Arundhati Roy’s novel, The God of Small Things, presents an often bewildering mix of different times: images, stories, and sensations from the past blend together with present moments and even future experiences. Critics have noted this temporal blending and have cited this feature as reflecting the novel’s magical realism, or postcolonialism, or postmodernism, which are all associated with various forms of time play.1 Indeed, as writers from Joyce to Woolf to Rushdie remind us, time is always to some extent a mixture, as the present must be understood as a complex amalgamation and negotiation of past moments. Roy’s novel reflects, however, another critical aspect of blended time that the stylistic and political readings of the novel have so far missed: the central role of trauma in creating the temporal mix experienced by the characters.2 One of the most noted after-effects of traumatic experience is, in fact, a disordering of time, when past events threaten to take over the present, returning repeatedly to haunt the current moment in the form of flashbacks, hallucinations, or dreams.3 Trauma reorders time itself, and thus in Roy’s novel, the temporal mixture must be read not simply as a feature of a postmodern or postcolonial narrative, but also as the sign of traumatic experience. Roy depicts what I will call “temporal hybridity” both within her characters’ lives and within her narrative structure, providing a vivid map of trauma’s lingering damage. Roy also evokes, however, the possibility of another temporal zone apart from her characters, one accessible only to the reader, and one where time’s hybridity—through this very access—might reflect not disruption but also the possibility of radical political and social change.
Copyright © 2011 University of Wisconsin Press. This article first appeared in Contemporary Literature 52:1 (2011), 21-53.
The definitive version is available at: http://uwpress.wisc.edu/journals/journals/cl.html
Outka, Elizabeth. "Trauma and Temporal Hybridity in Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things." Contemporary Literature 52, no. 1 (2011): 21-53.
Outka, Elizabeth, "Trauma and Temporal Hybridity in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things" (2011). English Faculty Publications. 55.