The Multifaceted Use of Color in The God of Small Things

September 4, 2021 by Essay Writer

In the novel The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy employs numerous irregular stylistic devices which aid in her telling of the story. Set in the small town of Ayamenem in post-colonial India, the non-linear narrative follows the journey of twin protagonists Rahel and Estha as they grapple with a fractured family life, political turmoil, and a caste system in full effect. The harrowing lives and emotions of the characters offer the reader a taste of what life was like in southern India amid cultural, political, and class tensions during the late 20th century. In order to illustrate this, Roy repeatedly utilizes the symbolic nature of color throughout the text, which has a manifold of purposes. Colors such as red and blue are not only used as instruments to depict Communism and British imperialism, but also to foreshadow looming uncertainty, whereas green and yellow are often used to signify moments of alarm or hardship. In addition to emphasizing the underlying themes in the novel, Roy’s vivid use of color acts as a conduit through which the underlying feelings of the characters are revealed and emotional connotations are signified in the text.

The ubiquitous presence of color in The God Of Small Things serves as an indicator of individual behavior as well as collective themes of power. Each color featured in the story holds communicative properties to the reader, which Roy capitalizes on again and again. In “The Art of Seeing,” Aldous Huxley explores this phenomenon, stating that “there is more to visual communications therefore than simply making an image for the eyes to perceive, it has to accommodate the mind of the person being communicated to. That is to say you are not merely making something to be perceived when visually communicating, you are fundamentally making something to be thought about” (Huxley). Within the novel, certain rich imagery triggers the reader to relate the text to broader motifs, which is clearly deliberate on Roy’s part. In fact, within the opening paragraph of the text, she features the first juxtaposition of red and blue by stating “red bananas open. bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air” (1). The reader is then immediately struck by Pappachi’s “skyblue Plymouth” (4) which we later find out was bought “from an old Englishman in Munnar” (47). Pappachi’s “revenge” car, preference for Western clothing, coupled with Chacko’s overt description of him as an Anglophile all force the reader to realize the connection between the color blue and British superiority. The interaction between red and blue is shown again as Mammachi grows “mounds of red chiles” (46), a demonstration of her subversive acts against Pappachi’s traditionalist views. In this instance, the color red evokes the rebellion and change that Mammachi embraces by opening the pickle factory against Pappachi’s conventional wishes. Roy shows red disrupting the color blue, or in Pappachi’s case, the older way of life in India.

In addition to using color as a symbol of character, Roy employs the ‘skyblue’ descriptor to depict the skies in conjunction with post-colonial India (it was a skyblue day [35]), suggesting that the remnants of British rule continue to envelop the country. The color red is likewise attached to the communist image, illustrated when on the same skyblue day, Rahel sees “pieces of red sky…And in the red sky, hot red kites wheeled, looking for rats. In their hooded yellow eyes there was a road and redflags marching” (76). Here, the disturbance of the blue sky by the red indicates a foreboding danger, as Rahel immediately after sees through her “yellow rimmed red plastic sunglasses” (37) the figure of Velutha “marching with a red flag at the level crossing outside Cochin” (79). It’s possible that Velutha’s bloody death later on in the story symbolizes the fall of Communism, just as the skyblue Plymouth falling into disuse after Pappachi’s death symbolizes the downfall of the family Anglophilia. Perhaps Roy was trying to emphasize that by extending beyond his caste in his relationship with Ammu, he was essentially reaching up towards the blue sky, and violating the traditionalist Indian authority. Roy routinely associates the color blue with the white character of Margaret Kochamma and the “beach-colored” (177) Sophie Mol. Their eyes are described as a “fresh, shining blue” and “bluegray-blue (136) respectively, and upon arrival at the family home they are greeted by a “blue-aproned army” (164). To the dismay of Rahel and Estha, both characters are adored by most of the Anglophilic family, enforcing once more their notion of British supremacy.

Throughout the story, Roy utilizes colors as tools to foreshadow impending events in each character’s timeline. In “The Use of Color in Literature: A Survey of Research” by Sigmund Skard, he touches on the idea that as the “most conspicuous elements,” colors “are entwined with the emotional and intellectual life of a man,” noting that over time man has “realized the relations to himself” (Skard 164). Roy takes advantage of this impact of color through the not so subtle hints that she places throughout the text. Red is specifically used to connote forthcoming perils. One such instance occurs when in the cinema hall, Estha watches Rahel “through the red Fornica door… watching mirrors till the red door took his sister away” (90). This illustrates the beginning of their detachment, hinting at the complete disunion that will happen down the road. Thus, the red acts a harbinger of the future heartbreak that both twins must endure. Moreover, red is used to warn the reader of Estha’s abuse by the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man. On the way into the theater, it’s recalled that “they had to rush up the red steps with the old red carpet. Red staircase with red spit stains in the red corner” (93). Yellow also signifies pain and misfortune, and is abundant throughout the text. It first appears when Sophie Mol is buried in her “yellow Crimplene bell-bottoms” (5) and again when Estha notices his abuser’s teeth, stating “His yellow teeth were magnets. They saw, they smiled, they sang, they smelled, they moved. They mesmerized” (98). Roy effectively uses the color yellow to instill dread in the reader, as we know what is coming later in the story. Finally, similar to her application of yellow, green is established as a color signifying hardship. Alluded through Sophie Mol’s death, the twins search for her but ultimately discover that “she was gone. Carried away on the muffled highway. Graygreen” (277), later finding “green weed” woven into her hair. Roy’s use of yellow and green motion to the reader that danger lies on the horizon, adding to the foreboding mood that pervades the novel.

Roy’s use of color at first glance seems like a simple implementation of imagery. Upon further investigation, it appears that her vivid use of color was designed to manipulate the reader into deciphering the underlying post-colonial themes and to aid us in gathering a larger meaning from the work as a whole. The multiplicities in her use of color provide for a more complex reading of the text, which creates both a richer understanding and a distinctive feel of the novel for the audience. Through her unconventional technique, Roy was able to take something as simple as color and give it a much deeper meaning.

Read more