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.
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.
Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you click and make a purchase, we receive a small portion of the proceeds, which supports our non-profit mission.
Book: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2008) — 840L
Poem: “Lochinvar” by Sir Walter Scott
Article: “How to Analyze Your Dreams in 7 Steps” by Elana Miller, MD (HuffPost)
Video: “TED Talk: The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
See Text Selection Rationale
This assessment accompanies Unit 3 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.
Motifs and Symbols
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.
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.
figurative language (simile, metaphor, imagery), tone, symbolism, theme, multi-perspective narrative style, motif, alliteration, allusion, narration, nonlinear plot structure, postcolonial literature, irony
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)
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)
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)
The God of Small Things
“Guide for Educators”
“Invitation to World Literature”
“Locate” the novel historically, geographically, and politically speaking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The God of Small Things pp. 35 – 44
Analyze the characterization of Ammu.
The God of Small Things pp. 44 – 50
Analyze the characterization of Pappachi and his relationship with Mammachi.
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.
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.
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.
The God of Small Things pp. 78 – 83
Analyze the author’s development of the theme of history.
Mid-unit writing assessment #1
The God of Small Things pp. 84 – 89
Analyze the author’s use of juxtaposition to characterize adult Estha.
The God of Small Things pp. 90 – 98
Analyze the author’s development of tone and mood of the scene.
The God of Small Things pp. 98 – 108
Analyze the impact of the author’s use of juxtaposition.
The God of Small Things pp. 108 – 117
Analyze and describe the author’s development of the theme of love in this chapter.
The God of Small Things pp. 118 – 129
Analyze the author’s use of the changes in Ayemenem to develop the theme of memory.
The God of Small Things pp. 130 – 140
Interpret the effect of the power dynamics developed in the airport scene.
The God of Small Things pp. 140 – 147
Analyze the author’s development of the theme of love in this chapter.
The God of Small Things pp. 148 – 156
Analyze the motif of time, specifically the idea of freezing time.
The God of Small Things pp. 157 – 168
Analyze the author’s development of the themes of history and love in these pages.
The God of Small Things pp. 168 – 177
Analyze the author's development of character relationships.
The God of Small Things pp. 178 – 183
Mid-unit writing assessment #2
The God of Small Things pp. 184 – 193
Describe Estha's fears and the actions that his fears inspire.
The God of Small Things pp. 193 – 204
Describe how the author creates an ominous mood in this chapter.
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.
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.
The God of Small Things pp. 239 – 248
Analyze how the author uses character motivation to develop theme.
The God of Small Things pp. 249 – 253
Analyze how the author develops the theme of memory in this section of the text.
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.
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.
The God of Small Things pp. 279 – 287
Analyze the development of the theme of memory.
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.
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.
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.
Discussion & Writing
Discuss and debate the major themes of the novel.