“The Love Laws” in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things
One important theme of The God of Small Things is the “Love Laws” and what happens when they are broken. The “Love Laws” are the principles and standards of society that, however wrong, are so ingrained in the minds of the people that they feel more like laws of nature. Rahel and Estha can’t distinguish the principle that “makes grandmothers grandmothers…and jelly jelly” from the “laws” that make Velutha what he is, untouchable. Roy creates a sense from the children’s affections for him that they do not fully understand the notion of caste that is so ingrained in their society’s consciousness, or that if they do, then they do not accept it. Because they love Velutha they too are breaking the “Love Laws”. It takes them years to figure out that Velutha’s murder was ultimately the result of Ammu’s breaking the “Love Laws” in the worst way, by having an affair with an untouchable.
Velutha does not behave like an untouchable is supposed to behave. Because of this, Baby Kochamma warns that he is getting too comfortable around the children and in the company of touchables. Comrade Pillai, who as a communist believes in economic and social equality, finds him a liability because of the other communists’ feelings--most’s feelings--about untouchables. Even Velutha’s own father worries that he is stepping out of bounds.
Of course, even though Velutha is able to maintain a relationship with the children and a more lenient employment around Paradise Pickles & Preserves because of his education (in Ammu’s grandfather’s school for untouchables) and demonstrated good work, because of what he is he carries with him the “perpetual impurity” of his caste.
Baby Kochamma’s report to the police and her manipulation of both Ammu and the twins served her in several ways. By doing this, she had taken her revenge against the communists for the incident when the family passed through their rally, where she was forced to wave their flag and say their slogans. She also had found a way in which to punish Ammu and the twins for their arrival, and for never “knowing their place” around the house. But her main reason was her honest hatred of Velutha and his status, or non-status, in society.
When the truth of Ammu’s affair is made known to the family, Ammu is locked away while hatred for Velutha grows throughout the family. Mammachi, whose late husband’s father had both educated and employed Velutha, spits in his face. Even Chacko, who supports the communists’ ideal social and economic equality, is enraged. Velutha’s father offers to kill Velutha because he, an untouchable himself, knows the extent to which this scandal will enrage the community and because he believes in the same un-climbable ladder of the caste system and the boundaries in which his lot are supposed to exist. When the police find Velutha they beat him to eventual death, and assume the children were captives and that Ammu was victimized. Meanwhile, Ammu is a captive in the family home, locked away by Baby Kochamma. She later manipulates the children into “Saving Ammu” when the police realize what has happened to an innocent man, who has only committed crimes against the “Love Laws” with consensual acts. The irony is that “saving Ammu” leads to Estha’s “return” and Ammu’s eventual death, separated from her twins, in a flophouse. Her death comes after the death of Sophie Mol and Velutha—the most loved and loathed of society respectively.
Early in her life, Rahel develops an appreciation for punishment, because she sees it as an absolution from being “loved a little less” for wrongdoings. She is always afraid of losing love, as symbolized by the recurring image of Pappachi’s moth’s icy claws on her heart. Before Ammu is gone forever, she and the twins share a moment describing the fantasy life they will live after she has a job and comes back for them. Rahel is quick to include “appropriate punishments” as one of the characteristics of this life that will never happen. If she is properly punished then she can escape the guilt, and the moth’s claws on her heart, for breaking the “Love Laws.”
Velutha’s punishment for breaking the “Love Laws” was a conspiracy of sorts leading to his death. The children’s punishments were separation; their mother’s was being sent away.
Upon being reunited in adulthood, silent Estha and Rahel break new “Love Laws”. Roy reinforces that after their years of separation, they are still “two-egged twins with Siamese souls.” Following this, it is in the final chapter that we learn what happened across the now dried-up river when Ammu and Velutha committed their crime. The final word of the story is Ammu’s “Tomorrow,” which brings to mind the cliché that tomorrow never comes, as it tragically does not for Ammu and Velutha.