Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy is an author, screenwriter, activist, actress, and one-time aerobics instructor. She is best known for her novel The God of Small Things (1997), which won the 1997 Man Booker Prize. It has been translated into 42 languages and sold over 8 million copies worldwide. Despite being the cause of a few controversies, the novel has also become a well-studied modern classic. Although she is often described as a human rights and environmental activist, she views herself as just a writer.

Arundhati Roy: biography

Born in 1961 in Meghalaya to a Hindu father and a Christian mother, Roy grew up in Kerala. Her father was a tea planter and her mother successfully challenged India’s inheritance laws by suing for the right of Christian women to receive an equal share of their fathers’ estates. Her parents divorced when she was two, largely due to her father’s alcoholism.

Although she completed an architectural degree in Delhi, she never practiced as an architect, choosing to focus on writing. Her cited influences include Shakespeare (1564-1616), Tolstoy (1847-1910), Berger (1926-2017), and Galeano (1940-2015). John Lennon is her favourite Beatle.

John Lennon was probably the most famous Beatle. He was married to performance artist Yoko Ono and is credited with being a pioneer of the 'Hippy' movement. A promoter of peace during the Vietnam War, he died after being shot by Mark David Chapman in 1980.

Roy has been married and divorced twice. Her first husband, Gerard Da Cunha was an architect whom she studied with at university. Her second husband was indie film director Pradip Krishen. She has two step daughters, Mithva and Pia from her second marriage. She currently lives in Delhi with her dogs, Mrs. Filthy Darling and Beloved of the Earth.

Arundhati Roy: famous works in film

After a start as a fitness instructor, Roy’s first roles as a creative were as a screenwriter and actress. Having married an independent filmmaker, Pradip Krishen, she began her industry experience as a goatherd in his film Massey Sahib (1985). She then penned and acted in In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1989), an award- winning film about her days as an architecture student. Pradip also directed her second independent screenplay, Paper Moon (1992). Despite later divorcing him, she continued her work in the industry with a never-completed series, The Banyan Tree, and DAM/AGE (2002), a documentary about the Narmada dam project.

Arundhati Roy: famous works of fiction with quotes

Arundhati Roy rose to global fame after the publication of her first novel, The God of Small Things (1997). It was an instant critical and commercial success. Since then, she has only written one other book of fiction, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017). Her novels are considered Postmodern, specifically Postcolonial, and do not follow traditional linear plot structures.

Postmodernism is the movement that followed on from Modernism. It is characterised by the use of fragmentation, randomness over reason, intertextuality, and subjectivity.

Postcolonialism is a sub-set of Postmodernism that studies or highlights the multiple and enduring after-effects of colonisation. These include aspects from societal to economic, but largely have a political theme.

Otherness, politics, love, and Indian consciousness are all recurring themes in her novels. Sound-oriented techniques such as rhythm, alliteration, internal rhyme, assonance, and dissonance are used frequently to support the plot.1 This type of technique creates audio rhythms that add to the feeling created by the words. This example is from The God of Small Things (1997):

'As Estha stirred the thick jam he thought Two Thoughts and the Two Thoughts he thought were these:a) Anything can happen to anyone.andb) It is best to be prepared.'

The God of Small Things (1997)

In 1997, at the age of 37, Arundhati Roy published The God of Small Things. While the novel won the Man Booker Prize, it was not without its detractors. Judges and past winners offered comments that ranged from potentially patronising to more directly critical.

There is something childish about Roy. She has a heightened capacity for wonder.' - Jason Cowley2

'Execrable'. - Carmen Callil2

The novel is unusual in that it begins at its chronological end. A story about fraternal twin protagonists, Rahel and Ester, the plot reveals itself in a series of flashbacks and jumps forward through time. The main theme is the many facets and variations of love. The plot introduces several types of love, such as forbidden love, unrequited love, mutual love, and familial love. Themes of politics and social class are closely linked to the themes of romance, love, and sexuality.3

Throughout The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy uses multilayered prose, with many possible perspectives and interpretations. She creates her own words and capitalises words that are not names or proper nouns. A key device used in this novel is repetition to create unique rhythms that imply meaning and build on the non-linear style of the plot.

Do you think Arundhati Roy breaks the rules of accepted plot structures and prose writing? Or does she adhere to some rules and ignore others? If so, which rules does she break and how?

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017)

Arundhati Roy’s second book of fiction The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was published in 2017, twenty years after The God of Small Things. Set mainly between Delhi and Kashmir, the novel covers decades of modern Indian history and introduces us to two key protagonists.

Anjum is a transsexual woman who chooses to live in a graveyard, while Tilo is an architectural student who is estranged from her family. The many supporting characters span a wide range of society from Mulaqat Ali, an Indian doctor, to Begum Renata Mumtaj, a Romanian belly dancer.

Arundhati Roy, busy street in Delhi, StudySmarterArundhati Roy's novel is partially set in Delhi.

Similar to The God Of Small Things, the novel utilises layered prose with multiple interpretations to illustrate the diversity and complexity of modern India, its politics, and society. The plot is like a patchwork blanket of interwoven narratives. This directly contrasts to a traditionally sequential one. It has been criticised for being:

'Diffused, unfocused, everything and nothing at once'. - Arifa Akbar.

This quote implies that Roy doesn't know the formal rules of novel writing. Yet Roy has said that she deliberately uses this device as a method to subvert the accepted structure of a traditional canonical English- language novel.

There are many themes in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, but key themes include doomed love and othering, with the novel having been defined as a postcolonial, political (anti-) romance.

Do you agree with some critics who find her novel simply unstructured and chaotic? Or do you think that this is a way to represent the sense of a city that does not have a western mindset? If so, does this device work for you as a reader?

Arundhati Roy: themes and main focus

Consistent theme threads run through The God of Small Things (1997) and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007). These include politics, the different types of love, especially doomed love, the caste system, and othering. The theme of romance, while not central to either novel’s plot, is again interwoven with other themes that are both political and social.

Othering

The characters in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007) and The God of Small Things (1997) are often larger-than-life outsiders. Marginalised for reasons ranging from caste to sexuality, they represent the ‘other’, the most different, least well-regarded members of Indian society. Roy deliberately avoids depicting these characters as abject victims, choosing to relish in their outlier status instead. This is used as a strategy to subvert their traditionally-perceived inferiority.

The facets of love

The romance in Arundhati Roy novels is not the straightforward, happy ending type of romance. In both The God of Small Things (1997) and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007), doomed relationships are used as triggers for connected themes related to social and political issues. The relationships between Velutha and Amma in The God of Small Things (1997), and Tilottama and Musa in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007) are tragic due to the unavoidable impact of their external realities.

In various ways in both novels, Arundhati Roy explores the ‘laws of love’ and what happens when these rules are broken or the boundaries blurred. This has led to court cases and The God of Small Things being banned in some instances.

Why is Arundhati Roy important to Literature?

With her two works of fiction described as postmodern, postcolonial works of domestic fiction and political (anti-) romance respectively, Arundhati Roy is difficult to categorise. Her themes of domesticity do not exclude war or politics. Her novels do not conform to traditional structures of plot or prose, either. She uses a non-sequential plot and creates her own words, using her own style of capitalisation.

In The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Roy uses a nonlinear, chaotic narrative as a device to reflect the cities that it is set in. She asked and answered, 'Can a novel be a city?'3 So, in many ways, she is quite subversive as a novelist. She breaks many traditional rules around plot, grammar, and prose. Arundhati Roy is considered important because she has successfully upended long-accepted ideas of what constitutes award-worthy English literature.

'I think what I mean is that there is a danger of fiction becoming domesticated, you know, of too much of a product that has to be quickly described, catalogued, put on a particular shelf, and everybody has to know what is the theme. And, to me, I wanted to blow that open.' - Arundhathi Roy

Arundhati Roy - Key takeaways

  • Arundhati Roy is a postmodernist writer from India who has attained global recognition for her works of fiction and nonfiction.
  • The plots of her novels are not sequential and her characters are often marginalised outsiders.
  • Key themes that run through her work are the many facets of love, forbidden or doomed love, and othering. Other themes include feminism, politics, and Indian identity.
  • She was the first Indian woman to win the Man Booker Prize in 1997 for The God of Small Things (1997) and was longlisted for The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007) in 2017.
  • The content and structure of her novels have caused her work to be banned and to generate controversy.

1. Lau L, Romancing the other: Arundhati Roy's The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness. The Journal Of Commonwealth Literature. (1999)

2. Jason Cowely, Goddess of Small Things, The Times (2004)

3. Bose B, In desire and in death: Eroticism as politics in Arundhati Roy’s The God
of Small Things. ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 29(2): 5972. (1998)

4. Tim Lewis, Arundhati Roy. The point of a writer is to be unpopular.The Guardian, (2018)

Frequently Asked Questions about Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy is best known for her Booker Prize winning novel, The God of Small Things (1997). 


Her non fiction, screenwriting and work as an environmental and human rights activist have made her internationally famous beyond her work as a novelist.

The novel is semi-autobiographical but Arundhati Roy has not made any public statments about why she wrote the novel.

Arundhati Roy's works of fiction include the novels The God of Small Things (1997) and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2007).

Arundhati Roy has been called a political, social, and environmental activist.

She refers to herself as a writer who is interested in politics.

Arundhati Roy is an Indian writer who gained international recognition for her book, The God of Small Things (1997).


She is also an active writer of non fiction, documentary maker and activist.


She has won awards like the Man Booker Prize, the Sydney Peace Prize and the Norman Mailer Prize for writing.

Final Arundhati Roy Quiz

Question

What is Arundhati Roy's most famous novel?

Show answer

Answer

The God of Small Things, which won the Man Booker Prize, is her most well-known novel.

Show question

Question

What are common themes in Arundhati Roy's novels?

Show answer

Answer

Arundhati Roy's works have recurring themes such as the many facets of love, social conventions, politics, and othering.

Show question

Question

Is Arundhati Roy an activist?

Show answer

Answer

Although described as an activist, she refers to herself as a writer with an interest in current events.

Show question

Question

Who are the protagonists in The God of Small Things?

Show answer

Answer

Estha

Show question

Question

What movement or movements do Arundhati Roy's novels belong to?

Show answer

Answer

Postmodernism

Show question

Question

Where does Arundhati Roy live?

Show answer

Answer

She lives in Delhi.

Show question

Question

Why is Arundhati Roy a groundbreaking novelist?

Show answer

Answer

She is the first female Indian author to win the Man Booker Prize.

Show question

Question

What degree did Arundhati Roy study for in Delhi?

Show answer

Answer

Architecture

Show question

Question

What other types of writing does Arundhati Roy produce?

Show answer

Answer

Documentaries

Show question

Question

Why is Arundhati Roy a controversial author?

Show answer

Answer

She writes about taboo subject matter.

Show question

Question

When was The God of Small Things published?

Show answer

Answer

1997

Show question

Question

Where is The God of Small Things set?

Show answer

Answer

Ayemenem, Kerala 

Show question

Question

What is the caste system?


Show answer

Answer

The caste system in India existed for thousands of years and divided society into different social classes and determined the status that the people in each group held. 

Show question

Question

When did the Indian Constitution outlaw the caste system?


Show answer

Answer

1949

Show question

Question

What are the four traditional groups of the Indian caste system?


Show answer

Answer

Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shrudas

Show question

Question

What two philosophical theories are present in The God of Small Things?


Show answer

Answer

Communism

Show question

Question

When did Marxist concepts start growing in India?


Show answer

Answer

After Indian liberation from British Imperialism in 1967

Show question

Question

When did the Naxalite party form? 


Show answer

Answer

1967

Show question

Question

What was the name of the party that took control of Kerala in 1957?


Show answer

Answer

The Communist Party of India (CPI)

Show question

Question

What themes are present in The God of Small Things?


Show answer

Answer

Familial love

Show question

Question

What is Paradise Pickles & Preserves a symbol of?


Show answer

Answer

Preservation and tradition

Show question

Question

What type of discourse did Arundhati Roy use to write most of the novel?

Show answer

Answer

Free indirect discourse

Show question

Question

What is ‘small talk’ in The God of Small Things actually about?


Show answer

Answer

Deeper emotional feelings

Show question

Question

How is The God of Small Things semi-autobiographical?


Show answer

Answer

Arundhati Roy incorporated elements of her childhood and family history while writing the book. Arundhati Roy grew up in a village with its name being similar to the fictitious village in The God of Small Things, Aymenem. The river beside her home ‘Minachil’ is also similar to the name of the river ‘Meenachal’ in the novel. 

Show question

Question

Why did Arundhati Roy choose to set The God of Small Things in Kerala?


Show answer

Answer

She said ‘it was the only place in the world where religions coincide.’

Show question

Question

What does hysterical realism mean?


Show answer

Answer

When there is a great contrast between fantastical prose, characterisation or plotting and detailed observations of social realities in societies.

Show question

Question

What does social realism mean? 


Show answer

Answer

This movement formed as a reaction to romanticism and idealism. Social realists wanted to focus on the ugly truths of life and the working-class people and poor. They preferred to write in an impartial manner rather than glamorising events and settings like Romanticism and Idealism.

Show question

Question

What prize did The God of Small Things (1997) win?

Show answer

Answer

Published in 1997, The God of Small Things won Arundhati Roy the Man Booker Prize and global acclaim.

Show question

Question

What did Arundhati Roy study?

Show answer

Answer

Architecture

Show question

Question

Why was The God of Small Things (1997) controversial?

Show answer

Answer

The themes of forbidden love and its criticism of the caste system have led to a few court cases for obscenity. It was also banned in several instances.

Show question

Question

What other industry did Arundhati Roy work in?

Show answer

Answer

The film industry.

Show question

Question

What is the The God of Small Things (1997) about?

Show answer

Answer

The novel's plot spans several continents and three generations. It details the lives of each Ipe family member and other related characters. 


How the character's current social and political realities impact their stories is a key focus.

Show question

Question

What movement is The God of Small Things (1997) considered to belong to?

Show answer

Answer

Postmodernism.

Show question

Question

What type of plot does The God of Small Things (1997) have?

Show answer

Answer

Non linear

Show question

Question

What type of narrator does The God of Small Things (1997) have?

Show answer

Answer

Third person omniscient

Show question

Question

What is Intertextuality?

Show answer

Answer

When a text links or refers to other external texts either directly or indirectly.

Show question

Question

Which of these are Neologisms from The God of Small Things (1997)?

Show answer

Answer

Thimble - drinker

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Arundhati Roy quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.