Arundhati Roy’s book, The God of Small Things, revolves around the death of seven year old Sophie Mol. Sophie Mol tragically drowns in a boat accident, and the events of the story describe the character pre and post Sophie Mol, and Sophie Mol’s death becomes the pivot point that everyone finds connection through. Somewhere along the plot line, the book discusses who each character was before The Sophie Mol Incident, where they were when it happened, what their reaction was, and how they were changed after (but of course, since the book is written to defy temporal space, it is much more complicated than just a linear narrative of pre and post definitions).
Since literature depicts humanity, I can’t help but recognize all of the Sophie Mol moments in my own life–those moments that we all share where we were when it happened, who we were before it happened, and how it changed us–that then become single, stagnant communal pivot points that draw out human connection and understanding.
A couple of weeks ago, I was riding in a minivan with a group of people, and the driver unexpectedly hit a curb, which sent one of the passengers flying into the window, and the rest of the night revolved around each person sharing their own rendition of this Sophie Mol type incident: where they were before, what they witnessed, what was going through their head, how the event changed them (My own rendition of the story? I was sitting right behind the passenger, trying to figure out if she was sleeping or texting on her phone when WHAM! we hit the curb, I watched her poor, defenseless, limp body hit the window, and bounce back up). Of course, the vantage point of each other passenger was different, and therefore presented a different version; the girl in the front was busy navigating, and only heard the large “THUD”; the gal sitting next to her was remorseful that she could not have prevented the accident, etc. I’ve been in situations before where, I’m eating at a restaurant, someone unexpectedly slips on the floor, and everyone at our table must share where they were, what they were thinking when it happened, how the slippage changed them. By sharing these renditions, we begin to invest a little piece of ourselves. I believe, as humans, we are selfish, self-seeking, so by sharing where I was, how the event impacted ME, I’m taking time, and adapting a piece of the event to my own identity, and my own understanding of myself–I think this is why we like characters, like Walt in Breaking Bad, Don Draper in Mad Men, or any of Edgar Allan Poe’s narrators–I invest something of myself in these characters, and because I perceive my time as limited and valuable, I defend these characters, because I’m also defending myself.
I think these Sophie Mol moments exist in varying capacities. Sometimes, they are large, global events, such as the JFK Assassination, 9/11, the new of Prince’s death, that impact us all differently, and yet all the same. When these large, global events come up in conversation, we all feel the need to discuss where we were when it occurred, who we know that had some kind of connection, what the latest news source or gossip magazine is saying about it. Sometimes, they are minor events that we experience with a group of people, such as attending a conference, an off hand comment by a passerby, watching a skier fall down the mountain. In these minor events, we often look at each other, laugh/shed a tear, and give our take on the event.
But, these events are important, because they give us ways to connect to each other, give us some kind of common understanding, and a platform for a conversation to jump off of. I’ve found, as people, we are not very good at talking about ourselves. Whether that stems from our own insecurities, or that we live in a society where talking about ourselves is bad, or that we really don’t know ourselves, people seem to have a difficult time expressing their preferences, their viewpoints, their needs, so we sometimes have to use these other instances in order to get to know people. You can tell a lot about a person based on the kind of stories they tell, and how they position themselves in those stories. Do they tell stories from third person perspectives, of themselves looking out onto the world? Do they tell stories from a first person perspective, of their own internal workings? Are their stories geared towards putting other people down in order to lift themselves up? Do they tell stories to gain sympathy, recognition, validation? Are their stories long, filled with elaborate details, or does the story structure lead towards some kind of punch line? The standard Sophie Mol allows us to compare, and to gain insight into other people.
All in all, Sophie Mol, while a fictional, literary character, represents something much larger in terms of human connection, whether these moments are where you were when you heard your flight was cancelled, what was going through your head when you saw her fall into the water, or who blew up the bathroom. What are your Sophie Mol moments?…
“And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”