"The God of Small Things," Vocabulary from Chapters 1-2

The traumatic separation of fraternal twins in India is at the heart of Arundhati Roy's "God of a Small Things" which addresses communism and the Indian caste system while recounting the lives of the twins both together and apart.
Learn this word list that focuses on the ways and days of Ayemenem.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1-2, Chapters 3-6, Chapters 7-10, Chapters 11-14, Chapters 15-21

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. brood
    hang over, as of something threatening, dark, or menacing
    May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month.
    "Brood" also means "be in a huff; be silent or sullen"--this definition could fit because hot weather can make one less happy and talkative; this is suggested in the description: "the nights are clear, but suffused with sloth and sullen expectation." "Brooding" also means "sitting on eggs to hatch them by the warmth of the body"--this could be suggested by the descriptions of the heat ripening bananas and bursting jackfruits.
  2. vacuous
    devoid of intelligence
    Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air.
    Bluebottles are flies, which are not usually described as dissolute ("unrestrained by convention or morality") or vacuous. But these adjectives emphasize the heat's effects: it is so hot that flies are mating so much that their mindless hums can be heard throughout Ayemenem, even when the sun makes many of them fly into clear windowpanes and die.
  3. permeate
    spread or diffuse through
    Anticipating the sharp, smoky stink of old urine that permeated the walls and furniture, they clamped their nostrils shut well before the smell began.
  4. estivation
    cessation or slowing of activity during the summer
    It wasn’t an accusing, protesting silence as much as a sort of estivation, a dormancy, the psychological equivalent of what lungfish do to get themselves through the dry season, except that in Estha’s case the dry season looked as though it would last forever.
    Estivation is similar to hibernation, except that animals hibernate in the winter. Animals either estivate or hibernate in order to preserve energy, so that they would have a better chance of survival when resources are more plentiful or the weather is less harsh. However, Estha is estivating because he doesn't see much of a reason to live.
  5. clamor
    loud and persistent outcry from many people
    Vendors in the bazaar, sitting behind pyramids of oiled, shining vegetables, grew to recognize him and would attend to him amidst the clamoring of their other customers.
  6. perturb
    disturb in mind or make uneasy or cause to be worried
    He was the first person in Ayemenem to hear of Rahel’s return. The news didn’t perturb him as much as excite his curiosity.
  7. bereavement
    state of sorrow over the death or departure of a loved one
    She spent her holidays in Ayemenem, largely ignored by Chacko and Mammachi (grown soft with sorrow, slumped in their bereavement like a pair of drunks in a toddy bar) and largely ignoring Baby Kochamma.
  8. unfeasible
    not capable of being carried out or put into practice
    He didn’t know that in some places, like the country that Rahel came from, various kinds of despair competed for primacy. And that personal despair could never be desperate enough. That something happened when personal turmoil dropped by at the wayside shrine of the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation.
  9. temerity
    fearless daring
    That Big God howled like a hot wind, and demanded obeisance. Then Small God (cozy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity.
  10. resilient
    recovering readily from adversity, depression, or the like
    Inured by the confirmation of his own inconsequence, he became resilient and truly indifferent.
    "Resilient" can be a synonym of "inured" ("made tough by habitual exposure"). Both adjectives refer to the Small God, but they could also describe some of the human characters. But like the numb, laughing, and indifferent Small God who is compared to a rich boy who's happy that he's not as miserable as others, the characters who are resilient are not the most likable in this novel.
  11. poised
    marked by balance or equilibrium and readiness for action
    In the country that she came from, poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace, Worse Things kept happening.
  12. relentless
    Recently, after enduring more than half a century of relentless, pernickety attention, the ornamental garden had been abandoned.
  13. covet
    wish, long, or crave for
    Pappachi would not believe her story—not because he thought well of her husband, but simply because he didn’t believe that an Englishman, any Englishman, would covet another man’s wife.
  14. incipient
    only partly in existence; imperfectly formed
    Old female relations with incipient beards and several wobbling chins made overnight trips to Ayemenem to commiserate with her about her divorce.
  15. sufferance
    a disposition to tolerate or accept people or situations
    She was keen for them to realize that they (like herself) lived on sufferance in the Ayemenem House, their maternal grandmother’s house, where they really had no right to be.
    Although Baby Kochamma lives on sufferance (because she should be married with her own family, instead of living with her older brother's family), she is actually quite an insufferable ("extremely unpleasant or annoying") character who wants to see people suffer and who grudges the young twins their moments of happiness.
  16. ludicrous
    inviting ridicule
    It was a literal translation of Ruchi lokathinde Rajavu, which sounded a little less ludicrous than Emperors of the Realm of Taste.
  17. corrode
    cause to deteriorate due to water, air, or an acid
    To some small degree he did succeed in further corroding Ayemenem’s view of working wives.
  18. stifling
    characterized by oppressive heat and humidity
    Until the day he died, even in the stifling Ayemenem heat, every single day Pappachi wore a well-pressed three-piece suit and his gold pocket watch.
    "Stifling" also means "forceful prevention; putting down by power or authority"--this describes Pappachi, who increased the frequency of his wife-beatings when he saw that Mammachi was gaining respect while he was losing it in the larger world. Pappachi's stifling nature is the reason he wears suits in the stifling heat--his need to be impressively oppressive makes the heat seem less oppressive to him.
  19. extravagant
    recklessly wasteful
    Almost immediately, the financial slide began, but was artificially buoyed by extravagant bank loans that Chacko raised by mortgaging the family’s rice fields around the Ayemenem House.
  20. obscure
    not famous or acclaimed
    At first he had wanted to call it Zeus Pickles & Preserves, but that idea was vetoed because everybody said that Zeus was too obscure and had no local relevance, whereas Paradise did.
  21. desultory
    marked by lack of definite plan or regularity or purpose
    With a desultory nod of his bored and sleepy head, the Level Crossing Divinity conjured up beggars with bandages, men with trays selling pieces of fresh coconut, parippu vadas on banana leaves.
  22. opulent
    rich and superior in quality
    Suddenly the skyblue Plymouth looked absurdly opulent on the narrow, pitted road.
  23. insidious
    working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way
    The real secret was that communism crept into Kerala insidiously. As a reformist movement that never overtly questioned the traditional values of a caste-ridden, extremely traditional community.
  24. ardent
    characterized by strong enthusiasm
    Chacko studied his treatise on “The Peaceful Transition to Communism” with an adolescent’s obsessive diligence and an ardent fan’s unquestioning approval.
  25. deride
    treat or speak of with contempt
    Every morning at breakfast the Imperial Entomologist derided his argumentative Marxist son by reading out newspaper reports of the riots, strikes and incidents of police brutality that convulsed Kerala.
  26. invidious
    containing or implying a slight or showing prejudice
    This was the trouble with families. Like invidious doctors, they knew just where it hurt.
  27. defile
    spot, stain, or pollute
    Mammachi told Estha and Rahel that she could remember a time, in her girlhood, when 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.
  28. scourge
    something causing misery or death
    When the British came to Malabar, a number of Paravans, Pelayas and Pulayas (among them Velutha’s grandfather, Kelan) converted to Christianity and joined the Anglican Church to escape the scourge of Untouchability.
  29. insolence
    the trait of being rude and impertinent
    While these were qualities that were perfectly acceptable, perhaps even desirable, in Touchables, Vellya Paapen thought that in a Paravan they could (and would, and indeed, should) be construed as insolence.
  30. prodigal
    recklessly wasteful
    It caused a great deal of resentment among the other Touchable factory workers because, according to them, Paravans were not meant to be carpenters. And certainly, prodigal Paravans were not meant to be rehired.
    Implied here is the Christian parable of the prodigal son who leaves home, wastes his inheritance, and returns home to seek the forgiveness of his father. Although Velutha did go away for a while and then returned home seeking his former position, he is, unlike the prodigal son, a skilled employee who works hard for his money and deserves more than what he actually gets.

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