"The God of Small Things," Vocabulary from Chapters 7-10

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 home.

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. iridescent
    having a play of lustrous rainbow colors
    In Pappachi’s study, mounted butterflies and moths had disintegrated into small heaps of iridescent dust that powdered the bottom of their glass display cases, leaving the pins that had impaled them naked.
  2. errant
    moving in an uncontrolled, irregular, or unpredictable way
    The labored form of each letter and the irregular space between words was full of the struggle for control over the errant, self-willed pencil.
    "Errant" also means "straying from the right course or from accepted standards"--while this adjective is used here to describe the pencil, it can describe many members of Estha's family. Young Estha's pencil mistakes might lead to some red pen comments from Ammu, but other mistakes lead to more permanent and disastrous consequences that cannot be erased.
  3. meager
    deficient in amount or quality or extent
    With the last of her meager salary she had bought her daughter small presents wrapped in brown paper with colored paper hearts pasted on.
  4. garrulous
    full of trivial conversation
    She seemed terrified of what adult thing her daughter might say and thaw Frozen Time. Fear made her garrulous. She kept it at bay with her babble.
  5. transience
    the attribute of being brief or fleeting
    It was a grand old house, the Ayemenem House, but aloof-looking. As though it had little to do with the people who lived in it. Like an old man with rheumy eyes watching children play, seeing only transience in their shrill elation and their wholehearted commitment to life.
  6. intricate
    having many complexly arranged elements; elaborate
    The triangular wooden frames fitted into the gables were intricately carved, the light that slanted through them and fell in patterns on the floor was full of secrets.
  7. prescience
    the power to foresee the future
    In her younger years, with prescience and good management, Mammachi had collected all her falling hair in a small, embroidered purse that she kept on her dressing table.
  8. languid
    lacking spirit or liveliness
    Then she thought of Margaret Kochamma and the languid, liquid notes of Handel’s music grew shrill and angry.
  9. repository
    a facility where things can be deposited for safekeeping
    The day that Chacko prevented Pappachi from beating her (and Pappachi had murdered his chair instead), Mammachi packed her wifely luggage and committed it to Chacko’s care. From then onwards he became the repository of all her womanly feelings. Her Man. Her only Love.
    "Repository" also means "a person to whom a secret is entrusted"--this definition would not fit the example sentence because Mammachi's feelings, although inappropriate, are not a secret, since she makes them clear through her actions and praise. Chacko both demands and hates this attention, while Ammu sees this as another unfair part of life since "all Indian mothers are obsessed with their sons and are therefore poor judges of their abilities."
  10. enigmatic
    not clear to the understanding
    Surprisingly, Baby Kochamma accepted this explanation, and the enigmatic, secretly thrilling notion of Men’s Needs gained implicit sanction in the Ayemenem House.
    "Men's Needs" are enigmatic to Baby Kochamma since she has never fulfilled them. The idea that men's needs would be different from women's needs is meant to be enigmatic to the readers. The author Roy also mocks the idea by using the adjective "implicit" ("being without doubt or reserve") to describe the sanction ("official permission or approval") that is given to something that's not fully understood.
  11. annihilate
    kill in large numbers
    Of course they did not even remotely suspect that the missile, when it was fired, the one that would annihilate the family’s Good Name forever, would come from a completely unexpected quarter.
    "Annihilate" means "destroy completely" in this example sentence. But the given definition and the words "missile," "fire," and "quarter" suggest a level of destruction that comes with war. This exaggeration of what could happen to a family's "Good Name" both mocks the characters who think it's that important and emphasizes the physical destruction caused by the focus on preserving an untouchable idea.
  12. traipse
    walk or tramp about
    Mammachi had a separate entrance built for Chacko’s room, which was at the eastern end of the house, so that the objects of his “Needs” wouldn’t have to go traipsing through the house.
  13. tacit
    implied by or inferred from actions or statements
    Margaret Kochamma never returned the money simply because she never found it. Her pockets were emptied as a matter of routine by Aniyan the dhobi. Mammachi knew this, but preferred to construe Margaret Kochamma’s silence as a tacit acceptance of payment for the favors Mammachi imagined she bestowed on her son.
  14. incongruous
    lacking in harmony or compatibility or appropriateness
    Kochu Maria’s fan was more or less hidden by the blue-and-white checked, frilled, absurdly incongruous housemaid’s apron that Mammachi insisted she wear inside the house.
  15. wary
    openly distrustful and unwilling to confide
    Kochu Maria was wary of other peoples’ versions of the outside world.
  16. tactile
    of or relating to or proceeding from the sense of touch
    She was surprised at the extent of her daughter’s physical ease with him. Surprised that her child seemed to have a sub-world that excluded her entirely. A tactile world of smiles and laughter that she, her mother, had no part in.
    "Tactile" takes on an extra meaning here because Rahel is laughing at being tossed and caught by a man who is considered Untouchable. Although not a part of the caste, Ammu, being divorced, is also seen as untouchable. But seven-year-old Rahel is not concerned with labels of untouchability, because to her, Velutha and Ammu are her beloved friend and mother. Throughout the novel, the author Roy supports this childlike embrace of the world.
  17. pelt
    the dressed hairy coat of a mammal
    Ammu saw that he saw. She looked away. He did too. History’s fiends returned to claim them. To re-wrap them in its old, scarred pelt and drag them back to where they really lived. Where the Love Laws lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.
  18. effrontery
    audacious behavior that you have no right to
    In the angry quietness of the Play (the Blue Army in the green heat still watching), Ammu walked back to the Plymouth, took out her suitcase, slammed the door, and walked away to her room, her shoulders shining. Leaving everybody to wonder where she had learned her effrontery from.
  19. cunning
    shrewdness as demonstrated by being skilled in deception
    He worked hard on his public profile as a sophisticated, generous, moral man. But alone with his wife and children he turned into a monstrous, suspicious bully, with a streak of vicious cunning.
  20. disdain
    reject with contempt
    An hour after the lights went out, disdaining Mammachi’s frightened pleading, little Ammu crept back into the house through a ventilator to rescue her new gumboots that she loved more than anything else.
  21. cloying
    overly sweet
    Mammachi played a Welcome Home, Our Sophie Mol melody on her violin.
    A cloying, chocolate melody.
  22. perspicacious
    mentally acute or penetratingly discerning
    By then she had performed unfalteringly under the twins’ perspicacious scrutiny and had confounded all their expectations.
    The twins' perspicacious scrutiny appreciated their cousin's perspicacity: Sophie Mol was astute ("keen in judgment") in gauging the prevailing ("most frequent or common") temper, which led her to rudely reject Baby Kochamma. Also quick to figure out that she'd rather play with the twins, Sophie Mol turned down Mammachi's offer that she replace the twins in braiding a rat's tail and counting moles.
  23. surly
    unfriendly and inclined toward anger or irritation
    He introduced them to his surly hen.
  24. nestle
    lie in a sheltered position
    On the edge of the clearing, with its back to the river, a low hut with walls of orange laterite plastered with mud and a thatched roof nestled close to the ground, as though it was listening to a whispered subterranean secret.
    The low status of Velutha's family is shown in the description of their home--even the roof is nestled close to the ground. But the walls are made of "orange laterite"--laterite should be "a red soil produced by rock decay" and it was once a source of aluminum, nickel, and iron. This, and the theory that the Garden of Eden was made of red soil (which makes Adam and all his descendants made of red soil) suggest that this hut's inhabitants are worth a lot more than their status.
  25. germinate
    cause to grow or sprout
    The low walls of the hut were the same color as the earth they stood on, and seemed to have germinated from a house-seed planted in the ground, from which right-angled ribs of earth had risen and enclosed space.
  26. saunter
    walk leisurely and with no apparent aim
    Day after day, month after month, while his brother was away and his father went to work, Kuttappen lay flat on his back and watched his youth saunter past without stopping to say hello.
  27. administer
    supervise or be in charge of
    After Chella died, he was moved into her corner, the corner that Kuttappen imagined was the corner of his home that Death had reserved to administer her deathly affairs.
  28. malevolent
    wishing or appearing to wish evil to others
    On bad days the orange walls held hands and bent over him, inspecting him like malevolent doctors, slowly, deliberately, squeezing the breath out of him and making him scream.
  29. cleave
    stick or hold together and resist separation
    The room was dark and clean. It smelled of fish curry and woodsmoke. Heat cleaved to things like a low fever.
  30. salvage
    collect discarded or refused material
    There were other things from the Ayemenem House that had either been given to them or salvaged from the rubbish bin. Rich things in a poor house. A clock that didn’t work, a flowered tin wastepaper basket. Pappachi’s old riding boots (brown, with green mold) with the cobbler’s trees still in them. Biscuit tins with sumptuous pictures of English castles and ladies with bustles and ringlets.

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