"The God of Small Things" Vocabulary from Chapters 3-6

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 desire, disgust, and despair.

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. privation
    a state of extreme poverty
    He was as ragged as a rock star, but his missing teeth and the unhealthy pallor of his skin spoke eloquently of a life of privation and despair.
  2. volition
    the act of making a choice
    The obsessive cleanliness of the room was the only positive sign of volition from Estha.
  3. subsist
    support oneself
    Just the whisper of an unwillingness to subsist on scraps offered by others.
  4. luminous
    softly bright or radiant
    Only her eyes were incontestably more beautiful. Large. Luminous. Drownable in, as Larry McCaslin had said and discovered to his cost.
    The contest here is between Rahel and Ammu's beauty as grown women. A divorced, drifting, and childless Rahel is "longer, harder, flatter, more angular" than her mother had been. Rahel's eyes might be more beautiful, but they are as luminous as her mother's nut-brown skin. This physical luminosity contrasts with their emotional darkness, and makes their lives seem more tragic.
  5. taut
    pulled or drawn tight
    The sculpted hollows on either side of his taut, beautiful buns. Men’s bums never grow up. Like school satchels, they evoke in an instant memories of childhood.
    The example sentences are focused on the physical tightness of Estha's butt. But similar to how Ammu's "watchfulness stretched her, made her taut and tense," Rahel watching her twin brother in this way makes the scene emotionally taut and tense, especially since Estha does not respond.
  6. mesmerize
    attract strongly, as if with a magnet
    His yellow teeth were magnets. They saw, they smiled, they sang, they smelled, they moved. They mesmerized.
  7. shrill
    being sharply insistent on being heard
    “No, Ammu! No, Ammu, no! I want to come with you!”
    Ammu, surprised at the unusually shrill insistence from her usually quiet son, apologized to the Orangedrink Lemondrink Uncle.
  8. petulant
    easily irritated or annoyed
    “So why don’t you marry him then?” Rahel said petulantly.
    Seven-year-old Rahel was showing more disrespect ("petulant" also means "contemptuous in speech or behavior") than irritation or annoyance here. In response to this careless petulance on her daughter's part, Ammu deliberately shows her petulance by telling Rahel that she loved her a little less.
  9. dense
    hard to pass through because of heavy growth
    A cold moth with unusually dense dorsal tufts landed lightly on Rahel’s heart.
  10. jaundiced
    affected by yellowing of the skin
    A swathe of dirty yellow sponge spilled out and shivered on the backseat like an immense jaundiced liver.
  11. pugnacious
    ready and able to resort to force or violence
    He drove fast, pugnaciously, darting into empty spaces, nudging other cars out of their lanes.
    "Pugnacious" also means "tough and callous by virtue of experience"--while this can describe a driver whose taxi smells of sleep because it doubles as his home and who jumps lights despite being so small that he looks through the steering wheel, it does not fully describe the nature of a driver who would deliberately try to kill dogs that wander onto the road.
  12. suppressed
    held in check with difficulty
    Chacko often said that his ambition was to die of overeating. Mammachi said it was a sure sign of suppressed unhappiness.
  13. reapportion
    allocate or distribute anew
    The original plan had been that Estha would sleep with Chacko, and Rahel with Ammu and Baby Kochamma. But now that Estha wasn’t well and Love had been re-apportioned (Ammu loved her a little less), Rahel would have to sleep with Chacko, and Estha with Ammu and Baby Kochamma.
  14. rescind
    cancel officially
    “No thank you,” Rahel said, hoping that if she could somehow effect her own punishment, Ammu would rescind hers.
  15. forlorn
    marked by or showing hopelessness
    She, a forlorn, stubby convict in striped pajamas and a Fountain in a Love-in-Tokyo.
  16. acrid
    strong and sharp, as a taste
    Estha Alone walked weavily to the bathroom. He vomited a clear, bitter, lemony, sparkling, fizzy liquid. The acrid aftertaste of a Little Man’s first encounter with Fear.
  17. pertinent
    having precise or logical relevance to the matter at hand
    In his speeches he managed a clever mix of pertinent local issues and grand Maoist rhetoric, which sounded even grander in Malayalam.
    "Pertinent" and "local" are used here as antonyms of "grand" and "Maoist"--this gives a negative tone to the adjective "grand" which mocks the "high moral or intellectual value" of the Maoist rhetoric. This is also suggested by the use of the word "rhetoric" ("high-flown style; excessive use of verbal ornamentation" or "loud and confused and empty talk").
  18. sublimate
    direct energy or urges into useful activities
    While fathers played sublimated sexual games with their nubile teenaged daughters, Poothana suckled young Krishna at her poisoned breast. Bhima disemboweled Dushasana and bathed Draupadi’s hair in his blood.
  19. baleful
    deadly or sinister
    Neither question nor answer was meant as anything more than a polite preamble to conversation. Both she and he knew that there are things that can be forgotten. And things that cannot—that sit on dusty shelves like stuffed birds with baleful, sideways-staring eyes.
    "Baleful" also means "threatening or foreshadowing evil or tragic developments"--while birds often represent omens of bad things to come, this definition would not fit the example sentence because 1) it is referring to things that have already happened and cannot be forgotten; 2) the bird is stuffed, most likely because it's dead, like the mounted bison head and Pappachi's moths.
  20. decadence
    the state of being degenerate in mental or moral qualities
    It occurred to Comrade Pillai that this generation was perhaps paying for its forefathers’ bourgeois decadence.
  21. scornful
    expressing extreme contempt
    And in a rush of snot and relief, it emerged. A little mauve bead in a glistening bed of slime. As proud as a pearl in an oyster. Children gathered around to admire it. The boy who was playing with the sign was scornful.
  22. aberration
    a state or condition markedly different from the norm
    It was one of those baffling aberrations in Ammu’s taste, a cloud of stiff yellow lace with tiny silver sequins and a bow on each shoulder.
  23. appall
    strike with disgust or revulsion
    In her stiff lace dress and her fountain in a Love-in-Tokyo, Rahel looked like an Airport Fairy with appalling taste.
  24. gauge
    judge tentatively or form an estimate of
    Rahel watched hawk-eyed to try and gauge how much Ammu loved Sophie Mol, but couldn’t.
  25. adulation
    exaggerated flattery or praise
    Burdened with a number of small unmanageable packages and unabashed public adulation, he felt obliged to perform.
  26. resolutely
    showing firm determination or purpose
    “Just trying to attract attention,” Baby Kochamma said and resolutely refused to have her attention attracted.
  27. unravel
    Ambassador Rahel, unable to cope with seesawing changes in her life, had raveled herself like a sausage into the dirty airport curtain, and wouldn’t unravel.
  28. anticipation
    an expectation
    Estha saw how Baby Kochamma’s neckmole licked its chops and throbbed with delicious anticipation.
  29. chauvinist
    a person with a prejudiced belief in his own superiority
    “We don’t count,” Rahel said. “And anyway he might change. Ammu says.”
    “How d’you mean? Change into what?” Sophie Mol asked.
    “Into a Male Chauvinist Pig,” Rahel said.
    Rahel's repetition of Ammu's words is more humorous than hurtful, especially since Estha is not a chauvinist pig and they're in the middle of a conversation about love. When Ammu talks about male chauvinist pigs, she is disgusted because she is hurt by the chauvinistic rules of society. Despite working as hard as Chacko in the factory, she cannot inherit the property because she has no "locus standi" (legal standing).
  30. uncouth
    lacking refinement or cultivation or taste
    “It’s useless,” Baby Kochamma said. “They’re sly. They’re uncouth. Deceitful. They’re growing wild. You can’t manage them.”

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