"The God of Small Things," Vocabulary from Chapters 15-21

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 "history" vs. "his story" and "her story."

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. distraught
    deeply agitated especially from emotion
    It was four in the morning, still dark, when the twins, exhausted, distraught and covered in mud, made their way through the swamp and approached the History House.
  2. pathetic
    inspiring mixed contempt and pity
    He screamed through the car window at the camera.
    “I’m fifteen years old and I wish I were a better person than I am. But I’m not. Do you want to hear my pathetic story?”
    The fact that this boy wants to tell his pathetic story inspires more contempt than pity. The presence of the cameras also adds a false note to his story. In contrast, Velutha is treated like a criminal, even though he is not one, and he never gets a chance to tell his side of the story--rather, the newspapers, police, and Comrade Pillai tell their versions of his story in order to benefit themselves.
  3. implicate
    bring into intimate and incriminating connection
    Comrade K. N. M. Pillai claimed that the Management had implicated the Paravan in a false police case because he was an active member of the Communist Party.
  4. sluggish
    moving slowly
    All that had been in the papers. The Official Version.
    Of course the thicklipped man with rings had no idea about the other version.
    The one in which a posse of Touchable Policemen crossed the Meenachal River, sluggish and swollen with recent rain, and picked their way through the wet undergrowth, clumping into the Heart of Darkness.
  5. efficiency
    skillfulness in avoiding wasted time and effort
    There were six of them. Servants of the State.
    All six sound like good qualities for a police force to have. But Roy's mocking tone is obvious through her descriptions of 1) the twins reading the words backwards; 2) the "cartoonplatoon". The use of an acronym seems to be reminding the police of the qualities they should embody. But none of the qualities, especially efficiency, show any sign of protection or warmth for the citizens.
  6. billowing
    characterized by great swelling waves or surges
    The History House.
    Whose doors were locked and windows open.
    With cold stone floors and billowing, ship-shaped shadows on the walls.
  7. abrogate
    revoke formally
    Where waxy ancestors with tough toe-nails and breath that smelled of yellow maps whispered papery whispers.
    Where an old Englishman ghost, sickled to a tree, was abrogated by a pair of two-egg twins—a Mobile Republic with a Puff who had planted a Marxist flag in the earth beside him.
  8. coalesce
    fuse or cause to come together
    They returned at dawn with news of the world. A gray haze in the rosy distance that suddenly coalesced and blackened over the house before it plummeted through the History-hole like smoke in a film running backwards.
    The first example sentence suggests light and enlightenment with the nouns "dawn" and "news" but this is immediately contrasted with the words "gray haze," "coalesced," "blackened," "plummeted," "History-hole," "smoke," and "backwards"--all of which emphasize a confusing plunge into darkness. Although the descriptions were about bats, they could refer to the nature of life.
  9. caprice
    a sudden desire
    Blue-lipped and dinner-plate-eyed, they watched, mesmerized by something that they sensed but didn’t understand: the absence of caprice in what the policemen did.
  10. abyss
    a bottomless gulf or pit
    The abyss where anger should have been. The sober, steady brutality, the economy of it all.
  11. inchoate
    only partly in existence; imperfectly formed
    The twins were too young to know that these were only history’s henchmen. Sent to square the books and collect the dues from those who broke its laws. Impelled by feelings that were primal yet paradoxically wholly impersonal. Feelings of contempt born of inchoate, unacknowledged fear--civilization’s fear of nature, men’s fear of women, power’s fear of powerlessness.
  12. deify
    exalt to the position of a God
    Man’s subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify.
  13. ascendancy
    the state when one person or group has power over another
    What Esthappen and Rahel witnessed that morning, though they didn’t know it then, was a clinical demonstration in controlled conditions (this was not war after all, or genocide) of human nature’s pursuit of ascendancy. Structure. Order. Complete monopoly. It was human history, masquerading as God’s Purpose, revealing herself to an under-age audience.
  14. frenzy
    state of violent mental agitation
    Unlike the custom of rampaging religious mobs or conquering armies running riot, that morning in the Heart of Darkness the posse of Touchable Policemen acted with economy, not frenzy.
    The definitions of "frenzy," "rampage" ("act violently, recklessly, or destructively"), and "riot" ("a public act of violence by an unruly mob") all connect to violence. The structure of the sentence contrasts the Touchable Policemen with these words, which suggests that they were not violent. But the contrasting word "economy" emphasizes that the Touchable Policemen were simply efficient in their use of violence.
  15. inoculate
    perform vaccinations or produce immunity in
    They were merely inoculating a community against an outbreak.
  16. innocuous
    lacking intent or capacity to injure
    To his credit, Inspector Thomas Mathew remained calm. He sensed the growing incoherence in the children. He noted the dilated pupils. He had seen it all before ... the human mind’s escape valve. Its way of managing trauma. He made allowances for that, and couched his questions cleverly. Innocuously.
  17. disjointed
    lacking orderly continuity
    Gradually, in a fractured, disjointed fashion, things began to fall into place. His men had briefed him about the pots and pans. The grass mat. The impossible-to-forget toys. They began to make sense now.
  18. belligerent
    characteristic of an enemy or one eager to fight
    “Where is the rape-victim’s complaint? Has it been filed? Has she made a statement? Have you brought it with you?” The Inspector’s tone was belligerent.
  19. macabre
    shockingly repellent; inspiring horror
    Systematically, in her kind, concerned voice she conjured up the macabre future in store for them.
  20. brittle
    having little elasticity
    “So!” she said, with a bright, brittle smile, the strain beginning to tell in her voice. “What shall I tell the Inspector Uncle? What have we decided? D’you want to save Ammu or shall we send her to jail?”
    Baby Kochamma's smile is brittle because it's so fake and tense that she has trouble keeping it on her face. It is also brittle in the sense that it is "lacking warmth and generosity of spirit"--which describes Baby Kochamma's nature, especially at this moment when she's trying to scare the twins into lying about Velutha so that she doesn't end up in jail for making a false report.
  21. premise
    take something as preexisting and given
    Everything that she, Baby Kochamma, had done, had been premised on one assumption. She had gambled on the fact that Ammu, whatever else she did, however angry she was, would never publicly admit to her relationship with Velutha.
  22. accessible
    capable of being reached
    Within its walls she planted an easy, accessible target for his insane anger. It wasn’t hard for her to portray Ammu as the person actually responsible for Sophie Mol’s death. Ammu and her two-egg twins.
  23. culpable
    deserving blame or censure as being wrong or injurious
    At Sophie Mol’s funeral and in the days before Estha was Returned, they saw her swollen eyes, and with the self-centeredness of children, held themselves wholly culpable for her grief.
  24. lambent
    softly bright or radiant
    A lonely, lambent woman looking out at her embittered aunt’s ornamental garden, listening to a tangerine.
  25. egress
    the act or means of going out
    Had he known that he was about to enter a tunnel whose only egress was his own annihilation, would he have turned away?
  26. delectable
    capable of arousing desire
    The whole thing was a figment of his imagination. This was a trap. There were people in the bushes. Watching. She was the delectable bait. How could it be otherwise?
  27. tremor
    shaking or trembling
    Biology designed the dance. Terror timed it. Dictated the rhythm with which their bodies answered each other. As though they knew already that for each tremor of pleasure they would pay with an equal measure of pain.
  28. oblivion
    the state of being disregarded or forgotten
    Then, for what seemed like an eternity, but was really no more than five minutes, she slept leaning against him, her back against his chest. Seven years of oblivion lifted off her and flew into the shadows on weighty, quaking wings.
  29. eclectic
    selecting what seems best of various styles or ideas
    Without admitting it to each other or themselves, they linked their fates, their futures (their Love, their Madness, their Hope, their Infinnate Joy), to his. They checked on him every night (with growing panic as time went by) to see if he had survived the day. They fretted over his frailty. His smallness. The adequacy of his camouflage. His seemingly self-destructive pride. They grew to love his eclectic taste. His shambling dignity.
  30. fragility
    the quality of being easily damaged or destroyed
    They chose him because they knew that they had to put their faith in fragility. Stick to Smallness. Each time they parted, they extracted only one small promise from each other:
    "Fragility" (which also means "lack of physical strength") is a synonym of "frailty" ("the state of being weak in health or body"). While Velutha and Ammu fretted over the physical weakness of the spider, their concern for him was tied to the possibility that he (and they) could be easily damaged and destroyed by outside forces. His story has a happy ending while theirs do not.

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