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The Meenachal River as Vital Materiality in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

Sofia Cavalcanti, University of Bologna pdf_icon_30x30


sofia.cavalcanti2(at)unibo.it


AbstractThe images, themes, and motifs that circulate in a text can be useful indicators of its ideological underpinnings. The Meenachal River, flowing across the Indian region of Kerala, is a recurring element in Roy’s bestselling novel The God of Small Things (1997), in which inanimate objects dominate, subsume, and even annex the animate ones. Despite the research interest in the evocative temporal structure of the book, little attention has been paid to the spaces around which it is developed, namely the river as the emblem of vital materiality and action potential. Hence, a deeper understanding of its role as line of regional and transcultural connections as well as catalyst of encounters and transgressions is necessary.

By adopting the perspective of “Material Engagement Theory” focusing on the cognitive dimension of things, I will discuss the animate and meaningful character of the river as objective correlative of post-independence India. Not only is it a means of encounter of different cultures, religions, and populations in Kerala but it actively enacts the confrontation between opposed forces such as the East and the West, nature and culture, freedom and tradition. In addition, since things are cognitive extensions of the human mind, I will point out how the psychic journey of the characters shifting from innocence to moral depravity, from purity to corruption, is instantiated by the river and its action-constitutive force. Hence, as both container of ideologies and material representation of psychic evolution, I will argue that the Meenachal can be read as “metonymic metaphor” by reason of its relationship of contiguity and similarity with the protagonists of the book.

In conclusion, the Meenachal River symbolizes a “mindscape”, that is, a cognitive landscape where brains, bodies, and things closely interact in the drama of mental and emotional becoming. Its metonymic/metaphoric function of fluid border between here and there, present and past, humans and non-humans, touchables and untouchables makes it a hybrid material sign capable of bringing forth a process of osmosis, contamination, and exchange.

 

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