The God of Small Things

Students investigate the complex, nonlinear style of The God of Small Things and its themes of history, colonialism and love, focusing on the novel's literary devices, plot structure, and language.



Unit 3

12th Grade

Unit Summary

Winner of the 1997 Booker Prize, awarded to the best new piece of fiction published in the UK each year, The God of Small Things, by Indian writer Arundhati Roy, is set in the Kerala state of India and takes place over the course of two weeks in 1969 and one day of 1993. It traces the stories of twins, Estha and Rahel, whose lives are forever shaped by a pivotal event that occurs in their early childhood. Told from a variety of perspectives and in a nonlinear format, the book is a complex and rich read that will both challenge and captivate students.

In their examination of The God of Small Things, students will focus on the “small things”—literary devices, plot structure, and language—employed by Arundhati Roy to accomplish the “big things”—her rich commentary on history, colonialism, love, and memory. The nonlinear plot structure of the novel as well as the multiple literary allusions and very creative use of language will provide a challenge to even the most advanced readers. For this reason, teachers are encouraged to use timelines, guides to literary allusions, and other classroom visuals or handouts to aid students in accessing and analyzing this complex text.

There are also two primary skill areas of focus in the unit. The first is incorporating a model of reading and discussion that asks the students to not simply answer complex literary questions, but to pose those questions themselves. Identifying lines of text worthy of close examination and conversation will be the first step in this process. The second area of focus is writing. In this unit,  teachers will help students develop their ability to offer a complex analysis of an author’s craft, including how the author develops multiple themes within the novel.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 3 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge

Intellectual Prep

Intellectual Prep for English Lessons

  1. Read and annotate The God of Small Things.
  2. Read and annotate “Unit 1: Background and Context” in the University of Wisconsin's Teaching The God of Small Things In Wisconsin: A Guide for Educators.
  3. Take the unit exam, including writing the essay for the written portion of the exam.
  4. This is a complex and challenging novel. It is recommended that the teacher read as many supplementary texts as necessary to build his/her understanding of the novel prior to teaching. The study materials website has recently added an analysis of the novel that some may find helpful. The University of Wisconsin guide is also particularly thorough and useful.

Intellectual Prep for AP Projects

Essential Questions


  • Who decides who we should love? What are the consequences when natural things, like love, are regulated or controlled?
  • What effects do love/lack of love have on members of a family? 
  • How should we navigate between commitments to love, to family, and to societal expectations? Should one absolutely be prioritized over the other?


  • What are the consequences when a society dwells on memories and the past? What about when we forget the stories of the past? 
  • How does the freezing and preserving of small moments in time impact lives? Why do we do it?

Political Activism

  • How does Roy use her fiction to convey a political message? What is her political message? 

Motifs and Symbols

  • Motifs: time, color, intertextuality, cold and hot, plays and performances
  • Symbols: Rahel’s watch, Pappachi’s moth, the History House, Paradise Pickles & Preserves

Writing Focus Areas

Students will be able to offer a complex analysis of the author’s development of one of the major themes of the novel. The successful essay will both accurately convey the author’s message and offer an analysis of the literary techniques used to convey this message.

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

The teacher should use information gathered from students’ previous writing to determine if the focus correction areas above are appropriate and if there should be any spiraled focus correction areas in addition to those listed above.

Writing-About-Reading Focus Areas

  • Clear thesis statement that accurately states the theme
  • Analysis of author’s craft
  • Textual evidence to support the analysis


Literary Terms

figurative language (simile, metaphor, imagery), tone, symbolism, theme, multi-perspective narrative style, motif, alliteration, allusion, narration, nonlinear plot structure, postcolonial literature, irony

Roots and Affixes

re – (re-Returned, p. 11; renounce, p. 282); un – (Untouchable, p. 14; uncouth, p. 142; unfeasible, p. 219), mal – (maleficent, p. 50; malevolent, p. 197)


brooding (3), suffused (3), immodest (3), vacuously (3), amorphous (4), illegitimate (9), dormancy (12), perturb (16), purloined (17), harbinger (17), obeisance (20), lucrative (21), denounce (23), ambiguous (31), transgressor (31), reconstitute (32), imbue (32), morality (35), levied (36), eccentricities (38), diffidently (41), lurid (41), futile (43), haughty (50), maleficent (50), opulent (63), insidiously (64), euphoria (64), diligence (65), ardent (65), dispossessed (67), cynicism (68), impenetrable (72), assurance (73), insolence (73, 247, 292), prodigal (74), decorously (85), predilection (86), volition (87), shrill (105), pugnaciously (107), arbitrarily (108), pertinent (114), subvert (115), truncated (121), uncouth (142), piously (144), incessantly (152), elation (157), imperceptible (159), languid (159), enigmatic (160), incongruous (162), gullibility (162), smug (167), tactile (167), evanescent (167), nemesis/Nemesis (175), confound (180), colluding (181), decimate (181), exorcize (182), malevolent (197), cleaved (198), laconically (200), misappropriate (218), incidental (218), unfeasible (219), deride (219), denigrate (236), olfactory (244), invalidation (260), coy (264), provocation (268), renounce (282), abrogate (290), deify (292), inoculate (293), ascendency (293), incoherence (295), macabre (301)

Idioms and Cultural References

caste (novel), Siamese twin (5), lungfish (12), Untouchable (14), communism (15), “the old omelette-and-eggs thing”(15), “red herring” (46), Heart of Darkness (51, 119–120), Jungle Book (57), bourgeoisie (59), Mercurochrome (59), hogwash (63), communism, Marxism, Syrian Christian Church, Hinduism, Naxalites (66), “A rose by any other name…” (67), “frying pan into the fire…” (71), Julius Caesar (79), “millstone around my neck” (82), Mutiny on the Bounty (82), busker (85), coolie (85), Popeye (94), Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music (95), anarchy (108), Kathakali dance (121), locus standi (151), “Et tu, Ammu” (154), crematorium (155), locus standi (179), nictitating membrane (179), “AC-DC” (181), Macbeth (186), “walked on water” (201), Kathakali dancers (219), Oxford University (228), gramophone (229), Rhodes Student (232), Sir Walter Scott (257), Julius Caesar – “friends, Romans, countryman…” (260), “chickens come home to roost” (268, 285), Pied Piper (276), Listerine (281), Vaishnavite (281), ashram (281), Heart of Darkness (290), “desperado” (292), “Things go better with Coke” (297)

Content Knowledge and Connections

  • Modern Indian history
  • European colonialism in South Asia
  • Communism
  • Multiple literary allusions to other works

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

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Unit 2

A Doll's House


Unit 4

Famous Speeches

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