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Epic of failure: disappointment as utopian fantasy in Midnight's Children - Critical Essay

And so, by a strange and melancholy paradox, the moment of failure is the moment of value; the comprehending and experiencing of life's refusals is the source from which the fullness of life seems to flow, What is depicted [in the novel] is the total absence of any fulfillment of meaning, yet the work contains the rich and rounded fullness of a true totality of life. Georg Lukacs (126) What I tried to do was to set up a tension in [Midnight's Children], a paradoxical opposition between the form and content of the narrative. The story of Saleem does indeed lead him to despair. But the story is told in a manner designed to echo, as closely as my abilities allowed, the Indian talent for non-stop self-regeneration. This is why the narrative constantly throws up new stories, why it "teems." The form--multitudinous, hinting at the infinite possibilities of the country--is the optimistic counterweight to Saleem's personal tragedy. Salman Rushdie (Imaginary Homelands 16) Ever since Salman Rushdie described the Indian "national longing for form" in his novel Midnight's Children (359), questions of form have been a central topic for Rushdie scholarship. Form, or, to use a slightly more specific term, genre, is so central because it addresses both aesthetics and politics; indeed, it represents a crucial intersection between the two. As Tzvetan Todorov and M. M. Bakhtin teach us, genre is less a matter of taxonomy than of how we give meaning to the stories, events, and actions that occur in literature and everyday life. (1) Ideological conflicts are played out in literature, and literary scholars keep returning to Midnight's Children because it defies efforts to determine what might be the most appropriate form to depict the history of postindependence India. The problem lies in the essential ambiguity of Midnight's Children: should literature even try to satisfy the "national longing for form"? This epic longing, for Rushdie, represents a dangerous desire for consistency, coherence, and meaning that can efface the cultural diversity of the Indian peoples and lead readers to be complacent in the face of a history of sectarian violence and governmental betrayal. Yet Rushdie himself composes a work that self-consciously asserts its own epic status. The narrator, Saleem Sinai, reconciles this apparent contradiction by conceding that the "national longing for form" is inescapable: "Form--once again, recurrence and shape!--no escape from it" (524). At the same time, he composes a history that he foresees to be a threat as much as a comfort, a story "waiting to be unleashed upon the amnesiac nation" (549).The story of the intertwined destinies of Saleem and India asserts that the failures of Indian nationalism are the appropriate subject material for a true epic of nat ion. To the extent that Rushdie answers the national longing for form, then, he does so by creating an epic of failure.


Saleem Sinai, the protagonist of Midnight's Children, examines the thirty years of his life covered by this novel (and the thirty-six years that preceded it) in order to understand who he is. Throughout the story, he is torn by conflicting evidence that his is either a special, magical existence or quite an ordinary one. He is born to common parents, so poor that he finds out at one point that the man who is his natural father would have broken the legs of the boy he thought was his son, in order to make him a more effective beggar. For the first ten years of his life, though, neither Saleem nor his family knows of his humble roots, and so he is raised as the son in an educated and wealthy family. Because he was born at midnight on the day of Indian independence, he grows up knowing that his birth was marked with honors, by a newspaper article and a letter from the prime minister. He comes to find that he has supernatural powers, which he uses to communicate with the other children born on the same day he was, finding that they are all gifted, but not as gifted as he is, except for Shiva, the child with whom he was switched at birth. He sees himself in them, especially in Shiva. He understands his powers through their powers, and he lacks the personal attributes which Shiva, whom he understands to be his opposite, has, particularly aggression. Saleem's later years are humbling, which helps him understand the life of a poor anonymous peasant such as the one to whom he was born. In the bombing of Pakistan that kills off most of the members of his family at the end of Book Two, he loses his memory. Thereafter he uses the name "Buddha": though the name implies religious insight, he achieves nothing in this guise other than leading his fellow soldiers to their deaths. He lives in a ghetto among carnival workers, adapting a Marxist philosophy, but in the end the homes of the poor are simply bulldozed by the rich. The novel ends with Saleem's finding a balance in his life, an identity that is both anonymous and singular: he works in a pickle factory as a humble laborer, but there, with his extraordinary sense of smell, he is able to create the greatest pickles and chutney ever known. Post Colonialism The fact that Saleem Sinai's life begins just as the era of Britain's colonial control of India ends links the life of the novel's protagonist to India's post-colonial growth. As the novel's narrator, looking back over the events of his life, Saleem proclaims himself to be dying of the same problem that can be seen of any country that has been thrust abruptly from immaturity to maturity: he is, he says, "falling apart." At first, newly independent India is strong and thrives, enjoying inherited wealth the way that a child like Saleem, born into a prosperous family, might enjoy a secure sense of privilege. Like Saleem's Midnight Children's Conference, though, there are always underground organizations, and these alliances produce someone like Shiva who competes for control and pushes a violent agenda. Saleem's fortunes totter back and forth, just as the nation's do, depending at times on chance, coincidence, and the willingness of those around him to ignore his illegitimacy, as the people of India prove willing to accept the illegitimate military rule that imposes martial law. When India invades Pakistan, Saleem's life is changed forever by the loss of his family, and India's identity is changed by its brutal suppression of the county that was its twin. In the end, Saleem reaches a state of peace but only by accepting his own lingering frailty, a sign that Rushdie finds India to be continuously vulnerable. Absurdity Many aspects of Saleem's life as presented in this novel do not make much sense. Some of these, such as the magical powers enjoyed by the children of midnight, can be read as symbols of the inherent promise of the generation born into a free country. In other cases, though, Rushdie gives details that do not easily correspond to any larger message. These details, which are notable but not necessarily meaningful, help to heighten the reader's sense of the absurdity of Saleem Sinai's world. Saleem's looks, for instance, are presented as a mockery of the traditional epic hero. His nose is his most prominent feature, so large that people remember him years after having last encountered him. His nose looks unheroic and, worse, it is always runny. In his childhood, Saleem has his hair pulled out by its roots and he loses a finger in a slammed door. All of these traits combine to make him look miserably grotesque. It is absurd to expect readers to identify with Saleem.

There are many instances in the novel in which Rushdie makes the case that life in post-colonial India is absurd, from the power of Saleem's archrival to crush enemies with his mighty knees to the cowgirl persona of young Evie Burns to the national fascination with the trial of Commander Subarmati to the fact that Padma, who is the only person who cares about Saleem in the end, has a name that means "Dung Princess." There are elements in this book that indicate a higher significance, but there are also cases in which the notable elements are here to indicate that, even at its most grotesque, the world of this novel is a strange place full of wonders. Fatalism After all of the events that affect Saleem's life, and all of the ways in which he affects the course of India's development, the story ends on a note of fatalism. Throughout the book, Saleem returns repeatedly to the fact that his life seems to be significant: he was born at the moment of independence, he has the power of telepathy, he can smell the very emotions that surround him. As late in the book as the start of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, he muses that the whole battle was probably waged just to destroy his family. Rushdie does not present the exaggerated elements in the book as having sprung from Saleem's imagination, and yet it is hardly likely that all of India's development would center on the life of one boy. By the end of the book, Saleem realizes the simple notion that life goes on. He does not want to affect the outcome of the world any more; he just wants to make really good pickles. Though the book starts at a moment of promise, it ends with a mood of realism: Saleem has a son and a new wife to live for, but by the last page he has given up the expectation that he alone will be able to affect drastic changes. Topics for Further Study

• •

Saleem Sinai's life is influenced by the fact that he was born at the date and hour of Indian independence. Find out the most significant fact concerning the date on which you were born, and make a chart of events from your life that could possibly have been influenced by it. When Saleem's sister becomes a pop music icon in Pakistan, her fans do not know her true identity. Choose another country, and determine what your persona would be if you were to become a pop singer there. This novel starts in Kashmir, a region that in the early 2000s was still involved in territorial disputes between India, Pakistan, and China. Research the history of the Kashmir valley and propose what you think would be a fair solution to the political uncertainty of the region. Near the end of his story, Saleem Sinai befriends Picture Singh, a famous snake charmer. Give a report to your class on the science and the superstition of snake charming. How many different ways are there to make pickles? What are the variables? What changes in the formula will create what changes in the outcome? Examine some recipes or, if you can, talk to someone at a pickle factory to find out how challenging Saleem's work is. Watch one of India's famous musical films and discuss which elements of the film style resemble techniques that Rushdie used in writing Midnight's Children.


Foil Rushdie ends the first book of Midnight's Children with the revelation that the man who has been telling the tale, known as Saleem Sinai, is in fact the child of other parents, and that the child the Sinai family had was raised by paupers. Because of their connection by birth, Saleem and the other child, Shiva, are set up to function as foils to each other. A foil is a character whose physical and psychological attributes are opposite of another character with whom he is paired; each of the paired characters highlights the qualities of the other.

It is true that Saleem and Shiva are physical opposites: Shiva is strong and handsome, while Saleem is weak and ugly. It is also true that they are temperamental opposites, as Saleem freely admits when he discusses his fear of Shiva's violent nature. Rushdie even brings their lives together at various times, having them vie for leadership of the Midnight Children's Council that Saleem calls together and bringing Shiva into the story when Saleem is unable to impregnate his wife, Parvati. Still, their paths only cross several times: hundreds of pages of the novel go by without Shiva being mentioned. If he were a more conventional foil, Shiva would be a more constant presence, giving readers a gauge by which to measure how Saleem grows and changes. Method of Narration Some novels are written in third person, in which the narrator tells the story using "he" and "she," or in first person, in which the narrator relates the story using "I" and "me." Midnight's Children is told in first person. Saleem tells his own story. Readers are told at the start of the second chapter and reminded repeatedly that this story is being written by a sick man and commented on by a critical woman named Padma. The nature of Saleem's relationship with Padma is gradually revealed. Rushdie's handling of the telling of the story creates suspense, making readers wonder about the circumstances of its telling until the end of the last chapter. Episodic Plot Although readers know that Saleem Sinai is going to survive the events of the novel, they cannot anticipate other aspects of the story's outcome. The plot of Midnight's Children does not rise and resolve the way readers may expect; instead, separate episodes are strung together, a series of incidents with no particular logical arrangement. There is no way that a reader could guess, while reading the first half of the book, that Picture Singh would play an important role at the end or that someone such as Sonny Ibrihim, often mentioned in the early chapters, would disappear from the narrative altogether. While some plots weave events into a complicated situation that must be resolved for the plots to reach a conclusion, this novel's plot consists of dozens of episodes that have little in common beyond the fact that they all happen within one individual's life.
Historical Context

Indian Independence European interest in India as a source for materials and labor goes back to the 1490s, when Portugal won exclusive rights to the lucrative markets and continued through control gained by the Dutch East India Company, which broke the Portuguese monopoly in the beginning of the seventeenth century. The East India Company, an unofficial arm of the British government, impinged on the Dutch, fighting a series of battles for control of different areas of India, eventually consolidating control in the 1750s. The country was under British control for the next two centuries. After the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, protests against British rule became increasingly common. Nationalistic parties were distracted, however, by the rise of ethnic and religious groups within the country, such as the Muslim League, formed in 1906. In-fighting between Muslims and Hindus diverted attention from the general protest against the British. After World War I, Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869 – 1948), an Indian nationalist and spiritual leader who preached non-violent protest, launched a movement to resist Britain, based on noncooperation and the refusal to buy British goods. The British jailed Gandhi from 1922 to 1924, but he went on to revive the independence movement, successfully leading the people of India in civil disobedience. He convinced Indians to refuse to pay British taxes, particularly the tax on salt, and, to call attention to the plight of his people, he fasted to near starvation.

Weakened by World War II, Britain determined that it could no longer fight to control India and agreed to give up control. The British government arranged to relinquish all command over the area at midnight on August 15, 1947: the very moment that the narrator of Midnight's Children was born. At that time, the territory was partitioned between India to the west and a new country, Pakistan, to the east, with the region of Kashmir left open for dispute. Also freed from British rule at that time were Burma (later called Myanmar) and Ceylon (later called Sri Lanka). Indo-Pakistani War The partition of India and Pakistan was followed by massive riots in both countries, resulting in millions of deaths. The exact details concerning the countries defined by the British upon their departure were considered matters of dispute. On October 20, 1962, India was attacked along its long border with China in the Himalayas, losing the border territory in a battle that lasted roughly a month (the border territory remained in dispute into the early 2000s). Pakistani military leaders took this defeat as a sign that India was weak. They also believed that there was massive dissatisfaction in the Kashmir territory against Indian rule. On August 5, 1965, Pakistan sent an estimated 30,000 troops into Kashmir, encouraging the Kashmiri people to rise up for independence from India. Indian forces of equal strength entered Kashmir August 15. In September, when Pakistani forces attacked the town of Ackhnur, India attacked directly against Pakistan, beginning a quick and bloody conflict, though no formal declaration of war was ever issued. By September 22, the United Nations arranged a ceasefire, which both sides signed. Six years later, in 1971, the two countries were at war again. The conflict came about because Pakistan had been created in two distinct territories: East Pakistan, which was mixed ethnically and included Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans, Balochis, Mohajirs, and more, and West Pakistan, which was mostly Bengali. In 1970, in the first general elections since Independence, a Bengali leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, led his party to victory in national elections; rather than give in to democratic rule the country leaders declared a state of emergency and jailed the sheikh. Months of bloody riots led to a plan to give the Bengalis a separate land in East Pakistan. Eight to ten million refugees fled over the border into India. Realizing a crisis, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (1917 – 84) declared war in December 1971. Though the Pakistani military counted on a conflict with India ending in a stalemate as the 1965 conflict had, they were quickly and decisively defeated. The Indian Army chief, General Sam Maneckshaw, drove into Pakistan and secured the country in a matter of weeks. Sheikh Mujibar was established as prime minister of the new country, Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. Indira Gandhi Indira Gandhi (1917 – 1984), the prime minister of India while this novel was being written in the 1970s, was not, as Rushdie mentions, related to the freedom leader Mohandas K. Gandhi. She was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, who had been a disciple of Gandhi and became the first prime minister when India gained its independence. She grew up in a household surrounded by the most powerful figures in Indian politics and married Feroze Gandhi, a politician who died in 1960. In 1964, Indira Gandhi was elected to Parliament, and in 1966, when the prime minister died suddenly of a heart attack; she was nominated as a candidate whom the power brokers could easily control. After her election, she became fiercely independent, ruling the country from 1966 to 1977, and again from 1980 to 1984. Gandhi was immensely popular with the Indian people immediately following the 1971 victory over Pakistan, but social conditions soon changed that. By 1973 there were demonstrations across the country against India's terrible economic situation. In June 1975 India's high court found Gandhi guilty of campaign irregularities and ordered her to resign her position. Instead, Gandhi declared a state of emergency: the constitution was suspended, the press was suppressed, and political opponents were jailed. Confident that she had successfully suppressed the opposition, she called for elections in 1977, but her party ended up losing badly. In 1980,

though, she was reelected. She was assassinated in 1984 by her bodyguards, and her son, Rajiv Gandhi (1944 – 91), was sworn in as the new prime minister. Compare & Contrast

1950s: Newly freed from colonial rule, India has a poor but promising economy. Indian businessmen, taking control of their own country, pattern their methods after those of the Europeans. 1980s: After decades of misgovernment, India's economy is considered weak, making a country of 683 million people one of the world's poorest nations. Today: The Indian economy is growing at an impressive rate, as globalization makes it possible for jobs from anywhere in the world to be outsourced to workers in India. 1950s: Tensions are high between the Hindu majority of India and the Muslim majority of Pakistan, leading to a succession of treaties that finally gives way to all-out war in 1965. 1980s: Having tested a nuclear device in 1974, India is a member of the small group of global nuclear powers. Pakistan proposes a non-nuclear treaty with India but is later found to be conducting research into building nuclear bombs. Today: As recently as 2002, India and Pakistan have come to the verge of nuclear war. 1950s: The Indian film industry, in business since the turn of the century, gains international attention as prestigious directors such as Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak present their works at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. 1980s: Concentrated in Bombay, the film industry, nicknamed "Bollywood," becomes a commercial powerhouse. Today: Bollywood films are viewed worldwide. India produces more films than any other country. 1950s: Begging in the streets of a large city like Bombay or New Delhi is a full-time profession for thousands if not millions. 1980s: The hoards of beggars that descend on tourists in India are legendary and are a standard part of travel books. Today: Laws are enacted to curtail begging in the streets.

Critical Overview

Salman Rushdie's second novel after Grimus, Midnight's Children brought Rushdie international acclaim. It won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize and praise from practically every reviewer who wrote about it. Phyllis Birnbaum, for instance, noted in the March 1981 Saturday Review that "Rushdie pleases the senses and the heart." Charles R. Larson, in the May 23, 1981, issue of The New Republic, called the book "a dark and complex allegory": "The narrative conveys vindictiveness and pathos," Larson wrote, "humor and pain, and Rushdie's language and imagery are brilliant." Almost as soon as it was published, reviewers began seeing in the book great significance, for India as well as for the author. Midnight's Children was examined with a close eye and appreciation for its achievement. For example, V. S. Pritchett, himself an acclaimed novelist, began a multi-page review in the New Yorker by noting that with this novel "India has produced a glittering novelist — one with startling imaginative and intellectual resources, a master of perpetual storytelling." Pritchett ended his review by noting that "as a tour de force, [Saleem Sinai's] fantasy is irresistible." Father David Toolan gave his perspective as a Jesuit reading about Rushdie's India, referring to it as a "Chaplinesque novel" and commenting that "In remythologizing disenchanted Bombay — and so much else — without domesticating the energy there one whit, Rushdie somehow worked the same metamorphosis on my New York, and indeed on any Western city."

Midnight's Children
 personal history and national history  Saleem's history  the artist figures aiming at allinclusiveness  Women and the people

 connections between the personal and the public  The characters' cultural identities --Saleem's view; --the critics' view;  Issues for discussion: Hope for --non-causal connection India's future?  Rushdie's migrant identity

Midnight's Children: personal history and national history
 Personal: The novel starts in 1915, 32 years before the birth of Saleem, and ends when he is about to be 31.
It spans about 63, years, with Saleem's and India's birth as the center.

 National: from the end of WWI to the indepence of India (Aug. 15, 1947) to the lifting of Emergency Rule (1977) "Allegorica"l Aspects -- heritage  multiple heritage -- Saleem has many fathers (Methwold, Wee Willie Winkie, Ahmed Sinai) and mothers (Amina, Mary, and all the nannies)  The influence of the colonizers: Methwold (the actual father of Saleem); E. Burns  nation -- a new myth p. 129; India a collective fiction; mix identity p. 135 (Time line: family history and national history--parallels and connections ) India's history family history
the world war ended 1915---massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar. optimism disease, Humming bird 1942 Mian Abudullah--1945 8/9 revelation and arrest p. 68 1946-6 transition of power -- British imperialism BkII 1947 8/15--Independence confusion 1956: 5 yr plan, election's coming, language marchers businessmen turn white 1956 --the linguistic reorganization of states 1957 -- language marchers Aziz + Naseem Gradfather's nose S's skin a crack when telling this story p. 36 cracks in the earth p. 48 mother's false marriage; p. 70 Mumtaz (Amina)+ Ahmed W. Methwold 109; residents changed p.113 BkII birth of midnight's children confusion in S's head 203-04 father turn white 212 the Washing Chest Accident the Circus ring accident p. 223 Striggers of the violence that leads to state partition 229

S follows his mother to P Cafe 1957 election, in which the Communist party won the manslaughter of Homi Catrack by Commander a large number of seats Sabarmati [Nanavati] Cyrus Dubash made into a religious-cult leader the blood of the rioters mother's affair at the cafe 1958 hopes to pull together again in 1962. MC attacked Saleem The Chinese attacked Indians The Sinais move permanently to Pakistan early in Feb. 1963. 1965--Indo-Pakistani war Shiva's explosion into S's life India's arrival at a Nuclear age 1975 6/25, Indira Gandhi's Emergency Rule 1976--two of Sanjay Gandhi's projects: clearance 1975 6/25 the birth of Aadam Sinai of Delhi slums and pavements, and mass vasectomy camps to reduce population growth. 1976 420 children in captivity 1977--election in which Indira Gandhi's Congress 1977 1/18 ectomy is defeated Monkey and Evie's fight; mother's blush Sabamarti affair the Midnight Children's Conference 1957-58

B. Saleem's his-story
(Saleem, "handcuffed to history" 3; "fathered by history" ) • Saleem's story --from center to margin, continuous fragmentation I am falling apart p. 37 first mutilation --the hair 276; 2nd the mid-finger; blood transfusion--first exile to Hanif's house; bury the globe 365-66 finally consigned to the peripheries of history, now that the connection between my life and the nation 's have been broken

his reason for tellling the story: 1. "He wants so to shape his material that the reader will be forced to concede his central role. He is cutting up history to suit himself." Imaginary Homelands 24) 2. fear p. 4; 3. hope and love for the amnesiac nation (549)--pickles--truth, love "pickles of history--I hope ..that it will be possible to say of them that they possess the authentic taste of truth...that they are, despite everything, acts of love." his narrative mode: Indian oral narrative + postmodern self-reflexivity "An oral narrative does not go from the beginning to the middle to the end of the story. It goes in great swoops, it goes in spirals or in loops, it every so often reiterates something that

• •

happened earlier to remind you, and then takes you off again, sometimes summarized itself, it frequently digresses off into something that the story-teller appears just to have thought of, then it comes back to the main thrust of the narrative." (Rushdie "Midnight Children and Shame." p. 7) e.g. loop away Abudulah's death to grandfather in the toilet in tears, 56; summary 123-24; foreboding p. 63

postmodern history--a. textualized growth (--textualized foetus growing from a full stop to ..p. 115)

C. connections between the personal and the public

Saleem's view of the relationships between his story and history : p. 285-86

the other links between the personal and the public : leitmotifs--nose (his grandfather's and his own), white skin (his father, Rani's, Indian merchants', and Saleem's), blood (his sister's, the rioters', Mary's blush) Saleem's assumption of responsibility:for major national events

e.g. a. the partition of the state of Bombay "not only did I overthrow a government--I also consigned a president to exile" 349 "With the fate of the nation in my hands, I shifted condiments and cutlery..." 348 b. the hidden purpose of the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965 --"the elimination of my benighted family from the face of the earth." c. Nehru's death as all my fault too 334 d. Jamila's fall was, as usual, all my fault. 470 e. the purpose of the State of Emergency--the smashing of the MC p.510

the critics' views on MC's history and national history-o R "Midnight Children and Shame." p. 3) Rushdie claims that his work is not allegory. Instead of using symbol, he uses leitmotif: which "form a kind of non-rational network of connections in the book. ...[e.g.] a sheet with a hole in it, a silver spittoon, a game of snakes and ladders, a hand with a pointing finger, ...these things have very little meaning in themselves. The meaning of the leitmotif is the sum total of the incidents in which it occurs." o Neil Ten Kortennar Ariel 1995 26.2 "'Midnight's Children' and the Allegory of History" Stanley Wolpert's A New History of India --make metaphors historians use "playfully …}literal." E.g. hole, anti-Partition Muslim swept under the carpet, "The metaphors underlying the literal narrative of history'history as the record of a body's growth, as the detection of a hidden original crime, and as the product of a transpersonal consciousness'are embodied in the life of Saleem Sinai" (47)

"The majority of the magical elements in MC derive from allegory and the literalization of metaphor" (59). 1. literalize+parody the national myth // blood line, 2. parallels national longing for form 1. India as a hybrid, textualized identity--search for form, in need of myth and purpose (nation, a new myth p. 129; India a collective fiction, mix identity p. 135

non-causal connection (metaphoric/allegoric) 1) the personal take on public meaning (perforated sheet--fragmented viewpoint--memory--national fragmentation) S' s heritage p. 124 Tai's teeth and brandy bottle Aziz and Naseem's perforated sheet 75--Ahmed and Amina's love in fragments p.75--Saleem's life p. 124 in fragments; 141 daily glimpses of myself--fragmentation washing chest as a hole in the world, a place which civilization has put outside itself... 2) the public become the personal a. spittoon--the old men's --Saleem's family heritage --an agent of his "purification" --substituted by an empty Dalda Vanaspati can Spittoon-- p. 68; p. 104; p. 45-46 vs. the Raj; summary of its history 342; 535--appropriated by Saleem, the intellectuals, as well as Nadir Khan, to mean several different things ; lost it forever 515

D. the artist figures aiming at all-inclusiveness
painter who Nadir Khan lives with p. 50 Lifafa Das p. 82 Wee Willie Winkie p. 116 Hanif's documentary realism 292 --the story of a pickle factory

E. The characters' identities

The conflict between Naseem (pp. 30; 63) and Aziz, between Aziz and Boatman Tai (e.g. p. 25)

Issue for discussion:
1. Does Rushdie express any hope for India's future? Is the reader given a real choice between form and content, or between "celebration of India and a withering satier on the very possibility of the nation state" (Portenaar 57)? "The story of Saleem does indeed lead him to despair. But the story is told in a manner designed to echo, as closely as my abilities allowed, the Indian talent for non-stop self-regeneration. This is why the narrative constantly throws up new stories, why it 'teems'. The form--multitudinous, hinting at the infinite possibilities of the country--is the optimistic counterweight of Saleem's personal tragedy.

"[The optimism] resides in the people, . . . the people have enormous energy and invention and dynamism, are not passive, and that kind of turbulence in the people is, I suspect, where the optimism lies ("Midnight's Children and Shame" 17 Kunapipi 7 (1985): 1-19.). 1. Shiva vs. Saleem //India vs. Pakistan; Rushdie's presentation of Pakistan (India an infinity of alternative realities; Pakistan --an infinite number of falseness, unrealities, and lies) Saleem'self-centeredness? "I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all that I have seen done, of everything done-to-me....To understand me, you'll have to swallow the world." 457-58
Saleem's self-centeredness p. 115; p.124 his telepathy-the thoughts he jumped into were his 207--illusion of an artist "the spirit of self-aggrandizement which seixed me then was a reflex, born of an instinct for self-preservation."

Saleem vs. Shiva -p. 271 dislikes Shiva "I disliked the roughness of his tongue, the crudity of his ideas, and I was beginning to suspect him of a string of terrible crimes--although I found it impossible to find any evidence in his thoughts..."
Saleem vs. Shiva 307; Shiva the commander; the war hero 486 --490 S "I have allowed his account too much space" the rivalry between Saleem and Sinai=the age 515

the magicians' ghetto 474-// the Communist movement in India 476
Picture Singh

D. Women and the people the lower class: Lifafa Das p. 82 Wee Willie Winkie p. 116 Mary & Joseph 119 Durga the washerwoman 532 Padma'hate his self-reflexivity 72

women: change his life 229 grandmother'being asked to take off her purdah 33 whatitsname 42 Amina B. Monkey = Jamila Singer--subject to the exaggeration and simplification of self and right-and-wrong nationalism 375 Mary

dripping in p. 38; paean to Dung E. Burns 30 impatient 116; angered 142 Aunt Alia vengeful 395

ending -- Yes, they will trample me underfoot, ...ruducing me the specks of voiceless dust... It is the privilege and the curse of midnight's children to ...forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitude, and to be unalbe to live or die in peace." • Rushdie's migrant identity

(criticized by Aijaz Ahmad's In Theory and Revathi Krishnaswamy in Ariel 1995 26.1)

Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991. London: Granta Books, 1991. the past 12 It maybe be argued that the past is a country from which we have all migrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity. ...Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved. p. 17 This is what the triple disruption of reality teaches migrants: that reality is an artifact, that it does not exist until it is made, and that, like any other artefact, it can be made well or badly, and that it can also, of course, be unmade. ...The migrant intellect roots itself in itself, in its own capacity for imagining and reimagining the world. Pakistan and Migrants Rushdie Although I have known Pakistan for a long time, I have never lived there for longer than six months at a stretch...I have learned Pakistan by slices...however I choose to write about over-there, I am forced to reflect that in fragments of broken mirrors...I must reconcile myself to the inevitability of the missing bits. ... What is the best thing about migrant peoples and seceded nations? I think it is their hopefulness... And what is the worst thing? It is the emptiness of one's luggage....We have floated upwards from history, from memory, from Time. (70-71) "the ability to see at once from inside and out is a great thing, a piece of good fortune which the indigenous writer cannot enjoy." ("A Dangerous Art Form" 4) Ahmad: As formulations of this kind become the manifest common sense of the metropolitan intelligensia, dutifully reproduced in the literary productions and pronouncements of 'Third World intellectuals' located within that milieu, one wonders what these cultural positions--the idea of origin being a mere 'myth'; the doubleness of arriving at an excess of belonging by not belonging; the project of mining the resource and raw material of 'Third World Literature' for archival accumulation and generic classification in the metropolitan university--might have to do with this age of late capitalism in which the most powerful capitalist firms, originating in particular imperialist countries but commanding global investments and networks of transport and communication, proclaim themselves nevertheless to be multinationals and transnationals." (In Theory. p. 130) Krishnaswamy--1. Myth of migrancy vs. historical reality: "Rushdie dematerializes the migrant into an abstract idea." (132) Indians of different classes and gender migrate to different places. 2. [Naipaul's eternal exile and Rushdie's permanent migrancy share one feature]: "a deterritorialized consciousness freed from such collectivities as race, class, gender, or nation, an unattached imagination that conveniently can become cosmopolitan and subaltern" (139). Issue for discussion: compare Rushdie's identity politics with B. Muherjee's (loss-of-face meltdown," "reincarnation") or Suleri's (meatlessness)?

Notes on Midnight’s Children
"Reading Joan Didion’s fiction," says Sarah Vowell, "is a little like looking at Le Corbusier furniture: It’s pristine, beautiful, downright perfect, and yet not particularly inviting to live with—a little cold, a little cruel, a little too angular to accommodate human curves. Phrase by phrase Didion’s prose style is impeccable." The same can be said of Salman Rushdie’s prose in Midnight’s Children. Of course, the "can" should be set off, italicized, stressed. Because Rushdie’s prose does offer some warmth, some moments of humor. And yet the moments come few and far between. So that when Aadam Aziz swears that he sees the sheet-covered Naseem’s exposed "bottom reddening in a shy, but compliant blush" or when William Methwold stands "in the afterglow of his Estate with his hairpiece in his hand" or when Saleem asks—quite rhetorically—if anyone understood that Mrs. Dubash had used the Superman comic-book to invent a money-earning persona for her son, I am comically relieved for too short a period of time (23, 127, 309). Always, always I am aware of the genius wit at work in the narrative. Always, always I am aware of the form and function lying on the pages in front of me. And always I am aware that Rushdie has written these words, not Saleem, not the narrator any professor would tell me is telling the story. Even when I read the most hilarious moments, those in which Saleem converses with Padma—calming her, preparing her, guiding her—my hmmffs (sorry, no hahaha’s here) are quickly silenced by the awareness of Padma’s true identity. For Padma, that loyal critical listener, is really me and us, the reader. Don’t I/we listen to Saleem’s story as his intended does? With interest? With the expectation of meaning? With tinges of impatience at the sometimes seemingly snaillike pace of his enormous narrative? With hot flashes of short-lived insight? With unmasked incredulity at errors or fantastic events? With the belief that if I/we continue to listen and read I/we will be rewarded with a tale worth telling? In Padma, Saleem/Rushdie has his cake and eats it too. His faithful listener is indeed a round character (her personality is as mammoth as her leg muscles), despite her minuscule screen time. (Which leads me to digress a moment: the film references and metaphors Saleem uses allow him not only to comment on the influence of popular Western ideology on India and other nations, but they allow him to balance and enhance the lush variety of smells throughout the novel with an extensive mixture of visual imagery as well. For Saleem seems to believe that it is more important to place his listener/reader within his story by means of sense—namely smell and sight—rather than emotion and sentiment, which goes along with his plan for pickling memories. A smell does have a powerful affect on memory. But getting back to Padma…) She also appears or is evoked only when it is necessary for Saleem/Rushdie to speak directly to the reader. He reassures her in order to reassure the reader. Consider the following passage: …While I, at my desk, feel the sting of Padma’s impatience … I wish, at times, for a more discerning audience, someone who would understand the need for rhythm, pacing, the subtle introduction of minor chords which will rise, swell, seize the melody. (113) His authorial plea—and what a plea it is—is to the reader, and the reader accepts. I/we read on. Yet when Padma later says to Saleem, "At last … you’ve learned how to tell things really fast," she is speaking the reader’s thoughts. Thank God, I think as I read this statement. Yes, Padma, tell him! But in my twists and turns through denial and impatience and acceptance I feel, in a very real sense, linked with Saleem and Rushdie. I kick and scream. I sit and listen. Most importantly, I react. So perhaps it is not so bad that the author has done a poor job of disguising himself, because it was never his intention. Garret Wilson writes, in his wonderfully parodical 1999 review of Midnight’s Children, that it is the novel’s very "excellency" that "keeps it from perfection". (The same can and probably has been said of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!) Wilson sees a problem with how every aspect of the novel comes together, from its

complex plotlines through its cultural commentaries to its varied symbols. I agree, to a point. It does bug me when Rushdie, yes it’s now Rushdie not Saleem (I find it difficult to defend Saleem the narrator’s case as an independent individual, free from severe links with his creator author, much the same way I find it difficult to emancipate Ishmael from Melville. Both narrators are forever linked with their creators, forever influenced and informed by the deity’s pen unlike a character such as Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway who has been created but given free will.), when Rushdie explains his symbols time after time after time. A short short list of instances where he does so: 1. Names, particularly Saleem’s on page 348-349 2. His relation to the Kolynos Kid on page 275 3. Saleem’s link to history on pages 272-273 4. Numbers on page 248 5. Beginnings and endings and blood in the "Alpha and Omega" chapter 6. The foretelling of his severed finger on page 270 A part of me says hey, I know you’re a smart guy. Another part says I’m not stupid; I get it. And still another part says hey, I probably would’ve got it later, maybe after reading it again. Perhaps it is this last part, this whisper from the reader, that Rushdie is replying to by analyzing his work before anyone else does. Wilson says that Rushdie knows "his story is too clever to be tied down to only his meanings," that Rushdie knows "that his clever story has a thousand and one interpretations." If this is true then perhaps Rushdie is trying to get his meanings out of the way so that the reader can find more. Or challenging the reader to discover them. But this would mean that Rushdie tries to conceal them. Does he? After all, "concealment has always been a crucial architectural consideration in India" (55). Or are they lying like purloined letters in front of the reader’s eyes? Or is he merely showing off? I am reminded of Naseem waking up in Delhi and coming to the realization that "the sun was in the right place, and it was her position which had changed" (71). Perhaps Rushdie’s novel is the sun. It certainly, like all works, is approached from many positions, many points of view. Perhaps Rushdie is only adding some light through his analyses and explanations with which to keep his novel burning brightly. Perhaps Rushdie feels a sense of urgency (now there’s a paradox) in getting his point(s) across. Perhaps his message(s) from the past must be comprehended now, not later. At one point in the novel, Saleem ponders his inheritance and recalls his grandparents’ perforated sheet, how "it condemned [him] to see [his] own life—its meanings, its structures—in fragments also; so that by the time [he] understood it, it was far too late" (119). Does Rushdie not have faith in his reader? In his "nation of forgetters" (36)? In the critics? Does he not want his novel, his homeland, understood too late? Is he fighting the "unreliable years" (87)? Ironically, Saleem is Rushdie’s perforated sheet. We see the author and his genius in glimpses, in parts. (Can we say that the cracks in Saleem are the cracks of a delicately manufactured character who is meant to last only long enough to get to the last page and allow his author to say what must be said?) We also see India in bits and pieces (a place that has seen its own share of fractures and fissures), so that the novel, in turn, becomes India’s perforated sheet, complete with thousands of bloodstains. And as I reach the end of the novel I cannot help but feel linked with Saleem and Rushdie and India. Magic realism seems to be an integral part of this novel. From Saleems’ telepathy (and all of the midnight’s children’s powers) through Narlikar’s luminescent ashes to Ahmed’s fading skin the fantastic is interwoven with the real. Why? Is the novel an allegory as has been suggested by a number of critics? Is the fantastic

present to allow for the plausibility that Saleem and other characters play such monumental roles in history? Is the fantastic a part of the novel as a metaphor for the significant role of religious beliefs in every day Indian society (e.g.: caste system)? Is the fantastic a part of the novel because the events that occurred in India’s history were themselves fantastic? Can we say that what happened to India would never be believed—to use Saleem’s words—had it not been for the fact that it did happen? Is the fantastic simply a device with which to relate and therefore comment on historical events, political figures, and cultural influences? Or is the fantastic an element of the novel because the fantastic is an element of India? Does the linking of magic to India somehow hinder the novel? Does magic realism somehow do to Indians what the Noble Savage ideal does to Native Americans, impose a false identity to a whole people? Does it push the reader to seriously contemplate the absurd or does it absurdly treat the serious? Because history plays such an important role in the novel (perhaps the most important), the reader should have some knowledge of certain events, beliefs, and figures prior to undertaking the journey Saleem intends for him or her. It can be read without this prior knowledge (due to the many levels the narrative operates on), but at least some familiarity with India and its history is advised. The following are just a few (by no means all) of the events, beliefs, figures the reader should familiarize him or herself with: 1. Hinduism 2. Islam 3. Islam’s history in Indus valley (modern Pakistan) and Bengal (modern Bangladesh) 4. British rule in India 5. Rowlatt Acts of 1919; gave British more power in dealing with unrest and conspiracy 6. Amritsar Massacre; Gurkha troops, under orders from English commander, General Reginald Dyer, open fire on thousands gathered in Hindu festival celebration; 379 killed; 1,137 wounded 7. Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi (1869-1948) 8. Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964); leader of radical nationalists; pushed for India’s independence 9. Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948); leader of Muslim League; feared Hindu Congress Party; insisted on divided India 10. Pakistan; the creation of which triggered refugees from Hindu and Muslim communities to escape to native communities as massive violence broke out 11. Indira Gandhi (1917-1984); Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter; became prime minister in 1966; declares in 1975 a state of emergency in order to carry out her program against corruption and population growth; ordered mass sterilization, including irreversible vasectomies (more than 7 million men sterilized in 1976)

Salman Rushdie's creation, Saleem Sinai, has a self-proclaimed "overpowering desire for form" (363). In writing his own autobiography Saleem seems to be after what Frank Kermode says every writer is a after: concordance. Concordance would allow Saleem to bring meaning to moments in the "middest" by elucidating (or creating) their coherence with moments in the past and future. While Kermode talks about providing this order primarily through an "imaginatively predicted future" (8), Saleem approaches the project by ordering

everything in his past into neat, causal relationships, with each event a result of what preceded it. While he is frequently skeptical of the true order of the past, he never doubts its eminence; he is certain that everyone is "handcuffed to history" (482). His belief in the preeminence of the past, though, is distinctly different than the reality of time for the Saleem who emerges through that part of the novel that Gerard Genette calls "the event that consists of someone recounting something" (26) (Saleem-now, we can call this figure). Saleem-now is motivated to act not by the past, but instead by the uncertainty and ambiguity of the future. Saleem's construction of his own story is an effort to mitigate the lack of control he feels in looking toward the unknown future. To pacify himself he creates a world that is ordered but this world is contrary to his own reality. Saleem spends much of his energy in the story setting up neat causal relationships between events in his past to demonstrate his place "at the center of things" (272). He carefully mentions his tumble into the middle of a parade for the partition of Bombay and then proceeds to propose that "in this way I became directly responsible for triggering off the violence which ended with the partition of the state of Bombay" (219). When telling us of his school-mate Cyrus disappearance from school and emergence as a great religious prophet Saleem quickly... Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children employs strategies which engage in an exploration of History, Nationalism and Hybridity. This essay will examine three passages from the novel which demonstrate these issues. Furthermore, it will explore why each passage is a good demonstration of these issues, how these issues apply to India in the novel, and how the novel critiques these concepts.

The passage from pages 37-38 effectively demonstrates the concept of history, as it foregrounds elements important to this issue. Rushdie, challenges the conventional modes of history through his self reflective narrative structure. The passage is a good demonstration of its topic as it illustrates the problems of re-writing history. His mode of writing attempts to encourage the reader to reconsider the valid interpretation of his history. Saleem writes "please believe that I am falling apart" ,as he begins "to crack like an old jug", illustrating a sense of fragmentation of his story. This parallels the narrative structure of the novel as being circular, discontinuous and digressive. This fragmentation appropriates the concept of history, which was developed by colonisers. History works for a particular class of ideology, and therefore it will be contaminated, oblique and subjective.

The ‘fictionality' of history is grounded in the simple assumption that life is shaped like a story. For Saleem, who is "buffeted by too much history", it is his memory which creates his own history. "Memory, as well as fruit, is being saved from the corruption of the clocks". This reflects back to concepts of time and place. Yet, for Rushdie, it is not based on the universal empty time that has been conceptualised by the colonisers. Notions of time and space are integrated into his own history.

[Note: This chronology derives principally from the timeline linked to the Pakistan Information Page.] 1947 14th August, Independence achieved from Great Britain 1956 29th February, first constitution drafted ---------- 23rd March, proclaimed an Islamic Republic

1958 Martial Law imposed by General Ayub Khan 1965 India attack Pakistan, war lasts 23 days 1969 Power tranferred to General Yahya Khan 1971 Secession of East Pakistan (Bangladesh ---------- After civil war power transferred to Zulfiqar Ali Bhhutto 1973 New constitution adopted 1977 5th July, martial law imposed by General Zia-ul-Haq 1979 4th April, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto executed 1981 Opposition Movement for the Restoration of Democracy formed 1985 Nonparty elections held, amended constitution adopted, martial law lifted 1986 Agitation for free elections launched by Benazir Bhutto 1988 General Zia killed in an air crash ---------- Benazir elected as Prime minister 1989 Pakistan joins Commonwealth 1990 Benazir's government dismissed ----------Nawaz Sharif elected as Prime minister 1991 Privatisation and economic deregulation program launched 1992 Pakistan elected to Security Council, United Nations 1993 Nawaz Sharif (Prime Minister) & Ghulam Ishaq Khan (President) resign ---------- October, Benazir elected as prime minister. Farooq Leghari elected president

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