Through a Child’s Eye: The Aftermath of Politically Institutionalized Oppression Oppression and its synonymous relatives lives beneath our noses, lingering in the air we breathe and manifesting itself in our lungs. Oppression is a pollutant that begins its work at dawn and ceases to take a vacation. It begins as an unnamed idea, a trojan horse of types, claiming to have multifunctional benefits created by its systematic approach. Exploding with casualties, it wreaks treachery.
The notion of dissolvement is unrealistic as the infected have tasted the sweet ambrosia of power. Government, the most power aggressive of all have written oppression into their constitutions. It is simply unavoidable and in many ways seemingly insurmountable. Literature is one of the best ways to explore the bounties of oppression and for those who are not as greatly affected begin to comprehend the ingrained power it holds over its victims.
All children, born into a society that either embraces or resents them, eventually fall victim to the system that was established long before them and will remain there long after they leave. Utilizing a child’s point of view, allows authors like Arundhati Roy of The God of the Small Things and Toni Morrison of The Bluest Eye to capture objective impressions of reality fostered by a child’s naivety in pursuance of bringing light to the indelible remnants of institutions in societies that leave individuals victim to a predestined collective of prejudice, poverty and self denigrationaversion.
Using the standard plot element of forbidden love, made famous by Shakespeare, author Arundhati Roy, tailors characterological conflict to emphasize the dominant influence of tradition and preservation fostered by India’s oppressive Caste System. In her novel “The God of Small Things”, the functionality of God is limited to those who are chosen to be loved. The stringent segregation of those deserving of God’s love and those who are not creates conflict as love prevails to be the powerful force that disregards such institutionalized laws and societal conventions.
Roy’s novel explores the consequences of violating socially and legally oppressive laws through the eyes of two children, Estha and Rahel, that experience tragedy on a level of normality. Comparably, Toni Morrison recounts in her novel, “The Bluest Eye”, the story of a young black girl named Pecola growing up in the United States during the height of black oppression in America. Pecola’s resentment of her complexion which differs from the favored pale skin and blue eyes, illustrates the detrimental effects of institutionalized oppression on children.
Prejudice prevails in a world that holds denial on one hand and a whip in another. It was not something that occurred naturally but quite contrarily, appeared as a consequence to a systematic way of classifying human beings. Findings suggest that the Caste System of India based off of Hindu scripture appeared as early as 1000 BCE. As all ideas do, the caste evolved over time. Affected by environmental and political factors such as the shifting of dynasties, religious presence/dominance, and imperial influence, the caste system in India functioned significantly differently depending on the dominant influence of the time.
Despite the alternating pattern, its systematic nature forced an element of oppression on particular groups in society. Its origination stemmed from the idea of dividing labor and ultimately as a way of controlling social aspects of society and maintaining order (Thekaekara 2). The traditional Hindu system divides people of society into four social ranks; Brahmins, who function as the most pure and are often priests, Kshatriyas, who were usually warriors and rulers, followed by Vaishyas known to be traders and merchants and ending with the lowest class, Sudras, destined to serve the upper classes.
Known to the world as “untouchables”, Dalits meaning ‘broken people’, are below Sudras. Suffering the most, Dalits struggle to be noticed in a society that believes of them as simply disposable trash. There are currently 180 million Dalits in India, a majority being child workers, illiterate, suffering from the worst health, and lacking the most in education and jobs (Thekaekara 4). Despite independence in 1949 as stated in the framework of India’s Constitution, Dalits face injustice every day. However, if they were to resist, they face the possibility of being murdered, raped or viciously humiliated.
In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, main characters Estha and Rahel befriend am untouchable named Velutha. Despite their class and age difference, Velutha brings great joy to the two displaying that how children’s lack of regard for his social status is created by the conspicuous innocence that will inevitably be spoiled by the tragic nature of reality. Ammu, Estha and Rahel’s mother, finds herself at odds as she falls deeply in love with Velutha. The star crossed lovers’ relationship reflects that of the well known Shakespearean tale of Romeo and Juliet.
Motives, ideas and messages found in early works by writers such as Shakespeare are considerably influential to writers that followed. Author ,Thomas Foster, of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, discusses the relationship between modern writers and Shakespeare as he states, “ The author may be reworking a message, exploring changes (or continuities) in attitudes from one era to another, recalling parts of an earlier work to highlight features of the newly created one, drawing on associations the reader holds in order to fashion something new and, ironically, original”(Foster 44).
The idea of forbidden love that Shakespeare introduced with Romeo and Juliet found itself to be so popular because of its universal appeal to emotion prompted by pain and undying love. Like in Romeo and Juliet, society and family attempted to sever the ties of Ammu and Velutha’s love. The reaction of Ammu’s mother to the news of her daughter’s relationship with an untouchable proves the great divide caused by politically initiated oppression that would otherwise not exist. Roy describes Mammachi’s reaction as she writes, “She imagined it in vivid detail: a Paravan’s coarse black hand on her daughter’s breast.
His mouth on hers. His black hips jerking between her parted legs. The sound of their breathing. His particular Paravan smell. Like animals, Mammachi thought and nearly vomited” (Roy 131). Mammachi’s great disgust reflects in graphic detail the extent to which untouchables suffered and continue to suffer from prejudice. Comparing Velutha and all Dalits in general to animals, illustrates the belief that certain individuals are inherently less than, parallel to the idea of racism that created segregation in the United States.
Corresponding to Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Arundhati Roy ends Velutha and Ammu’s relationship with fatality, something quite prominent in her novel. Utilizing fatality, she reinforces the question of whether Ammu and Velutha’s love would have continued to thrive if the caste system had never been established. Prejudice, a consequence of systematic oppression, resulted ultimately in a death so tragic that it illuminates the many that have been forgotten.
Although love, as it is presented in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, does not exist in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, tragedy resulting in fatality occurs in Pecola Breedlove’s life as Morrison follows the individual repression of a young girl, illuminating greater injustices ultimately brought upon by racial segregation in the United States. Isolated in a world that viewed blacks as less than, and being nonetheless a black woman, Pecola suffered isolation seemingly greater in her neighborhood as they shamed her for a pregnancy that was the result of her father raping her.