The Hidden Life of Things: Commodification, Imperialism, and Environmental Feminism in Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things

Susan Marguerite Comfort


Environmental and postcolonial feminists argue that the political economy of imperialism alters a community's social interaction with nature and the land from a paradigm of "the commons" to one that treats nature like a commodity. The theoretical and imaginative perspectives represented in their research and activism have made possible an understanding of the interconnections of gender, class, and caste exploitation and environmental destruction to an underlying pattern of capitalist accumulation, one that generates intensified commodification of labor and land. In this article, I develop an analysis of Arundhati Roy's novel The God of Small Things as an environmental feminist critique in order to gain greater insight into the commodity logic of empire. Indeed, it is my argument that the novel's structural principles of nonlinearity, repetition, and layered complexity generate a deeply dialectical view of history, identity, and the environment. Central to this narrative project is the novel's interrogation of the commodity logic that underlies the construction of patriarchal ideological formations under capitalist imperialism. That is, the novel may be said to be a profound meditation on the often confounded ways underlying forces of history and economics are concealed within dominant narratives and habits of thought. The novel contrasts the surface meanings of things with the underlying realities of historical exploitation, and thus demonstrates how ideological perception is organized but also undermined. In order to fully appreciate the novel's work of demystification, my examination of the novel develops what might be described as a "negative dialectics of environmental feminism" to interrogate -- and also to construct alternatives to -- the dominant meanings that structure social interaction and relationships with the environment.


Commodification, Imperialism, Environmental Feminism, Marxism

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