In The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy uses the character of Velutha to explore the caste system and more specifically, the idea of untouchables. She shows how society looks upon the untouchables by the way in which the characters treat Velutha, an untouchable. His relationship with Ammu shows how people are also friendly to untouchables but moreover that untouchables go to other untouchables as there is no one else for them. Mainly, Roy compares being an untouchable to being handicapped.
Roy writes about untouchables being like physically disabled. In her dream, Ammu sees a man with her. “… a cheerful man with one are held her close… He had no other arm” shows that the person with her is handicapped as he has only one arm. Her dream goes on “He could do only one thing at a time. If he held her, he couldn’t kiss her. If he kissed her, he couldn’t see her. If he saw her, he couldn’t feel her. ” (page 215) This clearly shows that the person is disabled, as he can’t do more than one thing at a time. The man in the dream is Velutha.
This is because in her dream as well as when Velutha and Ammu have sex, his skin is described in the same way, “trail of goosebumps”, “flat chalk on a blackboard”, “breeze in a paddyfield”, “jet-streaks in a blue church sky” (page 339 and page 215). This shows that being an untouchable is like having only one arm, where you can’t do more than one thing at a time. In the novel, Roy shows how the society regards untouchables. She talks about the untouchables being segregated from the touchables. “Pappachi would not allow Paravans (untouchables) into his house. Nobody would.
They were not allowed to touch anything that Touchables touched. “(page 73) This clearly shows that the untouchables were separated from the rest of the society as they were given less freedom and less rights. They were like second-class citizens in their own country. To continue this point, Roy describes that “Paravans were expected to crawl backwards with a broom, sweeping away their footprints so that Brahmins or Syrian Christians would not defile themselves by accidentally stepping into a Paravan’s footprint. “(page 74) This just shows, in general, people’s cruelty against others and the way in which they try to suppress others.
The untouchables, though, are not totally seen as being shunned away from society. There are also people who actually accept them. Estha and Rahel like to be with Velutha and see him as a friend. They even go as far as to touch him. This shows that this idea of there being untouchables in society is just another way of people trying to make themselves superior. This is because the children are not aware of the caste system and when they still go ahead and make friends with Velutha. So it shows that he is a person just like anybody else and not like a “pariah dog” (page 284) or any other animal.
Untouchables are shown to be excluded from society and on their own. It also shows that untouchables cannot have a relationship with a touchable but only untouchables. This would give a possible reason for the relationship between Ammu and Velutha. Velutha is an untouchable. Roy also depicts Ammu as being similar to an untouchable. She has a bad reputation in society. This is because of her being married to someone outside her religion, and then bore him two children and then divorced him. Society is the thing that actually decides what is good and bad. What Ammu has done is seen as being unacceptable or bad.
Untouchables are shown as being handicapped. Ammu having two children is for her similar to being handicapped and so makes her even more untouchable-like. This is because she cannot do as many things in her life when she needs to take care of her children and as she said in the novel when the kids asked her why she was locked in the room ” ‘Because of you! ‘ Ammu had screamed. ‘If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be here! None of this would have happened!
I wouldn’t be here! I would have been free! I should have dumped you in an orphanage the day you were born! You’re the millstones around my neck! “(page 253) This clearly shows that Ammu feels as if she is held back by the kids and cannot do what she wants to. Therefore she is disabled. The last line of the quote gives a clear image of how she feels. It is as though she needs to carry these two twins that are hung around her neck, wherever she goes and so cannot do much. So all this shows that she herself is an untouchable. That is what led her to having sex with Velutha. This is because he was the only one she could relate to, both of them being untouchables, and that he was the only one who would accept her.
This shows that the untouchables can only have relationships with other untouchables as no one else would have anything to do with them. After this incident, Ammu is totally shown as an untouchable, shunned away by most of the society. When she goes to the police station, the inspector asks her to leave and suppresses her by calling her a “veshya” or a prostitute. And when she dies, she is seen like an untouchable because the church doesn’t allow her to be buried and she was cremated in the electric crematorium where untouchables (beggars, derelicts etc. ) were buried (page 162).
Velutha plays an important role in this novel as he helps Roy build up the idea of the untouchable-ism in the caste system. She clearly shows that the untouchables are treated badly by most people even though they are needed, such as Mammachi not letting him enter the home even though he is an asset to the factory. But the novel also shows that society is the one that creates this idea of people being in a lower class, even in a communist region. And so Roy seems to be against this idea of the caste system as she clearly shows that the character himself is humane and amiable but is still unlike just because of society.