Defining One's Identity

Iswariya, Satvik, Aditya

In Literature

Identity: Is the set of personal and behavioral characteristics which define an individual as a member of a certain group.

-Race, ethnicity, religion, language and culture distinguish people from other groups and form their understanding and pride in who they are

Identity in literature may refer to the author's adoption of a new culture and language as a means of expression following a migration from his country of origin to another one.


Identity overview:

The question of identity ("Who am I?") is important to all the characters in The God of Small Things, but especially to Estha and Rahel.

On one level, they have a very good idea of who they are: they are extensions of one another.

When they are together, they are a whole being.

Nevertheless, the more Estha and Rahel learn about the world around them, the more we see them taking on alternate identities and imagining themselves as someone else.

Ambassador E. Pelvis , Ambassador Stick Insect, and The Airport Fairy are all versions of themselves they identify with in different situations. Part of what makes their reunion in 1993 so important is that for the first time in 23 years they can consider themselves whole again.


In those early amorphous years when memory had only just begun, when life was full of Beginnings and no Ends, and Everything was Forever, Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, individually, as We or Us. As though they were a rare breed of Siamese twins, physically separate, but with joint identities. (1.9)

When you think about it, Estha and Rahel actually seem to have pretty different personalities in the novel – they're definitely not the same person. And yet they balance each other out; each of them is the extension of the other.

Two little ones, instead of one big one. Twin seals, slick with their mother's juices. Wrinkled with the effort of being born. Ammu checked them for deformities before she closed her eyes and slept. She counted four eyes, four ears, two mouths, two noses, twenty fingers and twenty perfect toe-nails.

She didn't notice the single Siamese soul. (2.27-28)

This moment contrasts the parts of the twins' identities that are visible to the eye with the parts that can't be seen. Physically, they are two completely separate human beings. Deep down, though, their inner selves are connected.

On the front of the book, Estha had rubbed out his surname with spit, and taken half the paper with it. Over the whole mess, he had written in pencil Un-Known. Esthappen Unknown. (His surname postponed for the Time Being, while Ammu chose between her husband's name and her father's.) (7.16)

On the surface, this moment simply tells us that Estha doesn't have a last name. (Ammu hasn't decided whether to give him her ex-husband's or her father's name.) But the significance of Estha's erasure runs a little deeper. Family names tell us who a person is in terms of who they belong to. Estha's unknown last name characterizes him as a person who doesn't seem to belong anywhere.


Quote #1

By then Esthappen and Rahel had learned that the world had other ways of breaking men. They were already familiar with the smell. Sicksweet. Like old roses on a breeze.

The loss of innocence is central to the plot of the novel, and we see a hint of it here. Carefree children don't know anything about how the world "breaks men," but kids who have been through a major ordeal do.

Quote #2

When they left the police station Ammu was crying, so Estha and Rahel didn't ask her what veshya meant. Or, for that matter, illegitimate. It was the first time they'd seen their mother cry.

Estha and Rahel don't know exactly what these hurtful words hurled at Ammu mean, which shows that they still live with some sense of innocence. Still, the first time you see your mom cry is a big deal and can change the way you view the world. You realize your parents are fragile just like everyone else.

Quote #3

When the twins asked what cuff-links were for – "To link cuffs together," Ammu told them – they were thrilled by this morsel of logic in what had so far seemed an illogical language. Cuff + link = cuff-link. This, to them, rivaled the precision and logic of mathematics.

We see the world through the eyes of a child. We watch as they start to understand the world, in serious ways and in silly ones like this.


Velutha smiled when he saw the Marxist flag blooming like a tree outside his doorway He had to bend low in order to enter his home. A tropical Eskimo. When he saw the children, something clenched inside him. And he couldn't understand it. He saw them every day. He loved them without knowing it. But it was different suddenly. Now. After History had slipped up so badly. No fist had clenched inside him before.

Her children, an insane whisper whispered to him.

Her eyes, her mouth. Her teeth.

Her soft, lambent skin. (10.256-259)

We can start to see how Velutha is slowly starting to fall in love with Ammu and we can also see his pride in Marxism as seen by his expression after seeing the Marxist flag. This all shapes his identity.

Somehow, by not mentioning his name, she knew that she had drawn him into the tousled intimacy of that blue cross-stitch afternoon and the song from the tangerine transistor. By not mentioning his name, she sensed that a pact had been forged between her Dream and the World. And that the midwives of that pact were, or would be, her sawdust-coated two-egg twins.

She knew who he was – the God of Loss, the God of Small Things. Of course she did. (11.70-71)

Ammu starts to dream about the God of Small Things but in reality this is Velutha. They are deeply in love with each other to the point that the identity of Velutha is shadowed by a fictional person “The Go

Discussion Questions

How are different nicknames used in the book to identify different aspects of Rahel and Estha's personalities?

Why do you think it might be important that Sophie Mol is half white and half Indian, rather than being all of one or the other?

What are some of the ways in which identity and social class are inseparable?

Why does Velutha claim to have a twin brother instead of admitting that it was him that Rahel saw in the march

How does the concept of identity help us see Velutha’s personal ideologies?

How does the concept of identity allow us to see how Amma and Velutha’s character develops during their affair?

Concluding Thoughts

Concluding Thoughts

  • Identity is the set of personal and behavioral characteristics which define an individual as a member of a certain group.

  • Throughout the novel, Rahel and Estha feel that they are extensions of each other

  • Rahel and Estha balance each other out with their different personalities.

  • Both twins are together, they are a whole being.

  • Although Estha and Rahel are not connected physically, their inner selves are connected