapter and throughout the novel.

36

Discussion & Writing

Discuss and debate the major themes of the novel.

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Assessment

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.11-12.1 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • L.11-12.2 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

  • L.11-12.3 — Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

  • L.11-12.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 11—12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

  • L.11-12.5 — Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RI.11-12.2 — Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RL.11-12.2 — Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.11-12.3 — Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

  • RL.11-12.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

  • RL.11-12.5 — Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

  • RL.11-12.6 — Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.11-12.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11—12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • SL.11-12.2 — Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.

  • SL.11-12.3 — Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

Writing Standards
  • W.11-12.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • W.11-12.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

  • W.11-12.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.