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The Problem of Patriarchal Oppression in A.Roy's ‘The God of Small Things’ and H.Kent's ‘Burial Rites’

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The detrimental effects of patriarchal oppression are reinforced through a sense of cultural imprisonment and the innate desire for love. Through the use of separate contextual frames of 1820s puritanical Iceland and 1960s post-colonialist India, Arundhati Roy and Hannah Kent in their main novels demonstrate a joint idea of perpetual male dominance invading each aspect of a woman’s life. Kent and Roy reveal their own critical perspectives on the definitive barriers that shape these patriarchal societies which are ironically believed to unite like-minded individuals. In such environments, the harsh nature of the social structure is not only mentally disempowering but also physically- as relationships and identities are destructed.

Throughout the novel ‘The God of Small Things’ Arundhati Roy utilises the innocence of a child to highlight the divide between societal expectations of submission and feministic opinions that refute oppressive domination. Through the third-person narration in “when they left the police station Ammu was crying (…) Rahel didn’t ask what veshya meant” Rahel’s lack of awareness towards the misogynistic term- veshya (prostitute), reveals her unconscious acts of acceptance towards the prominent patriarchal culture. Throughout the novel of post-colonial India act as a recurring motif, which also reflects Rahel’s innocence towards the confining values of her society. Through the grammatically incorrect use of syntax and compounds “The laws that lay down who should be loved’. And how. And how much the unconventional narrative style of a seven-year-old becomes transparent. As the novel progresses, however, Rahel provides an antithetical perspective as she defies these laws through incestuous love with her twin brother; “Once again they broke the Love Laws”. In this manner, the author leaves her readers with a confronting portrayal of Rahel’s transgression which challenges the culture of women whose values of compliance obscure their perception of morality.

Comparably, ‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent employs a strong first-person female narrative voice to illustrate the subjugation of female identities who struggle from disempowerment in terms of social standing. The historical fiction novel, set in a brutally cold climate and intensely patriarchal society, relives the oppression of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last murderess to face the capital punishment in Iceland. Nonetheless Agnes through her unjust condemnation embodies the values that transgress the social expectations of a quintessential woman. Through Agnes’ satirical tone in “they see I’ve got a head on my shoulders and believe a thinking woman cannot be trusted” Kent’s characterisation of the protagonist as self-willed solidifies our understanding of her conscious non-conformist status, that is yet governed by domineering male authorities who detest her lack of submission and unintelligence. The prejudice towards Agnes is continually displayed, even among servants, as her ambitions are deemed unattainable due to her fated reflection of her mother’s disreputable profile; “she made mistakes and others made up their minds about her”.

Despite Rahel’s contrasting higher social standing, her society is similarly prejudicial and isolating due to the stigma surrounding her unorthodox mixed parentage. The constant abuse shown towards Rahel who is labelled a “Half-Hindu Hybrid whom no self-respecting Syrian Christian would ever marry” by Baby Kochamma, prompts the idea that Rahel’s state of belonging is inadequate to her society.

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In this sense, ‘Burial Rites’ and ‘The God of Small Things’ are both distinct examples respecting the heavy influence of patriarchal societies that are able to construct boundaries to permeate their society.

In ‘The God of Small Things’, Roy’s condemnatory portrait of the Hindu Caste System exposes its conflictive power which enables the destruction of love. Throughout the novel, references to the Caste System – which acts as a framework to support prejudicial values, reinforce the brutality of hierarchal divisions. Through Velutha’s characterisation as an Untouchable and the stigma of his restricted physical interaction as “being an Untouchable was expecting not to be touched”, his forbidden relationship with Ammu, whose birthright placed in a superior position to him, defies all societal norms and Caste boundaries. As both characters are marginalised in different aspects by their prejudicial society, Roy illustrates their united sense of alienation through “clouded eyes held clouded eyes in a steady gaze and a luminous woman opened herself to a luminous man”, where she uses juxtaposition to describe their features as indistinguishable despite their caste differences. By actuating the social violation of sexual intercourse which goes against not only the Caste System but also the Love Laws, Velutha attempts to fulfil his innate desire to be loved but this inevitably causes the destruction of the Ipe family and the death of Velutha. Through the struggles of marginalisation and constant oppression, Roy highlights the afflicting impact of authoritarian social attitudes which distort the necessity of love.

The constant oppression of women in ‘Burial Rites’ is further illustrated through the warped perspectives of men whose repressive ideologies laments the fracturing of relationships. Kent demonstrates the protagonist’s vulnerable nature by her contrasting characterisation of Blondal who serves as an example of the impact of entitlement and pretentiousness, common among their oppressive society. Through his supercilious tone in “you must apply the Lord’s word to her as a whip to a hard-mouthed horse”, Kent’s revealing use of dialogue further cements this characterisation. Through his denomination of her as “a woman loose with her emotions and looser with her morals” the repetition of loose(r) constructs an objectifiable image which eventually becomes the imposed façade that constitutes her identity. Agnes’ awareness of her society’s abhorrence towards her becomes apparent as she recounts that “any woman knows that a thread once woven, is fixed in place” evoking the task of sewing as a symbol of her embedded conviction which has pervaded through the community.

Despite the differing contexts of both novels, ‘The God of Small Things’ and ‘Burial Rites’ have illustrated corresponding representations of the damaging impacts of patriarchal oppression. By exploring the values and attitudes of these societies, the destructive abilities of male dominance have become apparent.

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The Problem of Patriarchal Oppression in A.Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’ and H.Kent’s ‘Burial Rites’. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
“The Problem of Patriarchal Oppression in A.Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’ and H.Kent’s ‘Burial Rites’.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
The Problem of Patriarchal Oppression in A.Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’ and H.Kent’s ‘Burial Rites’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 Feb. 2023].
The Problem of Patriarchal Oppression in A.Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’ and H.Kent’s ‘Burial Rites’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Feb 4]. Available from:
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