Language, Hybridity and Dialogism in The God of Small Things

Clarke, Anna (2007). Language, Hybridity and Dialogism in The God of Small Things. In: Tickell, Alex ed. Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things: A Routledge Study Guide. Routledge Guides to Literature. Oxon, UK and New York, USA: Routledge, pp. 132–141.



In an essay specially commissioned for this guide, Anna Clarke addresses the complexities of Roy’s language use and explores two key approaches to TGST, based on the concept terms ‘hybridity’ and ‘dialogism’. Hybridity, an idea which is most frequently associated with the theorist Homi Bhabha, has a formative place in postcolonial theory because it has been used to explain (and explore) the cultural intermixtures that result from the historical experience of colonial-ism. As Clarke points out, hybridity can also be seen as a subversive force because it undermines hierarchical power structures and blurs the boundaries of language and culture. Clarke carefully traces the contemporary postcolonial interest in hybridity back to the 1920s and 1930s in the work of the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin, whose study The Dialogic Imagination proposes a model of the modern novel form that is ‘dialogic’ (characterized by a constant play of different voices), as well as inherently hybrid in its incorporation of other earlier narrative genres.1 Drawing on these ideas and demonstrating how they can be applied in a close reading of TGST, Clarke comments on the variety of linguistic and narrative effects in Roy’s fiction and shows how the authority to classify and define social, cultural and scientific boundaries intersects with similar rules about language, rules that Roy’s child-protagonists consistently undermine. Thus, for Clarke, the linguistic playfulness and the lack of narrative certainty in Roy’s novel can be read as a radical literary strategy that evades and challenges society’s ‘mono-logic’ tendency to control narrative meaning, and structure our perception through forms of linguistic order.

1 Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1994.

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