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Canada
HISTORY AND FICTION AS NARRATIVE IN
THE NOVELS OF SALMAN RUSHDIE

Angelica Maria DeAngeIis


Department of English
McGill University, Montreal
March 1990

A Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Stlldies


and Research in partial fulfillment ofthe
reqllirements for the degree of
MASTER OF ARTS

@) Angelica M. DeAngelis 1990


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ISBN 0-315-66364-2

Canada
ABSTRACT

This work examines the fiction of Salman Rushdie - Grimus, Midnigh!,s Children,
Shame and The Satanic Verses, and its complex narrative structure. Fictional narrative

is discussed in terms of structuralist theory using studies by Mi~ke Bal, Seymour

Chatman and Gerald Prince. Historical narrative is analyzed through the writings of
the philosophers of history, Hayden White, Louis O. Mink and Paul Ricoeur. These
theories are applied to the fiction of Saiman Rushdie in order to investigate his use of

narrative. It is concluded that he uses a combina;ion of historical and fictional

narrative in order to explode existing 'truths' and mythologies, and to suggest alternative
realities in their place.
ABRG

Ce mmoire a pour but d'examiner l'oeuvre de Salman Rushdie - Grimus, tes Enfants
de Minuit, et les Versets Salnnigues - et d'tudier sa structure narrative. L'analyse de
l'aspect narratif de son oeuvre romanesque a pour cadre les thories structuralistes telles
qu'elles apparassaient dans les tudes de Mieke Bal, Seymour Chatman et Gerald Prince.
L'aspect historico-narratif de ses romans est, quant fi lui, tudi selon les crits de
philosophes de l'histoire tels que Hayden White, Louis O. Mink ~t Paul Ricoeur. Ces
diffrentes thories ont t appliques fi "oeuvre de Rushdie afin de dgager les raisons
qui l'ont pouss fi adopter ce style narratif prcis. D'aprs notre analyse, Salm:.n
Rushdie utilise ensemble lin style narratif et historico-narratif pour faire clater
"vrits" et mythes et les remplacer par d'autres niveaux de ralits.
( ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

1 would Iike to express my gratitude to Prof. R. Lecker for his encouragement and
guidance when it was needed most, and to Ms. C. Weiwood for her assistance.

1 wouId also Iike to acknowledge Ron and Bernadette DeAngelis, my parents, for
their unwavering support and infinite patience throughout this endeavour.

Finally, 1 would Iike to thank my friends whose assistance was greatly appreciated;
Sami for tranlating my abstract into French, Sharlene and Donna for their encouragement,

Zarir for his enthusiasm, and especially TIM for offering his expertise and his unending
support.

This thesis is dedicated to my parents.

(
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: A Discussion of Narrative 6

Chapter 3: The Nature of History and 17


Historical Narrative

Chapter 4: Grimus as a Novel and as an


Introduction of Rushdian 26
Theories of History

Chapter 5: The Public and Private Histories


of Saleem Sinai and the Indian 37
Sub-Continent in Midnight's Children

Chapter 6: Pakistan/Peccavislan and Political


Mythology in Shame 68

Chapter 7: Islam and Immigration in lhe Dream


and Waking Worlds of The Salanic 85
Verses

Chapter 8:' Concluding Remarks 106


CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
(
This thesis explores the fictional works of Saiman Rushdie, and the use of
history and fiction in his narrative. The purpose of this study is to prove that through
a combination of history and fiction, Rushdie is able to expIode existing mythologies
and to offer in their place alternate truths and realities. He is a new writer, but has
already established his importance because of his Iiterary excellence, and the dramatic
political and religious impact of his novels.
1 approach the fictional works of Saiman Rushdie l'rom two angles: l'rom theories
of history and theories of fiction. The section on fictional theories concentrates on the
studies in narrative and structure by Mieke Bal, Gerald Prince and Seymour Chatman.
The ideas developed and supported by these and other theorists discussed in the chapter
emphasize the structure or form of the narrative. It is basically a double structure,
composed of story (what is told) and discourse (how it is told).
This double structure is exploited by Rushdie throughout his entire trilogy
composed of Midnight's Children, Shame, and The Satanic Verses. Antithetical themes,
structures and characters in the novels work in much the same way as the twin
formation of story and discourse. They are diametrically opposed, yet entirely
interdependent; to such a degree tha! one could not survive without the other. In a
sense, they function Iike magnets; attracting and repelling each other at the same time.
There is a considerable amount of energy in the combination, a tension between
characters, forces and ideas that gives form to the discourse and momentum to the
story.
Rushdie's novels have a firm historical grounding; both in recent political and
cultural history, and in more academic theories of history. Because their influence is
not only felt, but stressed and explored within the text, it is important to review sorne
theories of history, especially those that explore its narrative nature. Several
philosophers of history are interested in this aspect of history; they include Hayden
White, Louis O. Mink and Paul Ricoeur.
The second chapter is a discussion of the nature of history, tracing the
development of scholarly findings on the topic, through its various phases and
counterphases. The pendulum of thought swings l'rom scientific, to what was at one
point anti-scientific, but is now the more independent theory of narrative.
Narrative is the umbrella term that opens up to cover history on one side and literature
on the other. There are other types of narrative, even non-verbal narrative, such as
opera, ballet, pantomime, etcetera. Ricoeur, through his own studies and his references
to Arthur Danto, stresses the similarities between history and literature by defining

1
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....,;
historical narrative in almost the same terms as Gerald Prince de fines fictional narrative
in the first chapter.
History does not happen in a story form, just as life does not either. A
universal history does not already exist, simply waiting for an historian to record it on
paper. One must participate in history, and the writing of history. An historian is not
merely a witness to the past about which s/he writes, but s/he is a participant and an
interpreter. Even if the historian does personally witness a certain happening, it cannot
just be recorded, but it must be put into perspective and given meaning, by relating it
to preceding and following events, and as Danto writes, "as parts of temporal wholes"
(Ricoeur 2: 147).
Hayden White expands on the interpretive aspect of writing history, for history
is a narrative, and historical works can easily and revealingly be studied in methods
very similar to those used for studying fiction. White addresses how history is written,
emphasizing the poetic characteristics involved. This includes interpreting the data, and
'prefiguring' the field, that is, constituting it "as an object of mental perception" (White
30). He feels that before writing, one must examine the entire set of events and decide
what the purpose of the text will be. Once the hypothesis has been decided and
declared, then you can move on to the next stage, which is how to present your data, in
which narrative form and style. This is a poetic or artistic way of viewing history,
because it focuses on the historian's very individual interpretation of the 'facts', ralher
than a scientific view which would be closer to a chronicle-like presentation of the
event, allowing the 'facts' of the past to speak for themselves.
But as White states, and Rushdie supports, this scientific view is impossible
because absolute truth does not exist, and recording the barest of facts involves sorne
level of interpretation; one must decide which facts even warrant recording.
Louis O. Mink, the final philosopher of history who is reviewed in any detail,
restates the connections between history and fiction, naming narrative as the structuring
force, and classifying narrative as a cognitive instrument, an actual form of human
comprehension. The story is the primary organi7;ng scheme of narrative, be it
historical or literary, and although real life does not occur in a story format, it is
through the story structure that information is conveyed and understood.
History and fiction employ similar narrative and story structure in order to
reach the audience. The main difference between the two, according to Mink, "lies not
in the kinds of intelligibility and understanding they respectively afford, but in the
n..ture and kinds of evidcnce for the truth of their statements" (123).
Rushdie, in his novels, wants not only to provide evidence for the truth of his
statement, but to challenge the existing truths, norms and mythologies, and to offer in

2
their place another possible vision of the world. He feels that it is his, and every
writer's dutY to challenge the official version of history and to offer an alternate
reality. He does not expect or desire his image of this alternate reality to be taken as a
replacement for the official rend!!ion, for that would merely substitute one confining
viewpoint with another. Instead,' t.e wants to propose to the reader a possibility, or
rather possibilities, of reality, to create cracks in the closed official version of Iife, and
to allow for seepage between the various states of being.
ne challenges the official, accepted interpretation of history in two ways. He
tackles recent historical events in his novels, and he explores concepts of history.
Rushdie blends elements of fantasy with journalistic facts, magical creatures with real-
Iife public figures. He is even courageous and reckless enough to contest the most solid
and sanctioned of truths, at least to those who profess to be believers, the Islamic
religion.
His first novel, Grimus, is an investigation of the concepts of time and history,
and how myths develop. The main idea of history introduced is that the historian
cannot be an outside observer, but must be a participant in the events sI he transcribes.
By writing about the past, one is interpreting it and th us influencing il. It is not
possible to tell 'the truth', or present 'the facts', because truths are numerous and facts
are subjective. The other significant notion presented here is his inquiry into the
concept of myth. This is done In Grimus primarily through the character of I.Q. Gribb
who studies how myths originate. Gribb is engrossed in the analysis of race-memory,
"the sediment of highly concentrated knowledge that passes down the ages" (163), and as
a corollary study has looked at "the growth of a mythology in a single, long-Iived
generation" (163). This mythology, of course, is the story of Grimus, and the Stone
Rose. It is strange that this story has mutated from being a real event into a myth, at
least in the psyches of the Island's citizens.
Rushdie is also questioning the ide'a that immortality in its most successful form
means not only living forever, but remaining the same forever: stagnating. The hero,
Flapping Eagle, a sYl"bol in North America of independence and bravery, encounters
the ancient Persian myth of the Simurg, and the myth of the Phoenix. Rebirth out of
the ashes of the past is worthless if it means an identical repetition of the pa.'t.
Empires and traditions may exist, but only if they are a positive force that allow for
growth. If not, then change, even if it means destruction to the existing order, is
preferable.
The next three novels, Rushdie's trilogy composed of Midnight's Children,
~, and The Satanic Verses, ail try to deflate or destroy existing mythologies. In
the first two books, these mythologies are in the form of the history of the sub-

3
continent since Ir.dependence, which is a major myth wilhin itself. The third novel,
The Salanic Verses, investigates two main concepts: England as the center of
civilization, and the mylh of Islam.
Midnight's Children tells the parallel tales of the private story of Saleem Sina,
and the public history of the Indian sub-continent. The two stories are interconnected
and interdependent. Saleem is the narrator, hero, storyteller and creator. Through his
efforts, the myth of Independent India is being reborn. His version of Indian history
differs from the official version, in how it actually happened, what motivated it, and in
how it is recorded for future generations. Saleem, who influences past events in four
distinct ways, continues to be a significant factor through his struggles to preserve the
pasto This is done through 'the chutnification of history'; a proeess which may sharpen
sorne of the flavours, but allows the different ingredients to retain their individual
characteristics. Yet before the past reaches the point at which it can be preserved for
posterity, il undergoes several translations. It is viewed through a filter of time and
memory, and from one specific point of reference, that is, how it affected and was
affected by Saleem Sinai and his family. The official version of history is no less
biased, because il too is seen from a specific reference point; that of the ruling forces
at the time. Thus, history is experienced, remembered,\ written, spoken and finally
stored in pickle jars. Much of what is normally accepted as the real past has been
exposed as false or distorted through Saleem's rendition. Rushdie's point is not for the
reader to replace the sanctified account with Saleem's; he is portrayed as too unreliable
a narrator for the reader to take such a naive view. Instead, Rushdie is opening up the
myth of India in order to allow leakage of other opinions and viewpoints, so that
alternative versions can begin to be heard.
In Shame, Rushdie tackle the northern end of the sub-continent, Pakistan.
Again, the official history is exposed as being one possible way of seeing the situation,
and not the only or definitive way. Poli tics and politicians are the main targets of this
novel, because the creation of Pakistan was a very political aet; sharp and sudden rather
than a natural progression through the course "f history. Islam is shown to be just one
of many tools employed by politicians in order to gain and to remain in power. Aiso
analyzed is the way in which peoples' emotions can be manipulated by those in
authority; how restricting people, imposing on them Iimits of thought and behaviour
will cause certain responses to occur. Thus, by imposing Islamic restrictions on the
citizens of Pakistan, those in control are able to remain at the top. The same concept is
employed in England by those with raeist or bigoted attitudes.
Pakistan, the land of the Pure, is parodied by Rushdie's mirror image,
Peccavistan, a country of sin. Politieal leaders are exposed as idiotic, and corrupt,

4
Islam as repressive, especially to women, and the entire tale of the history of Pakistan
(:
in dire need of rewriting and revisioning, There;5 not one dominant voice hcre as was
Saleem's in Midnjght's Children, but a multitude of voices or points of view. The
result is to provide a confusing but varied look at the creation of Pakistan, which is
juxtaposed with chilling anecdotes of the present situation in that country, and in
England too. Hence, another version of the past is proposed, although it is les5 hopeful
and future-oriented than Saleem's.
While it can be a risky undertaking to challenge recent and still-existing political
regimes, it is quite another matter to contest major world religions. Islam is the subject
of Rushdie's myth-breaking in as least part of The Satanic Verses. In his previous
works, Rushdie has shown his dissatisfaction with the rule-oriented and therefore
restrictive Islamic religion, which seeks to govern not only the spiritual but also the
secula. concerns of its adherents. Rushdie hopes not only to discuss what he shows to
be terrifying mutations of Islamic thought (the Imam and his anti-progress
revolutionaries), but the very foundations of Islam itself. The dream sequences about
Mahound and Jahilia are also the exploration of a modern divided self who is
experiencing a loss of faith, "and is strung out between his immense need to believe and
his new inability to do so" (Rushdie, "In Good Faith" 53),
If adhering to the strict, traditional codes is not the answer, neither is
submerging oneself ulterly into English, or modern, Western, culture, in the hopes of
washing away ail traces on one's sub-continental heritage, Of course this is not
possible, for no malter how much Saladin sounds, thinks, dresses and acts Iike an
Englishman, no matter how much he himself believes in his Englishness, he will always
remain, by virtue of pigmentation, an Indian. Another possibility is combining Indian
and English characteristics; unfortunately this is perceived as an unsatisfactory answer,
as, 1 believe, is the solution offered in the text of retreating back to the motherland.
Rushdie never claims to offer solutions; his goal is to make people aware that
there are other possibilities, alternate realities existing simultaneously with what is
generally accepted as e".e 'reality', He wishes to challenge humanity to awaken,
politically and intellectually, to confront what they know or fear to be untrue, and to
be brave enough to take the leap into the worlds of uncharted and endless possibilities.

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CHAPTER 2 A DISCUSSION OF NARRATIVE

Narrative "is simply there like life itself ... international, transhistorical, transcultural"
(Roland Barthes, "Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives" 79).

History and fiction are both part of a larger category, narrative. Narrative
draws history and fiction together by emphasizing their common qualities, but allows
them at the same time to retain their separateness. History and fiction have different
goals, but use similar methods to rea<:h these goals. Historians onen use a stOl"y form to
convey information and to support their theories about the pasto History is commonly
used by novelists as a source of setting, character and even plot. Within his writing,
Saiman Rushdie combines elements of history and fiction. He blends historical and
fictional data to tell his story, the story of the subcontinent.
Rushdie writes out of the tradition of the Indo-Anglian novel in which history
has always played a crucial role. Sinee its birth in the 18th century, the novel of India
(that is the novel about India or by Indians), has centered on the historical occurrences
of the subcontinent. There have been an abundance of bloody and dramatic events
from which to draw inspiration, ranging from the Indian Mutiny of 1857 through the
happenings of the 20th century: the Quit India movement, swaraj (non-violent non-
cooperation), Independence, the Partition, Bangladesh, and the Emergency of 1975.
There has been a pie thora of exciting characters worthy of many volumes; these include
such leaders as the Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi
and her sons, Sanjay and Rajiv, Jinnah, Bhutto, Zia, Sheik Abdullah ... the list goes on.
Thus it is no wonder that Salman Rushdie has chosen the Indian subcontinent, the
land of his birth and heritage, as the focal point of his novels Midnight's Children,
Shame, and The Satanie Verses. But Rushdie is not merely (if one could use that term
to describe a topie as controversial and enervating as Indian history), interested in
recreating the past, or fictionalizing it to fit his story. Instead, he is concerned with
exploring larger issues: the question of history itself and its creation, the idea of truth
and memory, and the concept of narrative. Rushdie read history at Cambridge and
therefore has a scholarly interest in these topics. But he also has an emotional
attaehment to India (he was born in Bombay), and Pakistan (he is a Moslem and his
family currently resides in Pakistan), yet also to England, his home of choiee with his
wife.
History is a motivating force in Rushdie's work and in his life. His interest in
the subject is academic, literary, political and persona!. The settings, plots and even
themes of his novels are inspired by historical events and historieal theories. He

6
challenges the established histories and mythologies, showing them to be inadequute and
( often untrue. He does not simply rewrite history, but creates cracks and holes that
allow for the infiltration of alternate views and realities.
Not only has Rushdie revised and influenced history in his novels, but he and
his novels are currently involved in the creation of history. The radical nature of his
works has placed him in the center of academic, theological and political debate that
reaches to the very core of conflicting systems of belief: religious faith versus
individual freedom. In all his novels, Rushdie atlacks the narrow and stifling views
sponsored by governments and religions, preferring instead a more open vision of life.
In a short story entitled "Untime of the Imam," he describes an horrifie nightmare of an
Ayatollah-Iike fundamentalist who seeks to destroy the past and to impose his
suffocating image of Iife on the people for eternity. Rushdie's story is in a sense a
prophecy of Khomeini's recent actions, for Rushdie had no way of knowing that he and
his novels would be under direct fire from the Ayatollah's de-education scheme, that
The Sntanic Verses would cause protest marches, book burnings and bookstore
bombings, or that he would be forced to live in hiding with a $5.2 million death threat
on his head.
History is everywhere in the works and Iife of Rushdie, and this is stressed
within the narrative by Rushdie himself. My goal in this thesis is to examine the role
history plays in the writing, and investigate how he uses elements of history and fiction
in the narrative to disturb the status quo, and to allow for fluctuations in what we
normally understand as truth and reality.
Rushdie's body of work includes a few short stories, four novels and a travel
book. His first book, Grimus, falls within the genre of fantasy. His next two novels,
Midnight's Children and :ihame, focus on the story of the subcontinent and its struggle
toward maturation through Independence. His fourth book is of a very personal nature,
an account of his visit to Nicaragua. His fifth and so far final endeavour is the
controversial The Satanic Verses, which completes what Rushdie himself has admitled is
a loose trilogy, along with Midnight's Children and Shame. The Satanic Verses
continues the story begun in the first two books, and expands the tale of the struggle of
the subcontinent after Independence in 1948. This time his focus is not the recent past
or the history of Independence, but rather two very separate periods: the present
situation of subcontinental immigrants in England, and a mythical past, during the era
of the fabled prophet Mahound.
Il is on three distinct levels that the works of SaIman Rushdie will be examined.
The first level deals wilil a study of narrative in the broadest sense. Here it is not an
individual work, or the works of a single author that are to be explored, but the greater

7
areas of historical and literary narrative. Sorne of the concepts mentionP.d here will be
discussed in the other levels, such as the use and the alteration of historical and literary
facts, and the employment of various discourses with a similar story for different
purposes. A discussion of the nature of history, art and science will be included. The
ideas of critical as weil as historical and literary theorists, such as Hayden White, Paul
Ricoeur, Louis O. Mink and others, will be used as a base. It will be argued that
history is an art that employs scientific methods. Literature, tao, can be seen as having
a scientific or at least a pseudo-scientific quality, as is exemplified in linguistic studies
as weil as other highly form or structure oriented methodologies such as formalism or
structuralism, as their names suggest.
The second level is that of the individual text. Each novel possesses a unique
balance of story and discourse, as weil as varied combinations of what is told (story)
and how it is told (discourse). Many techniques are employed, and they change frorn
novel to novel. Rushdie is not only interested in telling each story to the audience, but
also in discovering how a story is told. This includes an exploration of certain
concepts; rnemory, truth, and the alterations that occur within the telling of a story
from the occasion of an event, to the rernernbering and the recording of the sarne
event.
The third level is one referred to briefly earlier in this section. It concerns the
concept of Midnight's Children, Sharne, and The Satanic Verses comprising a loose
trilogy. That is, these three novels that forrn the core of Rushdie's work thus far, are
telling the same story. This is not ta say that these novels are identical, use the same
characters, or that they speak about precisely the sarne events. There is a certain
arnount of overlapping, but the novels produced are three distinct texts. It is rather a
continuation or expansion of one story, the story of the subcontinent, told in different
styles through different voices.
ln his book, Narratologv: The Forin alld Functioning of Narrative, Gerald Prince
defines narrative as follows: "Narrative is the representation of at least two real or
fictive events or situations in a time sequence, neither of which presupposes or entails
the other" (1). This is a basic definition, yet it introduces several principles that will
prove important to this study. It is crucial ta note that narrative can be applied to real
or fictive events, that is ta literature or ta history. This is a concept taken up by rnany
critical theorists, including Hayden ',vhite, who accentuates the similarities between
literary and historical narrative. Prince also points out that there must be at least two
events rnentioned for a narrative to exist, thus a staternent such as, "Il was an exciting
concert," does not constitute a narrative. Nor does a staternent such ?.5, "It was hot
inside and coId outside," for the two phrases do not involve a tirne sequence. Therefore

8
( it would take a statement such as, "It was hot inside so he opened the window to let the
cool air in," to fulfill ail of the basic requirements of the definition and thus constitute
a narrative.
Seymour Chatman writes in his seminal study, ~and Discourse: Narrative
Structure in Fiction and Film, that:
Narrative theory has no critical axe to grind. Its objective is a grid of
possibilities thl'ollgh the establishment of the minimal narrative
constitutive features (18-19).
Traditionally, and dating back to Aristotle's Poetics, narrative has been divided
into two opposing yet complimentary parts, form and malter. Different names and
some refinement to this dichotomy has taken place over the years. In 1925, a Russian
formalist Boris Tomashevsky in his essay "Thematics" classified the parts of narrative as
fll..l1.I!..!.i, "the chronologically ordered malter of the narrative," and ti!!zn. "the
arrangement that the malter actually takes in the text" (qtd. in Mosher 88). French
structuralists exchanged the concept of fabula, or:
the sense of fable as an ideal chronologically ordered narrative and
considered its actual manifestation (regardless of the medium in which it
is told) [for] such terms as recit comme histoire or simply histoire
(sometimes called "diegesis" by Genelte), what seems to be the equivalent
of Chatman's "story-as-discoursed" or "plot" (Moshel' 88).
Thus, according to theories of structure, and stemming from Gerard Genelte's writings,
narrative is made up of two components:
A story (histoire), the content or chain or events (actions, happenings)
plus what may be called the existents (characters. items of selting); and a
discourse (discours) that is, the e;;pression, the means by which the
content is communicated (Chatman 19).
The story can be considered the facts or information of the narrative, the "what" that is
depicted in a narrativp; the discourse is the "how" of the narrative, "the narrative form
itself. the structure of narrative transmission" (Chatman 22).
The Dutch theorist Mieke Bal has made additional modifications; she substitutes
the terms text, fabula and story for Chatman's narrative, discourse and story. Bal
defines text as "a finite, structured whole composed of language signs," and states that
"the assertion that a narrative text is one in which a story is related implies that the
text i. not the story" (5). According to Bal, a fabula is "a series of logically and
chronologically related events that are caused or experienced by actors," and "a story is
a fabula that is presented in a certain manner" (5). The distinction between story and
fabula, "is based upon the difference between the sequence of events and the way in

9
~ these events are presented" (5). This is similar to Chatman's discussion of story
and discourse; story is the what that is told and discourse is the how it is told.
These concepts of narrative are also accepted outside of strict Iiterary theory, for
example in the works of Hayden White, a historical theorist. The narrative form need
not be Iimited to a Iiterary or historical form; that is, a writlen form. Narrative can be
found in such varied mediums as cinema, ballet, verbal, painting, pantomime, etcetera.
In order to study the narrative text, Mieke Bal considers story and discourse as
distinct entities, although in reality they are inseparable. Bal calls the features that
differentiate between the discourse (fabula) and the story aspects, and explains that:
the story ... does not consist of material different from that of the
fabula, but that this material is looked at from a certain, specific angle.
If one regards the fabula primarily as the product of imagination, the
story could be regarded as the result of an ordering. Obviously, this
distinction is of a theoretical nature only. In practice, different writers
will proceed in various manners. The aim of textuai analysis is not to
account for the process of writing, but for the conditions of the process
of reception (49).
In her chapter on fabula, Bal discusses objects such as event and character, and
the processes of these objects. Events, according to Bal, are "the transition from one
state to another state, caused or experienced by actors. The word 'transition' stresses
the fact that an event is a process, an alteration" (Bal 13). Actor is defined in contrast
to character; and actor is a more general term and could be an animal, machine or
human. A character too can be non-human, but would have certain traits or
characteristics that would make it resemble a human being, thus "a character is an actor
with distinctive human characteristics. In this view, an actor is a structural position,
while a character is a complex semantic unit" (Bal 79).
A fabula is "a series of logically and chronologically related events" (Bal 18):
The fabula as a whole constitutes process, while every event can also be
called a process or, at least, part of a process. Three phases can be
distinguished in every fabula: the possibility (or virtuality), the event (or
realization), and the result (or conclusion) of the process. None of these
three phases is indispensable (Bal 19-20).
Other theorists have chosen to discuss events in relation to story rather than
discourse. Events are divided into two types, kernels, which "advance the action by
opening an alternative," and catalysts, which "expand, ampIify, maintain or delay the

! \

10
former" (Rimmon-Kenan 16). Catalysts, caIIed satellites by Chatman, do not appear
( alone, they accompany kernels. and could be removed without affecting the sense of the
plot.
Events comb.ine in sequences to create the story line or Iines in a narrative, as it
is possible for multiple story Iines or plots to co-exist within one narrative text. Order
need not be chronological; changes are often made to increase or decrense emphasis of
specific events. Movement in a narrative can be influenced mainly by action, by
character or by some combination of the two. Kenan proposes as an alternative a
theory of interdependence rather than hierarchy, and quotes Henry James to support
this theory; "What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but
the illustration of character?" (35). Another possibility is one discussed by Todorov
where dominance of character or action depends on the type of narrative: psychological
narratives are character dominated and apsychological, action dominated (qtd. in
Chatman 113). And the direction of the hierarchy can change with the reader's focus
from one part of the text to another, or from one reading to the next.
Setting, the other element of existent, is the location in which an action occurs.
Il can be imaginary or real, clearly stated or merely implied. Setting often has a more
significant function than providing background information:
when several places, ordered in groups, can be related to psychological,
ideological, and moral oppositions, location may function as an important
principle of structure (Bal 44).
Selling can also be evaluated in relation to other elements of narrative. A character's
mood can be influenced by setting, and selling can be intimately connected to a
character's way of Iife and opportunities. For example, a move to Pakistan, an lslamic
country, could alter a woman's position immensely. Concentration on space or selling
can interrupt time within a narrative.
Prince focuses on the narrator as one of the most important components of
narrative. He divides the act of narrating into three subclasses; the first person (1) is
the narrator, the second p.'rson (you) is the n..,,-atee, and the third person (s/he/it) is
the being or object narrated about (Prince 7). He names several characteristics of the
narrator that should be examined in order to fully understand a narrative text:
the intrusiveness of a given narrator, his degree of self-consciousness, his
reliability, his distance from the narrated or the narratee not only help
characterize him but also affect our Interpretation of and response to the
narrative (Prince 7).
A narrative can concentrate directly on other characters and events, or can be filtered
through a narrator. Some texts are self-conscious, that is aware of the act of narration,

11
or have an intrusive narrator, one that calls attention to her/himself. Il this happens, it
is possible:
that the real subject of the narrative is the rendering of certain events
rather than the events themselves and that the real hero is the narrator
rather than any one of his charactcrs (Prince 13).
This is obviously the case with Saleem Sinai in Mjdnight's Chitdren. The reliability of
a narrator is a quality that becomes apparent as one reads a text. Sorne narrators are
blatantly unreliable, while others are unreliable in a sly manner. There are several
types of distance which can be measured: temporal, physical, intellectual, moral,
emotional, etcetera. The narrator may or may not be a participant in the events of the
story. For example, he clearly plays a major role in Midnight's Chitdren, but not in
~. There may be multiple narrators, that is two or more narrators who may exist
in a hierarchical structure. The Satanic Verses is told in a multitude of voices, and
within a hierarchy of importance and prevalence.
There are several levels of interpretation within a narrative text between the
poles of author and reader. Chatman's diagram shows a comprehensive view of these
levels:
Real Author-> Implied Author-> (Narrator)->
(Narratee)-> Implied Reader-> Real Reader (151).
Monroe Beardsley, a critical theorist, explains that:
the speaker of a literary work cannot be identified with the author and
therefore the character and condition of the speaker can be known by
internai evidence alone - unless the author has provided a pragmatic
context, or a claim of one, that connects the speaker with himself (qtd.
in Chatman 147).
One cannot assume that any words spoken or deeds performed by the narrator, or even
by any charncters are necessarily the opinions of the author, and in this case Rushdie,
himself. Obviously these words or deeds are present for a purpose, but the purpose
may be to stimulate thought Or create controversy and not simply to forward the
author's beliefs.
Chatman provides an explanation of the six different levels or participants of a
narrative text. The role of the outermost levels, the real author and the real reader are
clear - they are the people who physically write and read the tex!. The implied author
functions like an official scribe and is "reconstructed by the reader from the narrative -
not the narrator but the principle that invented the narrator" (Chatman 48). A real
author is not required to use the same implied author from each narrative but can
change the implied author from text to tex!. White it is the implied author who sets

,"'"
, '

12
the standard within a text, the real author has full control of this process. Although
( there :s always an implied author, it need not be in the form of a single person, but
can be found in other forms such as 'committee written' or 'computer generated'
(Chatman 149). Bal also discusses the concept of implied author in order to
differentiate it from the concept of narrator:
The term [implied narrator] was introduced by Booth (1961) in order to
discuss and analyse the ideological and moral stances of a narrative text
without having to refer directly to a biographical author. In Booth's use
of the term, it denotes the totality of meanings that can be inferred from
a tex!. Thus the implied author is the result of the investigation of the
meaning of a text, and not the source of that meaning. Only aCter
interpreting the text on the basis of a text description can the implied
author be inferred and discussed (119-120).
This will become significant as the discussion of Rushdie's work progresses, especially
in terms of current political and religious tension.
As the implied author must always exist, so too must ils counterpart, the implied
reader. Narrator and narratee are not mandatory components of a narrative tex!.
Narrators are very familiar to readers. They usually speak in first or third person
singular pronouns, that is in 'l', or 's/he/il', and can be a character in the story or exist
outside of the story in the main discourse. White a narrator can be a character, s/he
need not be so. Chatman explains the different functions of narrator and character:
the speech acts of characters differ logically from those of narrators.
Even when a character is telling a story, his speech acts always inhabit
the story, rather than the primary discourse. Like his other acts, they
directly interact with other characters, not with the narratee or the
implied reader. Narrators can only interact in narrative and/or with the
narratee (165).
By speech acts Chatman is referring to the theory expounded by John Austin in How to
Do things with Words. (Few York, 1962). Austin views the role of sentences in
language as actual acts by the speaker, and that in verbalizing a sentence the speaker is
doing at least two and possibly three things: [1] he is creating that sentence, that is,
structuring it according to the rules of English grammar ('Iocuting it'), [2] he is
performing a separate act in speaking it, an act which could equally be performed by
non-Iinguistic means ('iIlocuting il') and [3] he may succeed in causing action to occur
('perlocution' of persuading) (Chatman 161).
Narratees, Iike narrators, can be a character in the book, or just a discernible
presence. Narrators and narralees can interact in several ways: in the form of questions

13
,?,. or pseudo-questions, in repetitions of narratee by narrator addressed to narratee, in
.....t
.l
negations or affirmations, for example, "No, that is incorrect," as if the narrator were
responding to the narratee, and in references to another text (Prince 18).
Time in narrative can be divided into reading-time and plot-time, or discourse-
time and story-time. A study by Mendilow entitled Time and Narrative explains that
one point in time functions as the now in the story, the point of reference. Chatman
adds that in some cases, "if the narrator is overt there can be two nows - the present
tense and that of the story to be told" (63). Genetle's "Time and Narrative" examines
time relations between discourse and story time by naming three categories in which
these relations exist: order, duration and frequency. Events within a narrative need not
be presented in chronological order, they can be switched and re-arranged as long as
some sort of sense can still be made of the story. If the order of events is switched
this is caUed an anachronous sequence as opposed to a normal or chronological
sequence. Some techniques employed in an anachronous sequence are flashback
(analepse) and flashforward (prolepse). Sometimes the order in a narrative can be based
on other criteria beside temporal such as spatial proximity, thematics, etcetera.
Achrony, another subdivision of the category order implies that there is "no
chronological relation (even inverse) - between story and discourse - either random or
based on other principles" (Chatman 65). The second category, duration, is the "relation
of the time it takes to read out the narrative to the time the story-events themselves
lasted" (Chatman 68). There are five sub-divisions: [1] summary - discourse-time is
shorter than story-time; [2] ellipsis - same as [1] except discourse-time is zero; 13] scene
- discourse-time and story-time are equal; [4] stretch - discourse-time is longer than
story-time; and [5] pause - same as [4] except the story-time is zero. The third
category of time in narrative named by Chatman is frequency and deals with how often
these different changes in time occur. In English there are four separate time periods:
anterior time, past time, present time and future time. Novels such as The 3atanic
Verses seem to have two time sequences as it has two narratives telling different stories:
one of the mythological land of Jahilia and one of twentieth cenlury England and lndia.
Mieke Bal's discussion of time is connected to events, which make up parI of
the story along wilh existents, or characters. She writes:
Events have been defined as processes. A process is a change, a
development and presupposes therefore a succession in time or a
chronology. The events Ihemselves happen during a certain period of
time and they occur in a certain order (Bal 37-38).
The period of time in which events occur is caUed a duration, which in turn can be
divided into two types, crises and development; "the first term indicates a short span of

14
time into which events have been compressed, the second a longer period of time which
(
shows a development" (Bal 38). Bal continues:
Certain types of fabula are specifically appropriate for either of the two
types of duration, or even dependent upon it. (Auto)biography,
Buldungsromane. war novels, frame narratives (The Thousand and One
~, Decameron), and travel histories need a long time span: the most

important topic presented is precisely the passing of time (39).


Thus Midnight's Children is a novel of development, and The Satanic Verses a novel of
crises.
Time in a text can be manipulated through the use of diffel'ent techniques such
as elimination and the parallel advancement of separate plot stories. Elimination, the
condensing of duration, leaves gaps in the chronology, and can cause the reader to
wonder what is missing. Sometimes events that are left out of one section surface in
another; t!lis is called ellipsis. The originally omiued event becomes important
providing information that can alter the entire narrative as in the case of a detective
novet. In a book such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude a
multitude of parallel and intersecting story lines are presented and the result is
achronicity, "the impossibility of establishing a precise chronology" (Bal 42).
Two final principle features of narrative discussed by Chatman and relevant to
this study are order and selection. Ail narrative employs these concepts for ail narrative
involves Interpretation and the filling in of gaps (Chatman 28). This is interpretation
on two levels; the author must choose which facts to include, which to leave out which
to stress, and the reader must receive this information and make the necessary logical
connections in order to comprehend the story the author is trying to tell. Interpretation
is an important aspect of both historical and literary narrative. In history, an author
must choose from an enormous array of factual information that is available for each
event or era that is being discussed. After deciding what to include, s/he must then
determine how to present this information to the audience. As each historian will
include, omit and stress ;'ifferent information, and present il in one of many possible
manners, no two histories are ever identical, even if they cover the same event using
the same factual materiat. Thus the idea of an absolute truth in history becomes
invalidated when faced with the infinite permutations and combinations narrative
allows. In literature, the realm of possibility seems even greater as the ,tory element of
narrative is Iimited only by the imaginative abilities of the author. Of course the
author cannot haphazardly include every thought s/he perceives, There must be some
sort of logic and order guiding the narrative; it must make sense to the reader within
the context of the text.

15
Numerous articles have examined individual texts, but few studies so far have
analyzed Rushdie's four novels as a body of work, or explored how history and fiction
are utilized to create and recreate existing stories and mythologies. One article that
does trace the use of history in Rushdie's first three novels (it was published before
The Satanic Verses was available), is entitled "History and the Individual in the Novels
of Salman Rushdie," by R.S. Pathak. This article argues what Rushdie himself has
stressed throughout his fictional works and in interviews and discussions of his
philosophy of fiction; that there is an interlocking and interdependent relationship
between history and the individual (Pathak 223). Rushdie studied history, "and his
studies and experiences have helped him evolve a distinct concept of historical processes
and their roles" (Pathak 207). These experiences include his personal as weil as
academic familiarity with the history of the Indian subcontinent, his migration from
India to Pakistan and then England, and his perception of himself as a political animal.
Combined with his academic and personal knowledge of the historical past and
theories of history are Rushdie's use and examination of concepts of narrative. As a
writer he is aware of the complexities of narrative, and especially the narrator.
Rushdie's fiction concentrates not only on conveying the story to the audience, but also
on the process of telling the story, on how it is told, how it is remembered and how it
is recorded. He is concerned with the recording of the present, and the revisioning of
the past in order tO accommodate optional realities.
This chapter has explored sorne of the theoretical perspectives of fiction and
narrative in relation to which Rushdie's work can be seen. The next chapter will
examine theories of history as an alternate and complimentary way of studying
Rushdie's works.

16
CHAPTER 3 THE NATURE OF HISTORY AND HISTORICAL NARRATIVE
(
"It never occurred to me to study English literature. It struck me that history included
everything else, anyway" (Rushdie, "PW Interviews" 49).

The argument over the nature of history - science or art or sorne combination of
the two - has a long past and no resolution in sight. As Ricoeur states in reference to
the true nature of history, "To resolve this problem 1 do not wish to surrender to the
easy solution that would consist in saying that history is an ambiguous discipline, half
literary, haIf scientific" (1: 91). He continues; "My thesis is that history the most
removed from the narrative form continues to be bound to our narrative understanding
by a line of derivation that we can reconstruct step by step and degree by degree with
an appropriate method" (Ricoeur 1:91).
For generations scholars have been debating the nature of history. In medieval
times it was included along with subjects such as rhetoric. In later centuries, as
historical methods and research became more precise, an argument was advanced in an
atlempt to unite history with the sciences, or at the very least, the pseudo sciences
(sociology, psychology, etcetera). This argument is still forwarded especially by the
advocates of the covering Iaw model. Since the development of what we today think of
as 'history', it seem that different beliefs or arguments about the nature of history have
come about as a reaction to an existing belief. As will be shown in this chapter, the
Annales school of thought grew as a counter or an anti-positivist movement, and in
response to the Annales school the covering law model developed.
The positivists, the first of the modern day historical theorists to be discussed, were
concerned with the scientific aspects of history, with obtaining the facts, discovering
the truth. They believed that one could actually possess the truth of an event and, by
doing so, one could re-create the past as it actually happened. Sorne scholars see
certain flaws in this belief for, "if historians are implicated in historical knowing, they
cannot propose the it"possible task for themselves of re-actualizing the past" (Ricoeur 1:
98-99). Ricoeur expands on this notion:
It is impossible for two reasons. First, history is a form of knowledge
only through the relation il establishes between the lived experience of
people of other times and today's historian. The set of procedures used
in history is part of the equation for historical knowing. The result of
this is that humanity's lived past can only be postulated (1: 99).
There are two distinct theories of history being presented here; the positivist and the
Annales school. The former is convinced of sorne absolute measure of truth, in the

f 17
immutable nature of fact, and in the 'scientific' aspect of history. The laller theory is
interpretive in nature; it is a theory of relativities rather then absolu tes. The Annales
school suggests a theory which feels that, "If history is the relationship of the historian
to the past, we cannot treat the historian as sorne perturbing factor added to the past
that must be eliminated" (Ricoeur 1: 99), while the positivists are:
Quite in accord with the methodological illusion that the historical fact
exists in sorne latent state in the documents and that the historian is a
parasite on the historical eQuation. Against this methodological illusion it
has to be affirmed that the initiative in history do(~s not belong to the
document but to the Question posed by the historian (Ricoeur 1: 99).
The Annales School, a response to positivism, was in turn challenged by another
theory, the covering law model. Marc Bloch was one historian who differed from the
Annales School in his view of history; he saw that "historical explanation essentially
consists in the constituting of chains of similar phenomena and in establishing their
interactions" (Ricoeur 1:100). Carrying this notion further was Karl Hempel in The
Function of General Laws in History (1942) whose central thesis was that the "general
laws have Quite analogous functions in history and in the natural sciences" (Ricoeur 1:
112). Thus the covering law model is an epistemology of history springing from logical
positivism. Hempel's beliefs put history in a category closer to science than to art.
According to him, history or at least events, can be measured empirically, depending on
conditions prior to the event, at the time of the event, and the results of the event.
Taking into consideration the different variables, a certain pallern should emerge, th us
allowing a general law to be established. This covering law model relies heavily on the
concept of cause and effect. Other concepts crucial to this model are law, cause and
expIanation: "An event is explained when it is 'covered' by a law and when its
antecedents are legitimately called its causes" (Ricoeur 1: 112). Aiso important is the
concept of prediction, one of the major rasons for developing scientific laws.
There are several problems with Hempel's theories. First, while he is stressing the
regularity of history and trying to elevate history to a science, it cannot be denied that
much of history is irregular and unscientific. All of the factors in a historical event
cannot be known nor can they be controlled. In science one can set up a control group
and can isolate different aspects of a situation to alter results. In history the different
factors are so closely interdependent that it is impossible to manipulate one without
affecting thern all. In science, when a factor is altered, the result too will change but
in an expected manner; in history no set result can be guaranteed (despite Mr. Hempel's
belief otherwise). And then there is the human aspect of history - one can never rely
on human beings reacting in a certain manner when subjected to specific stimuli for

Ig
hurnan beings by their very nature are unpredictable and the same person can react in a
different manner to identical situations. (Assuming two situations could be identical.)
A major weakness in Hempel's theory is his total disregard for the narrative nature
of history:
Hempel vehemently refuses to accord any actual epistemological value to
the procedure warranted by the terms empathy, understanding, or
interpretation, which refer to such so-called distinctive features of the
historical objects as meaning, relevance, determination or dependence
(Ricoeur 1: 114).
And as mentioned above, "Nothing in the construction of this model, therefore, refers
to the narrative nature of history, or to the narrative status of event, much less to the
particular specificity of historical time in relation to cosmological time" (Ricoeur 1 :114-
115).
Application of this model revealed its many flaws and weakened it to a point where
it eventually had to be abandoned. More recently a new concept of history has been
proposed, one which stresses the narrative aspects of history. This argument, one most
lucidly expounded by Hayden White, states that there is no absolute truth or fact, nor is
;here one true (his)story to be told, but rather a pool of data from which an historian
must choose. Once he has made his choice of which information to stress, and which
to exclude, he must then proceed in this interpretive action by deciding the order in
which to present evenls, and the tone of presentation. This is done through the use of
various narrative strategies, combining different modes of emplotment, argument,
ideological implication and tropes. Il is through the joining of historical data (which
can and should be gathered through the most scientifically accurate and advanced
methods that are available at the time), and pulting this data through the interpretive
process described above lhat the end product, the written historical document, is
achieved.
While it is obvious at what point history strays from the rigid path adhered to by
scientists, ilS connection .vith literature is perhaps not as clear. After all, literature and
history are often defined in contrast to one another; history is truth while literature is
fiction. Moreover, many argue that history deserves a central position between the
sciences and the arts; it is in a sense a bridge between the two. While on the surface
this can be believed, (scientific method + narrative or literary writing = history), once
one looks below the surface, a greater degree of compatibility between literature and
history is revealed.
Like history, literature involves a process of selection. The possibilities within a
story are infinite, and it is left to the writer to choose what information to include,

19
what to ignore and also how to emphasize importance. While the chronology of fiction
May be more flexible than that of history, there is still a temporal aspect to Most
stories, just as in history the author must decide the order in which the story wouId be
Most effectively presented. Often the author chooses to bend and manipulate
chronological time through the use of such devices as f1ashback, f1ashforward, and in
fiction, the dream sequence or hallucination. This last method can not really be
employed in historical works, for il involves information that is outside of 'real life'.
Dream sequences can be successfully used in fictional works for they are not necessarily
outside of the reality of the world of the characters; they are a useful means of
projecting the characters backward, forward or merely outside of the temporal order of
the story. They can also allow the author to enter the character's mind and to expose
the inner thoughts of the character to the reader.
As mentioned above, the process of selection is of the utmost importance to both
historical and literary narrative. While the historian has a finite pool of facts from
which to choose (in the sense of the number of facts that are known), it is only the
imaginative capacity of the writer the limits the data in literary works. Still, the
selection is vitaliy important in both cases; in history, the reader May have a
background in the subject matter, so the facts the author includes and stresses in the
mind of the reader will greatly affect his understanding and interpretation of the
narrative. In the case of literature, the reader enters the narrative with fewer and Jess
well-defined preconceptions and therefore the writer must include enough information
for the reader to comprehend the narrative without bombarding the reader with useless
or trivial detail. This aspect is also significant in historical narrative where the
background knowledge of the historian greatly exceeds the information necessary for
the narrative. If the writer of either type of narrative is not careful the result will be
either a list ad nausearn of dull and meaningless data, or boring pages of perhaps well-
writlen but insignlficant 'purple' prose. Often the silences Or spaces in the story and
the omissions are just as important as what actually appears in print.
Paul Ricoeur, in Volume 2 of Time and Narrative includes a chapter entitled
"Defenses of Narrative." ln it he traces the development of narrativist theories of
history. Arthur C. Danto, in his book Analytic Philosophy of History, is the first to
forward such a theory. Danto develops the definition of narrative sentences by stating
their function; narrative sentences "refer to at least two time-separated events though
they only describe (are only ll.!22!!!) the earliest event to which they refer (Ricoeur 2:
145-146),) or they "refer to two distinct and time-separated events, El and E2" and
they "describe the earliest of the events referred to" (Ricoeur 2: 146). This definition is
similar to that proposed by Gerald Prince in the previous chapter; that narrative consists

20
<:. of at least two real or fictive events, and that these events are :omehow related in time
and in content. These definitions are both functioning on the basic level of the
sentence, and include the idea of two related events that are separated by time. Both
definitions could be applied to historical or fictional writing, since narrative is the basis
of the two.
Danto introduces another idea relevant to both history and fiction. He writes;
"For the whole point of history is !!Q1 to know about actions as witnesses might, but as
historians do, in connection with later events and as parts of temporal wholes" (Ricoeur
2: 147). This is exa~t1y how the narrator in Mjdnjght's Children functions; he relates
the story (his story and history) of his life and of the birth of India from the vantage
point of the present which is, in relation to his story, the future. The narrator in
S!!.il.!n.e. also relates his tale in much the same manner.
Hayden White is a philosopher of history who specializes in the area of
historical narrative. His main premise is that history, and historical writing, have much
in common with literature and literary writing. While ,he acknowledges that certain
aspects of history involve 'scientific' activities (such as tiating artifacts), he insists that
the actual writing of history is closer to art than science. He does not believe in the
absolute value of data or facts, but rather that what may seem to be fact is actually an
Interpretation of the data and is thus neither irrefutable nor immutable.
So rather than concentrating on prodding history toward the scientific end of the
spectrum, White, in his many essays and books, has proposed a theory of narrative that
connects history to literature (art). White feels that a basic component of both
literature and history is narrative, and not necessarily two distinct forms of narrative.
ln fact, he charts out the different types of narrative that can/have been successfully
employed by historians in the writing of history based in part on categories developed
for studying literature. As mentioned above, history in White's view cannot be
classified as a science, or even a social science because the scientific aspect of history
(collecting data, evidence) is just that - an aspect of history and nowhere near the
whole. When one has gathered this information a certain process of selectio!l takes
place as one decides which facts to ignore, which facts to include, which to stress,
etcetera. Then one must decide in what order to present them, and in which narrative
form. White hasanalyzed historical narrative by breaking it down into categories and
then charting these categories in order to demonstrate the range of variations.
ln the book MetahistQrv Hayden White sets out to answer the following questiQns;
"What does it mean tQ think histQrically, and what are the unique characteristics of a
specifically historical method Qf inquiry?" (1). He apprQaches historical works in a way

21
f.~ that will prove most valuable to our understanding of Salman Rushdie's fiction. White

--
,!j f:,
states:
In order to realize these aims, l will consider the historical work as what
it most manifestly is - that is to say, a verbal structure in the form of a
narrative prose discourse that purports to be a model, or icon, of past
structures and processes in the interest of explaining what they were by
representng them (2).
By history White means narrative history, something more complex than a
chronicle or an annal. The word narrative, signifies that there is a story being told,
with ail the important features of a story; a plot, characters, a beginning, middle and
end. Yet history is not the mere re-telling of 'what happened', because no one person
can ever be certain of ail the 'faclS' or data of an event, even if one experienced it
personally. Facts themselves can be subjective, and the choices an historian makes also
dismiss the notion of pure objectivity in a historical work.
One can determine much similarity between the process described above, and
the process involved in writing a fictional work. Of course, the 'facts' of fiction are
less verifiable than those of history, but they still do exist. The author can employa
combination of fictional data and 'real' (i.e. historical) data in whatever combination he
believes will be most beneficial to his work. S/he chooses which to suppress, and
which to highlight. S/he uses ail the same narrative devices as an historian: metaphor
simile, etcetera. This act of choosing which fact to include and which tO suppress or
exclude creates a certain silence that is present in both forms of narrative. Sometimes
(especially in fictional writing) what is not said, that is what is implied or even what is
never mentioned in an obvious way, can be of vital importance to the story. Historicat
style consists not only of what is said, but how it is said:
Before the historian can bring to bear upon the data of the historical
field the conceptual apparatus he will use to represent and explain it, he
must first ~figure the field - that is to say, constitute is as an object
of mental perception. This poetic act is indistinguishable from the
linguistic act in which the field is made ready for Interpretation as a
domain of a particular kind (White 30).
Historical accounts purport to be verbal models, or icons, of specifie segments of
the historical process:
In oroer to figure "what ~ happened' in the past, theref/j"~, the historian
must first ~figure as a possible objeet of knowledge the ':/hole set of events
reported in the documents. This prefigurative act is ~ill: inasmuch as it is
precognitive and precritical in the economy c: the histotian's own consciousness.

22
Il is also poetic insofar as it is constitutive of the structure that will
( subsequently be imaged in the model offered by the historian as a representation
and explanation of "what ~ happened in the past". But it is constitutive not
only of a domain which the historian can treat as a possible object of (mental)
perception. Il is also constitutive of the concepts he will use to jdentify the
objects that inhabit that domain and to chgrgcterize the kinds of relationships
they can sustain with one another. In the poetic act which precedes the formai
analysis of the field, the historian both creates his object of analysis and
predetermines the modality of the conceptual strategies he will use to explain it
(White 30-31).
What White is describing here is an artistic and imaginative act of taking ail of
the data available, be it from historicat or mental archives, and giving it a structure
which will lead to a certain Interpretation. Il is this act of projecting a form and a
meaning onto the events and characters that allows the same subject matter to be
treated as romance, tragedy, comedy, satire, etcetera. This process is equally important
in both historical and fictional narrative.
Louis O. Mink, another historica! philosopher, dismisses the notion of history as
science or pseudo-science by pointing out the very serious flaws in positivism and the
covering law mode!, and by proposing, in their place his belief that history is by nature
a narrative. To Mink, narrative is not just a Iiterary device, but it is an actua! form of
human comprehension, a cognitive instrument in its own right. The story is history's
primary organizing scheme, and the basic structure of a narrative, Iike a story, is a
beginning, a middle and an end.
Here the conne':tion between history and fiction becomes obvious. The basis of
both is the story, and the telling of the story so as to make apparent the relationship
and significance of different events, and to make the story what Gallie caIls
'followable'. Mink explains:
History does of course differ from fiction insofar as it is obligated to rest upon
evidence of the ,~=currence in real space and time of what it describes and
insofar as it must grow out of a critical assessment of the received materials of
history, inc!uding the analyses and Interpretations of other historians. But the
researches of historians, however arduous and technical, onty increase the
amount and precision of knowledge of facts which remain contingent and
discontinuous. Il is by being assigned to stories that they become intelligible
and increase understanding by going beyond "What?" and "When?" to "How?" and
"Why?" (47).

23
.,. To Mink, understanding a story is crucial. This is done through a process of
....
,.1 ~;
visualizing:
the thought of past and futures, of past futures and future pasts. Memory,
imagination, and conceptualization ail serve this function, whatever else they do:
they are ways of grasping together in a single mental act things which are not
experenced together, or even capable of being so experienced, because they are
separated by time, space (etc.) (49).
Through his writing Mink shows why history cannot and should not be classified
as a science or proto-science. Like Hayden White, he acknowledges certain scientific
aspects of historical research, but Mink also believes that history by nature is a
narrative, that it is this rather than science or positivism, which guides and structures
history. Historians can never totally dissociate themselves from narrative; "For it is as
narrative, or as essentially connected with narrative, that historical knowledge is
transmilled, if at ail, from professional historians to the common culture" (90-91).
In addition to narrative theory, the rational model has been proposed as an
alternative or counterstrategy to the covering law model:
In general, the "rational model" undertakes to account for explanations of
intentional actions which show that the action performed was the regsonnbte
thing to do for someone situated like the agent in those circumstances. Il is
essential, in the argument supporting this model, that our understanding of a
given action as "the reasonable thing to do" does not depend on any
generalization to the effect that ail or most men (or even ail or most rational
men, since rational men do not always act rationally) act in this way in similar
circumstances (Mink 123).
Thus, while there may seem to be certain patterns developing, this model can only be
applied to one individual case at a time, and will fail in cases where the agent acts
irrationally. The other alternative, the narrative model:
is Jess restrcted. It urges that a ~ may be a complete and adequate
explanation of an event belonging to that story. To the extent that it is
incomplete, it is improved by filling in more of the story, not by bridging the
gaps with generalizations (Mink 123).
While we may employ generalizations within a story, it is still the story itself that is the
explanatory force, for "generalizations may be involved in the credibility of the story
but not in its ability to make events and actions intelligible" (Mink 123). Mink again
stresses that it is the specifics of fiction and history that differ, thus making them sub-
groups of the larger category narrative:

24
( Among the advantages of the narrative model (shared to sorne extent by the
rational model as weil) is the fact that it preserves our sense that the difference
between narrative history and fiction lies not in the kinds of intelligibility and
understanding they respectively afford, but in the nature and kinds of evidence
for the truth of their statements (123).
The above discussion leads Mink to propose a theory of narrative not only as a
structural basis for history, but as a cognitive instrument, a system of understanding
and communicating knowledge:
Even though narrative form may be, for most people, associated with fairy tales,
myth and the entertainments of the novel, il remains true that narrative is a
primary cognitive instrument - an instrument rivalled, in fact, only by theory
and by metaphor as irreducible ways of making the flux of experience
comprehensible. Narrative form as it is inhibited in both history and fiction is
particularly important as a rival to theoretical explanation or understanding
( 185).
Mink provides us with a clear point of departure: narrative, be it historical or
literary, is a "primary and irreducible form of human comprehension" (I86), it is within
itself a system of understanding and of communicating knowledge. History and fiction,
as elements of this system, have Many common characteristics. Yet despite their
similarities, they must and do remain separate entities.

f 25
~

; f,,' CHAPTER 4 GRIMUS AS A NOVEL AND AS AN


....:. INTRODUCTION TO RUSHDIAN THEORIES OF HISTORY

"The paSl ... is a country we have ail emigrated from" (Rushdie, "After Midnight" 136).

SaIman Rushdie's novels are based on history: theories of history, the creation of
history and the rewriting and revisioning of historical facts and events already in
existence. Although he is ultimately writing works of fiction, Rushdie is weil aware of
the connection between history and fiction, and uses them both in the creation of his
novets.
One critic, Uma Parameswaran, describes Rushdie's art as being "Handcuffed to
History." This tille is accurate because ail of Rushdie's writing is dependent upon
either historical events or theories of history. He has written several short stories which
are influenced by real occurrences in history or politics, and which tend to reappear in
his longer works of fiction. One example is the short story "The Prophet's Hair,"
which:
i. is based on the same incident as the historical event included in the
1 novel [Midnight's Childrenl - a relie of hair of the Prophet allegedly
r
1 stolen from a Kashmir mosque, an event that set off communal clashes
1
and caused a flare-up of Indo-Pakistani hostilities in 1964 (Parameswaran
35).
A strand of the Prophet's hair was again reported stolen in a Middle Eastern newspaper
,l'
~.
last year, but was fortunately recovered before damage occurred. Another short story,
t' "The Free Radio," deals with the subject of nasbandi - government sponsored
t vasectomies - and the "government propaganda that initially lured men into vasectomy
i
by gifting a transistor radio to each volunteer" (Parameswaran 35). This government
scheme resurfaced in Midnight's Children in the character of Saleem who "becomes a
~
i transmitting station, and is later forcibly vasectomized" (Parameswaran 36).
t. A more recent story, which has ties to The Satanic Verses, is entitled "Untime
r of the Imam." Il is a nightmarish tale of an :~tolerant religious fanatic who lives in
i, exile as the head of a movement determined to make a revolution "that is a revoit not
only against a tyrant but against history" (Rushdie, "Untime of the Imam" 56).
i
!, According to the doctrine of the Imam, who clearly represents the Ayatollah Khomeini
during his exiled days in France, it is History herself that it the Great enemy:
History, the intoxicant, the creation and possession of the Devil, of the
Great Shaitan, the greatest of the lies - progress, science, rights - against
which the Imam has set his face (Rushdie, "Untime of the Imam" 56).

26
The Imam seeks not just to challenge history, but to destroy it and time forever, and to
put in their place a state of perpetuai changelessness and untime. Rushdie, too,
confronts history, but his aim is to disrupt its rigid and fixed ideas of the past and
force change, not stagnation.
Grimus. his first novel, belongs to the fantasy genre, and is not directly linked
to historical events in the same way as the short stories discussed above, and his
subsequent novels: Midnight's Children, ~, and The Satanic Verses. They are
intimately linked to the historical and political events of the subcontinent, but Grimus
is linked to the concepts of History (with a capital H), in conjunction with time, change
and immortality. Grimus is a tale of fantasy, of magic potions that grant life eternal,
of alien creatures and of travel through space and time to other dimensions. The story
does not fit into the trilogy formed by Rushdie's other fictional works, but serves as a
means of presenting themes and concepts vital to later works.
Grimus, his first novel, provides an opportunity for Rushdie to discuss some of
his ideas about history. Rushdie studied history at Cambridge and has a special interest
in the subject. Throughout his novels, we find that his concepts of history revealed
through his presentations of history, his story and through his narrators' and
protagonists' views, have some similarities to the concepts of the Annales school.
The basic premise of the story of Grimus is fairly simple; three men, Virgil,
Deggle and Grimus discover a Stone Rose of incredible powers which was left by alien
Iife forms. These powers include enabling these men to travel to other dimensions of
time and space, conceptualizing other worlds, and granting immortality to themselves
and to others. The three choose certain mortals they deem worthy of everlasting life,
and provide them with a world, Calf Island (an anglicized spelling of the Arabic Kaf)
(The Koran), where they would be among their own kind. FJapping Eagle, the hero, is
one of those chosen.
Power changes the men; Deggle steaIs a branch of the Stone Rose, Virgil is
incapacitated by Dimension Fever, and Grimus sets himself up on a mountain top as a
kind of deity. The inh~'.litants of Calf Island, rather than being inspired by their
immortality, commit suicide or become so obsessive that they are no longer sane.
Flapping Eagle, dissatisfied with seven hundred years of earth life, journeys to
Calf Island. Il becomes apparent that Deggle's damaging of the Rose has caused a
weakness in the very foundations of the island which is manifested in blinks of time
and space. Il is Flapping Eagle's duty, as the Grimus look-alike, to vanquish Grimus
and become his son and successor.
One of the major concepts introduced here, and pursued throughout his later
works, is the idea that participating in history signifies influencing history.

27
Participating means recording, telling or even just living, for all acts have the potential
to be historical events. When Mr. Jones is first introduced to Flapping Eagle, he does
not know that he is "about to make his rendezvous with a small historical event"
(Rushdie, Grimus Il), for:
If he had known, he would have philosophized at length about the
parade of history, about the historian's inability to stand apart and watch;
it was erroneous, he would have said, to look upon oneself as an
Olympian chronicler; one was a member of the parade. An historian is
affected by the present events that eternally recreate the past (Rushdie,
Grimus 12).
R.S. Pathak in the article "History and the Individual in the Novels of Salman
Rushdie," appears to misread the above quote specifically, and Rushdie's view of history
generally. Pathak states that the narrator's assessment of Mr. Jones:
seems to represent Rushdie's own concept of history. The historian,
according to this viewpoint, has to 'stand apart and watch' the parade of
history and pay particular attention to the present events that eternally
recreate the past (216).
1 believe Rushdie writes here, and demonstrates throughout his fiction, that the
historian does and must participate in the creation of history. The entire novel
Midnight's Children is built on this premise. The importance of the historian, be s/he
a character or the narrator, cannot be underestimated. If the historian participates in
history, then surely s/he must influence it too.
This novel, unlike the others, is not set in a specific time period (true - some of
The Satanic Verses is set in a mythical past, but the main story-Iine takes place in
modern day Britain), but there are some clues that help to situate the story. Bird-Dog,
Flapping Eagle's sister, takes her name from a 'singing machine' that "sang about a
creature called a bird-dog, clever, fiendish" (Rushdie, Grimus 18). This is a reference
to a 1950s song by the Everly Brothers. Flapping Eagle tells us he has been alive for
over seven hundred and seventy seven years, and that, "Ali the people on the island ...
seem to come from a time roughly contemporaneous with the time 1 took the Elixir"
(Rushdie, Grimus lOI). Flann Napoleon O'Toole, a resident of the island, says to
another who is avoiding a fight, '''Twoud be an act of true pacifism. For which 1
believe the Sanskrit word is Ahimsa. Mr Gandy himself'd be proud of you" (Rushdie,
Grimus 138). The 'Mr Gandy' mentioned here is of course the Mahatma Gandhi; thus
the story takes place at least some seven hundred years past the mid-1900's.
Immortality is topic of interest in the novel. Calf Island is the refuge of those
immortals who can no longer tolerate existence amongst mortals. Most reside in the

28
town of K, with a few living at the seashore and a few others, Grimus included, on the
mountain. To survive within their immortal states (they are capable of ending their
lives by commilling suicide that is violent to the body), they all become obsessive about
someone or thing. The object of their obsession can be almost anything: love, hate,
good deeds, revolution, or each other. One citizen of K cushions himself with a
protective layer of study. In normal Iife one never has enough time to follow one's
theories through to the end; here on Calf Island that is no longer a problem. Ignatius
Quasimodo (I.Q.) Gribb elucidates his interest:
Many years ago, he said,. l became engrossed in the notion of race-
memory: the sediment of highly concentrated knowledge that passes down
the ages, constantly being added to and subtracted from. Il struck me
that the source-material of this body of knowledge must be the stuff
itself of philosophy (Rushdie, Grimus 160).
Ironically, the true purpose of this endeavour is to create "The All-Purpose Quotable
Philosophy."
Grimus, the possessor of the Stone Rose, considers Iife o~ Calf Island a kind of
laboratory experiment:
This is the nature of Kaf: il is an allempt to understand human nature
by freeing it from its greatest instinctual drive, the ne~d to preserve the
species through reproduction. The Elixir of Life is a beautifully two-
edged weapon, removing at a stroke the possibility of reproduction by
sterilizing Recipients, and also nullifying the need to reproduce by
conferring immortality. The island, furthermore, is plentiful and fertile.
Scarcity, too, has been removed. Ali of which necessilates a profound
change in human behaviour, a change which l believed would reveal our
true natures far more exactly. Il is a fine combinalion, sterile immortals
and fertile land. A most rewarding study.
Analysts of the mythical mountain of Kaf have called il a model for the
structure and/orkings of the human mind. Filting, then, that the actual
Mountain should be a structure created to examine the interests (and enable the
death) of one human mind (Rushdie, Grimus 292).
Flapping Eagle, the hero of the story, has to develop his own obsession in order to
survive immortality and the Grimus Effect. I.Q. Gribb describes Flapping Eagle's
obsession as, "this preoccupation with simplistic expianations of origin - which is all
creation myths are-" (Rushdie, Grimus 185) and exclaims that this type of study is
valueless'.

29
Hayden White's first involvement in a major publication was his appearance as co-
editor of a symposium on Vico, (Giambattisla Vico: An International Symposium.
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1969), the originator of several important theories
of history. Among the basics of Vico's beliefs was his designation of the three ages or
stages in the development of mankind the age of the gods, the age of heroes, and the
age of man (Bidney 263). Other important ideas include the 'ideal eternal history',
Vico's schematic account of the successive ages through which nations have run their
course," and 'ricorsi' in which subsequent ages have repeated the patterns of those that
came before," and his theories on myth (Hughes 319-320).
David Bidney explores the topic of myth in his article, "Vico's New Science of
Myth." He elaborates on one of the ideas mentioned above; that mankind is divided
into three stages of development:
The age of the gods is the prehistoric, primitive age of culture or
civilization and corresponds to the infancy of mankind. The age of
heroes marks the beginning of the civil or political state and corresponds
to the youth of the human race. The age of man represents the stage of
development to mature, rational humanity (Bidney 263).
Bidney continues:
Finally, in the fourth or final stage, decline sets in, as in the old age of
the individual, and the civilization disintegrates. The cycle from the
birth to the death of a civilization is a course preordained by divine,
civil providence and tends to be fulfilled regardless of the plans and
motivation of the individual actors at a given time or place (263).
In his study of myth, Vico reached the conclusion that myths are not mere fictional or
imaginative writings but that they actually may convey much ethnological information
for, "Myths constitute a record of the mentality and culture of primitive and ancient
man" (Bidney 265). Bidney explains that Vico considers myths to have both a
subjective and objective ethnological value:
Subjectively, and psychologically, they tell us how primitive man thought
and expressed himself in his narratives and tradition, regardless of the
truth of his beliefs. Objectively, when properly analyzed the myths may
reveal to the scholar historical truths concerning the sociocultural Iife of
primitive man. Vico further insists that through semantic, etymological
analysis the scholar may reconstrJct the prehistory of primitive man,
since the myths contain references, in allegorical form, to significant
historical events in the life of primitive man (265).

30
c Although Vico's analysis goes deeper than what is mentioned here, the most important
aspect in terms of this thesis has been noted: that Vico did appreciate the historicat
value of mythical narratives as containing evidence of the evolution of thought and
civilization in prehistoric times. The importance of myth cannot be overlooked in
either India or the works of SaI man Rushdie.
Mythology and rebirth are two vital themes in Grimus. Mythological, as weil as
historical, names are used in this novel and include Jocasta, of the Oedipus story which
has become a myth-Iike, Sisyphus who here counts rather than pushes stones, and
Grimus himself, who takes his name from, "a respect for the philosophy contained in
the myth of the Simurg, the myth of the Great Bird which contains ail other birds and
in turn is contained by them" (Rushdie, Grimus 292). The Simurg is a creature from
the Persian book of kings, the Shahnamah by Firdausi (Zimmern 33-41). The bird
discovers and nurturcs into adulthood a child that had been abandoned by his father
due to his unnaturally white hair which gives the appcarance of age. The father and
son are eventually reunited, with the son coming into his rightful inheritance. The
combination of age and youth within the story compliments the perpetuai youth yet old
age of immortality on Calf Island. Also there is the idea of adoption, and of heredity
and inheritance.
Historical names occur in abundance in this book, from a variety of time
periods and cultures. Mr. O'Toole's middle name is Napoleon and he runs a tavern
called the Elbaroom; the local "House of the Rising Son" is managed by a Madam called
Jocasta. Mr. Jones has three initiaIs, V. B. C., which stand for Virgil (Biblical),
Beauvoir (Simone?), and Chanakya (ancient philosopher king). The narrator says about
Virgil's names, "These were historical names, names to conjure with, and Mr. Jones,
though no conjurer, considered himself something of an historian" (Rushdie, Grimus
Il ).
I.Q. Gribb, who Iike Flapping Eagle was a late arrivai to Calf Island, tells about
his experience:
When 1 arriver! 1 found a certain number of unfortunate myths which 1
have made it my business to expunge from the minds of the townspeople.
It is incidentally an interesting corollary study to my work on race-
memory: the growth of a mythology in a single, long-Iived generation
(Rushdie, Grimus 163).
Flapping Eagle, confused, asks I.Q. Gribb if he means that Grimus does not exist, to
which Gribb replies:

if
31
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes ... Naturally that is what 1 say. And nor do his
precious machine, nor his supposed dimensions, nOr any of it. It's ail the
babbling of an idiot like Jones; sound and fury, signifying nothing
(Rushdie, 163).
So in this world of infinite dimensions and endless realilies, the very things that have
conceptualized and created the world have for its inhabitants ceased to exist in a real
sense, and have become a mythology.
Rebirth lies at the very core of the concept of Calf Island; it is through Iheir
rebirth into immortality that the islanders live, through Grimus' conceptualization or
birth of imagination that Calf Island exists, and through Flapping Eagle's
reconceptualization or mental rebirth that they ultimately cease to be. In many ways
Flapping Eagle personifies rebirth; his formai Axona (Indian) name was Born-from-
Dead because his mother had died moments before giving birth, and his common name
Joe-Sue, describes his hermaphroditic state until some time after his birth. He is
reborn when he takes his brave's name, Flapping Eagle, and again when he drinks the
yellow elixir of eternal life. Grimus, his alter ego, seeks him out to become his son
and heir to his kingdom. Grimus' master plan is similar to the Phoenix myth:
Through death the annihilation of self, the Phoenix passes ils selfhood on
to its successor. That is what 1 hope to do with you. Flapping Eagle.
Named for the king of earthly birds. You are to be the next stage of the
cycle, the next bearer of the flag, Hercules succeeding Atlas. In the
midst of death we are in life (Rushdie, Grimus 293).
Much earlier in the text there is a hint of Ihis idea:
The town was called Phoenix because il had risen from the ashes of a
great fire which had completely destroyed the earlier and much larger
city also called Phoenix (Rushdie, Grimus 10).
Like the legendary bird and the town, Flapping Eagle is to rise from the flames and be
reborn.
Despile the complex ideas, such as immortality, travel in time and through
dimensions, the structure of the book is quite simple and follows basic chronological
order. The first section of the novel entitled 'Times Present' moves in space from Calf
Island to Amerindia and back to the island, and travels in Hnear time from Flapping
Eagle's twenty-first birthday to his arrivai on the island some seven hundred year later.
The second section, 'Times Past', outlines the background and endless present of
the denizens of K. In order to protect themselves from the destructive nature of the
Grimus Effect which is causing the graduai disintegration of Calf Island, the town
people have thrown themsel~es into obsessive behaviour that denies change. If a crack

32
( appears in that behaviour, if they begin to doubt, then they will succumb to Dimension
Fever and die. Flapping Eagle's initial acceptance of the way of Iife in K grants him a
certain sense of calm:
Time is passing more slowly now, thought Flapping Eagle, and felt
nearly happy. To be in K was to return to a consciousness of history, of
good times, even of nationhood: O'Toole, Cherkassov ... Iike them or not,
the names conjured a past world back to Iife. Here in the womb of the
Gribb drawing-room he felt - and found - comfort (Rushdie, Grimus
162).
Because Iife is indefinite and nothing is allowed to change, there is no sense of
anticipation in K, and there seems to be no future. One of the characters explains,
"My husband lives too much in the past; we ail do 1 suppose. Vou must not think him
mad. He is quite sane" (Rushdie, Grimus 180). And so she believes are ail the others
who continue in their assigned roles, remaining forever the same. Il is only those Iike
Virgil who break free of self-imposed limitations that are considered mad. Virgil
realizes that Flapping Eagle too is different from the others on the Calf Island. At first
he tries to convince him to alter his ways to fit those of the island:
Dy the heavens, Mr Eagle, you do seem to have led a rather epic Iife.
l'm afraid we can offer you no stories to match yours. We live wholly
in the microcosm, you see; the state of my corns and the state of nations
are to me of equal concern. 1 don't want at ail to preach but 1 would
recommend that you adapt yourself to minutiae, they are so much less
confusing (Rushdie, Grimus 51).
In Rushdie's books, however, it is the minutiae that become epic; the smallest twitch
that changes the course of history of nations. Virgil soon realizes that it is Flapping
Eagle's destiny to confront Grimus, and helps him in his quest.
The third section, 'Grimus', is the scene of the succession of Flapping Eagle and
the reconceptualization of Calf Island. Before this can be accomplished, both Flapping
Eagle and the reader 1 USt be supplied with additional information about Grimus, the
Stone Rose and its powers. This is done in the form of a diary, writlen by Virgil, and
read aloud to Flapping Eagle by Virgil's wife, Liv. This is an interesting narrative
device, for it allows the reader and certain characters access to detail they would
otherwise not have had. The method used is much less obtrusive than other methods,
such as the narrator saying, "Wail. The hero needs the following information before he
can succeed." The section of text is a framed narrative in the sense that the diary was
written by Virgil, but 'framed' or being told by Uv.

33
More than one narrative voice exists in this text. The first to appear is a third
person omniscient voice that is viewing the activities of Dolores and Virgil lIn Calf
Island. This narrator is not a character in the novel. The next narrative voice is an
uncertain voice that begins in the third person, describing "the young man," and
develops into the first person, "1 was the boy. 1 was Joe-Sue" (Rushdie, Grimus 15).
Joe-Sue is a character, and the narrator claims to be .Toe-Sue, yet also maintains a
distance between himself and the character he claims to be. Statements, such as "Il was
Joe-Sue's birthday: 1 got up and went outside," demonstrate this distance. Part of the
space could be due to the fact that there are seven hundred years and several rebirths
between the characters Joe-Sue and Flapping Eagle. Still, this narrator says he is Joe-
Sue, not Flapping Eagle, yet chooses to allow the gap to continue. There seems to be
another third person narrator, separate from Flapping Eagle, who is probably the same
narrator that opened the story. In the hierarchy of narrators it is the third person
omniscient that exists at the top, occupying the greatest amount of time and space of
the text. Yet at the beginning, and at the end of the text, other voices, the I/he of
Joe-Sue and the narrator, the framed diary, and the Iinked voice of F1apping Eagle and
Grimus "(1 was Flapping Eagle.) (1 was Grimus.)" (Rushdie, Grimus 305), are significant
not only to the story, but also to the discourse. The united Grimus/Eagle voice is a
product of the Subsumer, a commingling device. A part of Grimus joins Flapping
Eagle, just as a part of Flapping Eagle leaves to join Grimus: "My son, my son, what
father fathered a son Iike this, as 1 do in my sterility" (Rushdie, Grimus 306). Much
earlier Deggle gives a hint of this process when he tells Flapping Eagle; ''l've become
my own descendent, as a matter of fact, or my own ancestor depending on your
historical perspective" (Rushdie, Grimus 39). The multitude of voices represents the
multitude of possibilities and dimensions that exist within the worlds of Grimus.
As mentioned before, Grimus allows Rushdie to introduce ideas that he pursues
in iater books. The critic Parameswaran points out that:
Grimus has several other characteristics in cornmon with Midnight'S
Children, sorne of which are more full developed and sorne vestigially
present. Most important is the concept of a novel as propounded by
Elfrida, one of the characters in Grimus (37).
Parameswaran cites Elfrida's reaction to a story she has just heard:
1 don't like it.... It's too pretty, too neat. 1 do not care for stories that
are so, so tight. Stories should be like life, slightly frayed at the edges,
full of loose ends and lives juxtaposed by accident rather that sorne
grand design. Most of life has no meaning - so il must surely be a
distortion of life to tell tales in which every single element is

34
meaningful?... How terrible to have to see a meaning or a great import in
everything around one, everything one does, cverything that happens to
one! (Rushdie, Qrimus 149).
The article points out that the same idea is discussed in Midnight's Children by the
narrator Saleem:
And there are os many stories to tell, too many, such an excess of
intertwined lives events miracles places rumours, so dense a commingling
of the improbable and mundane! 1 have been a swallower of lives; and
to know me, just one of me, you'lI have to swallow the lot as weil
(Rushdie, Mjdnight's Children 9).
Parameswaran describes "this amoeba-Iike fission and fusion" as being "the
distinguishing trait of the narrative voice or persona in both novels" (37-38).
The metamorphoses of Flapping Eagle throughout the stages of male child,
hermaphroditic Joe-Sue to a merged yet distinct being Grimus represents this
fission/fusion aspect. In Midnight's Children two characters demonstrate this quality:
Tai the storyteller represents the synthesistic fusion of time-events; he is
the repository of "racial memory," to use Yeats' term ... Saleem represents
this compression of history as a less harmonious process. Under
alternating fission-fusion, his individual identity is by turn fragmented
and enlarged by the "intertwined lives" around hirn; he becomes the
repository of a national memory (Parameswaran 38).
There are many different sellings and times within Grimus. In the past, before
journeying to Calf Island, there are two places for Flapping Eagle to live: on the
tableau of the Axona, or on the Outside. Calf Island, which exists in the past and
perpetuai present, is divided into three areas: the beach, K, and Grimushome. Other
dimensions include the Gorf's dimension of Thera, and also the distant past and
locations describeil in Virgil's diary.
Much of Grimus rests on the idea that another dimension exists:
Is it not a conceptual possibility that here, in our midst, permeating ail
of us, is a completely other world ... with different perceptual tools which
make us as non-existent to its inhabitants as they are to ours? (Rushdie,
Grimus 55).
Time, too, exists simultaneously in different dimensions, for:
Similarly with Time, since there is always a Space-Time continuum in
each world; the past, present and future coexist, and though ordinary
human beings can move only in the present, there might be some (like

35
the inhabitants of Calf Island) who can move from one dimension to the
other (Parameswaran 36).
Flapping Eagle's background outside of Calf Island, and Virgil's journal are the
on1y true instances of the past in the novel. While the reader knows that the town of
K has a past (I.Q. Gribb speaks of it), ail that is seen is a fixed state of the present,
epitomized in Irina Cherkassov's eternal pregnancy; "frozen within [her] as the lovers on
the Grecian urn" (Rushdie, Grimus 182). Virgil advises Flapping Eagle to "Concentrate
on the ~ ... Don't worry about the ~ or the pasto Or the future" (Rushdie,
Grimus 100). When Flapping Eagle arrives on the island, he causes something 10
happen that never should have: change. Dolores fights the change by an insistence on
her beliefs; "It is yesterday, she whispered. Everyday is yesterday, so every day is
fixed" (Rushdie, Grimus 60).
Rushdie's exploration of time and space are connected to his views of history,
for "an Interpretation of history presupposes an approach to time and temporal
sequences" (Pathak 216). Pathak quotes an article from T.S. Eliot's Selected Prose in
order to address the idea of 'historical sense':
The historical sense, T.S. Eliot remarks, "involves a perception, not only
of the past, but of its presence." This consciousness of history, he adds,
is "a sense of the timeless as weil as of the temporal and of the timeless
and of the temporal together," making a person genuinely "conscious of
his place in time, of his own contemporaneity" (Pathak 216).
Life on Calf Island, Saleem's sojourn in the jungle, Sufiya's trances and Gibreel's
dreams ail involve a type of timelessness, and much of Rushdie's literature seeks to
distort chrono- or any other kind of logical time. In Grimus Rushdie writes about "an
infinity of continua, of possibilities both present and future, the free-play of time
itself, bent and shaped into a zoo for your personal enjoyment" (Rushdie, Grimus 252).
History, narrative, obsession, experimentation with time - these are just sorne of
the ideas introduced in Grimus, Rushdie's first novel, and developed in greater detai! in
his subsequent novels.

36
CHAPTER 5 THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE HISTORIES OF SALEEM
SINAI AND THE INDIAN SUB-CONTINENT IN MlDNIGHTS CHILDRJ;N

"Fiction is history, human history, or it is nothing" (Henry James 17).

Midnight's Children is the first in a trilogy of novels about the Indian sub-
continent and the emerging independent nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
~, the second book in the loosely-structured trilogy, is a satiric look at political
and cultural Iife within the Islamicized country, Pakistan, and the final book, The
Satanic Verses, follows sub-continental immigrants to their new lives in England.
Although the three novels are very different in structure and style, certain common
themes can be discerned. One major theme is the search for identity, be it national,
cultural or individual. Midnight's Children is the story of a person, and a nation,
coming to terms with their freedom, and striving to survive with dignity and morality
in a hostile and immoral world. Success is not guaranteed, l'et hope is kept alive.
~ is harsher and Jess hopeful. It is a parody, and its allusions to Pakistani politics,
while often amusing, can also be cruel.
Despite his many faults and mistakes, Saleem Sinai, the narrator, is basically a
positive character, and the reader is encouraged to identify and associate with him.
The characters in Shame are parodies to such an exaggerated degree that it is impossible
to think of them as real, and therefore this strong association between reader and
characters is not possible. The Satanic Verses is unsettling because its characters are the
most real, and l'et the most fantastic. The England of the novel is modern-day
England; the problems are authentic and are Iikely to have been experienced by many
immigrants. The true-to-life story of sub-continental immigrants in England today is
juxtaposed with events that couId only occur in a dream, or in a nightmare.
Midnights's Children also has elements of fantasy, but they are aspects of the text, and
are validated within the world of the novel. ln The Satanic Verses, the strange
occurrences happen in dreams that seep into reality, eventually making it impossible to
differentiate between the Iwo states of being.
One of the main concepts that is pursued throughout Midnight's Children is the
balance between the two stories being told: the public story of the history of the sub-
continent, and the private story of Saleem's life. Of course, one cannot reall)' undo the
narrative elements, discourse and story, for the two parts are entirely interdependent,
and it is only through their being together that the whole is able to exisl.
The personal aceount of Saleem Sinai's life is told by him to Padma, his devoted
listener:

37
And the story he tells her is that of a life which seeks to draw its whole world
..J into a web of meaning and unmeaning, transmuting the material of thirty years'
boyhood and young manhood in India into a tale which is at once autobiography
and national history, political diatribe and legend, and[sic] exercise in memory
and a reflection on the workings of memory, an undiminished modern myth and
a phenomenology of the consciousness which is creating that myth (Swann 353).
Language is an important aspect of the novel Midnigh!,s Children. English is
the language used because:
writing in Gujarati, or Tamil, or Bengali confers on the writer a regional
identity that unavoidably takes precedence over his 'identity' as an Indian. That
is why the Indian novel, the novel that tries to encapsulate the whole of Indian
reality can, as yet, be written only in English (Cronin 201).
Like G.V. Desani before him in the novel Ali About H. Hallerr, Rushdie
develops an exotic and powerful blend of proper and 'babu' English. Rushdie adds 10
this blend expressions directly translated from Urdu, Hindi, as weil as words left in the
vernacular language. Il is how these Indian words are used that creates the forceful
effect of the language:
Rushdie uses phonemes and word patterns to suggest the vigour and liveliness of
folk culture, the pace and variety of urban life, the mythology of Bombay films,
the brash exuberance of affluence, the violence simmering and on the boil .,.
His prose, liberally sprinkled with Urdu, Hindi, and Sanskrit names, the
deliberately uncontrolled flow of sentence with repetition and sonorous content,
suggests the chant of Indian traditional texts (Couto 63).
The protagonist, Saleem Sinai, is a mixture of many cultures and religions. Born
and raised as a Kashmiri Moslem in Bombay, he is by birth the son of a low-caste
Hindu and Englishman. His distinctive blue eyes and protruding nose represent his
mistaken biological, yet very real emotiorial, Iink to his Kashmiri heritage, as weil as
his inheritance from his French ancestors on his English father's side. Saleem is forever
in s~arch of his identity, constantly adopting surrogate parents. Saleem tells the reader:
my inheritance includes this gift, the gift of inventing new parents for myself
whenever necessary. The gift of giving birth to fathers and mothers ... How
many things people notions we bring with us into the world, how many
possibilities and also restrictions of possibilities! - Because ail of these were the
parents of the child born that midnight, and for every one of the midnight
children there were as many more (Rushdie, Midnight's 108).
The discussion opens up to encompass the birth of India as an independent
nation, as weil as the appearance of the 1001 Midnight's Children. They and Saleem

38
( are the product not only of their parents, but of public figures and events of history.
The Children of Midnight, heirs of darkness as weil as beginnings, number among their
parents, according to the text, public aspects like the determination of a dying Jinnah
to achieve Pakistan before his death, the haste of Mountbatten to complete his mission,
and private factors like the prophesies of Shri Ramram Seth, and the Ayah's leaking
Blue Jesus (Rushdie, Midnight's Children 10S-109).
Rushdie combines English mixed with vernacular expressions and rhythms, and
this has been Iinked to the search for identity in the Indo-Anslian Bovel. The diversity
of the land, its many languages, religions, cultures, races, heritages, makes the concept
of an Indian identity difficult to imagine. Yet it does exist, and it is only by accepting
ail of the varied and often contradictory ingredients that this sense of 'Indianness' can
be realized.
Rushdie's use of language is very deliberate; he and other Commonwealth
writers are performing the necessary task of decolonizing the English language. He
explains in his article, "The Empire writes back with a vengeance," that the "language,
Iike much else in the newly independent societies, needs to be decolonized, to be
remade in other images" (8). Rushdie commends G.V. Desani, the author of Ali About
H. Hntterr, who was challenging the English language as early as 1945, within months
of the independence of India. Desani's accomplishment was to prove that "English
could be bent and kneaded until it spoke in an authentically Indian voice (Rushdie,
"The Empire" 8). Rushdie explains that:
Desani's triumph was to take babu English...and turn it against itself: the
instrument of subservience became a weapon of Iiberation. It was the
first great stroke of the decolonizing pen ("The Empire" S).
While Midnight's Children makes the first step in Rushdie's literature of decolonizing
the language, it is in ~ and even more so in The Satanic Verses that the lingering
attitudes of imperialism and racism are brought into focus. Rushdie writes that:
It's possible to argue that Britain needs decolonizing too; that too many
of the old imperial Jttitudes - jingoism, xenophobia, a sense of automatie
moral superiority in ail things - still lie, just below the surface, in
British culture and even in "English" English ("The Empire" S).
This is ail part of the rewriting and revisioning of history that plays such an important
role in the novels.
Salman Rushdie writes out of several traditions. One is the Indo-Anglian
tradition, in terms of subject matter (violent and momentous events on the sub-
continent), language (especially Desani's Ali About Ho Hatterr), and the decolonization

(
39
of the English language. There is also a connection between Rushdie and writers of
Latin America and elsewhere, who write in the style of fantasy or magical realism:
The simiIarity between Rushdie and writers such as Garcia Marquez and
Gunther Grass lies in this quality of mythic sweep that dislodges history
from chronometric lime in order to abstract its essential meaning, and
disembodies individuals in order to extract the coIlective consciousness
within (Parameswaran 38).
Gunther Grass' The Tin Orum is cited as a possible influence on Midnight's Children:
Il is not merely the most obvious paraIlel in terms of themes, situation,
characterization and style which surprises us by it closeness, but a certain
identity of structural patterns as weIl which seems to emerge from the
dialectics of the omniscient point of view and fabulation (Oharkar 350).
The article enumerates over twenty paraIlels between the two novels, the first and
foremost being that, "both books present an omniscient, adult consciousness trying to
come to terms with the coIlapse of history" (Oharkar 350). Il also considers both
narrators as failures in life, but sees a certain joy of decreation in Midnight's Children
that is not apparent in The Tin Orum.
Rushdie draws on The Arabian Nights, another influence, in several ways.
StructuraIly Midnight's Children loosely mimics the earlier tales, with ilS framed story,
tales within tales, and endless number of digressions. The atmosphere, too, is borrowed;
The Arabian Nights is magical, exotic and filled with suspense. There is an urgency
present in both, a race against the clock. One thousand and one is a magical number;
there are 1001 midnight children "because 1001 is the number of 'alternative realities',
and because it is the 'largest imaginable number'" (Cronin 212).
The magic in this novel extends to the powers granted the children born during
the first hour of Independence. It is strange that despite their potential coIlective
strength, they are' unable or unwilIing to put up any sort of resistance against the
widow and her 'voluntary' sterilization campaign. Saleem speaks of entering fairy-tales,
and of his life in terms of "once upon a time," b~t these concepts are not as fuIly
developed here as they are in the next novel in the trilogy, Shame.
Midnight's Children teIls the story of the Sinai family through the reminisces of
the narrator and storyteller, Saleem Sinai. But it also reteIls the history of India, for
the two stories, public and private, are intimately linked and interdependent. Saleem is
very aware of his connections and importance to history, and even before his actual
birth, his life has been punctuated by public announcements, and is a matter of public
property. He is sent a letter by the Prime Minister stating that his life is to be a
mirror of public events, for India and Saleem are born at the same moment, and are

40
c. intimately related. Saleem describes himself as being handcuffed to history (Rushdie,
Midnight's 9), and later uses this terminology in reference to his son (Rushdie,
M;dnights's 420). Rushdie does not believe that coincidences merely occur, but thinks
that there is some significance in the fact of their existence. In his travel book The
Jaguar Smile, he informs the reader that his own son was born exactly one month prior
to the birth of 'Nicaragua Libre' on 17 July 1979, and explains that, ''l've always had a
weakness for synchronicity, and 1 felt that the proximities of the birthdays forged a
bond" (Rushdie, Jaguar Smile 11-12). The births of both father and son coincide with
important moments in Indian history; Saleem with the birth of an Independent India in
1947, and baby Aadam Sinai with the Emergency of 1975.
History, in this novel as elsewhere, does not have one specific definition, but
rather a series of meanings that are connected. The character/narrator Saleem Sinai has
several roles in relation to the various senses of history. One layer of history in
Midnight's Children is the writlen document, that is the text itself that tells the public
and private stories of Saleem and India. Within the text the stories are told orally by
Saleem to Padma, and therefore recorded in the memory of the two characters. But
there are moments when it is clear that Saleem, the narrator, is addressing neither
Padma nor himself, but someone outside the world of the text, that is, the implied
reader. The story is told and preserved in a third way, through the chutnification of
history. Each jar of chutney holds one chapter in the story, safeguarding them for
generations to come. Making chutney mimics the act of chronicling, for just as writlen
works live beyond the Iife of the author, pickling, too, grants immortality. History, as
the teIling and preserving of the past, is accomplished in three ways in the novel:
through the writing of the novel, the recitation to Padma, and through the making of
chutney.
As Rushdie has explained in his earlier novel Grimus, it is impossible for the
historian to remain outside of the history s/he recounts. By writing or teIling history,
we influence it, for relating history is a narrative act, and as Hayden White has
explained, narration inve 'ves Interpretation. Thus, Saleem as chronicler not only
records the slory, but also affects il. As the narrator, he chooses which version of
history and his story he wishes to narrate. But as a character within the story, and a
participant in history, he actively influences and changes the course of history. This is
exemplified again and again in the novel. The fate of Independent India is intimately
Iinked to, and dependent upon, the actions of the character Saleem Sina. One article
describes Saleem as a chronicler, who provokes much of the history he records (Wilson
28-29). Both Saleem and India, the country of his birth, have a complicated and
ambiguous background, and both are searching for maturity and identity:

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41
How, in what terms, may the career of a single individua! be said to
impinge in the fate of a nation? 1 must answer in adverbs and hyphens:
1 was linked to history both literally and metaphorically, both active!y
and passively (Rushdie, Midnight's 228).
Hence, his connection to history exists in at least four distinct forms: actively-
literally, passively-metaphorically, actively-metaphorically, and passively-Iiterally.
Saleem expands on the different categories:
By the combination of 'active' and 'litera!' 1 mean, of course, ail actions
of mine which directly - literally, affected, or altered the course of,
seminal historic events (Rushdie, Midnight's 238),
and gives the example of his providing the language marchers with their rallying cry,
which is how he became "directly responsible for triggering off violence which ended
with the partition of the state of Bombay" (Rushdie, Midnight's 192).
He defines the other categories as follows:
The union of 'passive' and 'metaphorica!' encompasses ail socio-political
trends and events which, merely by existing, affected me metaphorically.
Next, 'passive' and 'literai', when hyphenated, coyer ail moments at
which national events had a direct bearing upon the lives of myself and
my family.
And finally there is the 'mode' of the 'active-metaphorica!', which
groups together those occasions on which things done by Or to me were
mirrored in the macrocosm of public affairs, and my private existence
was shown to by symbolically at one with history (Rushdie, Midnight's
238).
Saleem the character affects the course of history in the active-literai mode.
But Rushdie, or the implied author through Saleem, also causes changes, or at least
differences between the history of real Iife and rhe history of the fictional world. The
most obvious is the incorrect date given for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
Twenty pages later in the novel, upon reviewing his work, Saleem admits that he had
made an error in chronology, and he is unsure now, "what the actual sequence of events
might have been" (Rushdie, Midnight's 166)
What is the purpose of this deliberate mistake - for it is deliberate on the part
of the author, if not Saleem. If one accepts that the book was meant primarily for a
Western audience, then the date of the murder of the Mahatma would have most likely
been unknown to many readers, and had Saleem not brought it the their attention,
wou!d have gone unnoticed. Indian readers, and those familiar with history, would
have noticed the mistake and cited sloppiness on the part of Rushdie or his editor. But

42
clearly the mistake was meant to be noticed by ail. One reason to alter factual
chronology is to emphasize the difference between history and fiction. Another is to
test the reliability of both the narrator and the reader. A third reason is to stress the
telling of this story as an act of creation, or recreation, from the mind and memory of
Saleem. Although factually incorrect, his recollection of the date of the Mahatma's
death is very real and truthful to him, and he is unable to change that reality: "in my
India, Gandhi will continue to die at the wrong moment" (Rushdie, Midnight's 166).
Saleem influences history in other ways, and even takes 'credit' or
'responsibiIity' in cases where the connection is tenuous at best; for example dreaming
about Jimmy Kapadia dying, and then believing he had really caused Jimmy's death,
which he hears about the next day. Another method used by Saleem to alter history is
the cutting and pasting of newspaper headlines to write an anonymous letter. He
changes history by manipulating the past, and guides the future by providing
information to which there must be a reaction. Sometimes Saleem and his family can
be on the receiving end of history; for example it is Saleem's "firm conviction that the
hidden purpose of the Indo-Pakistani war of 1969 was nothing more nor less than the
elimination of my benighted family from the face of the earth" (Rushdie, Midnight's
338).
Saleem and Rushdie challenge the reader to consider the significance, and the
result, of the rewriting and revisioning of history:
Does one error invalidate the entire fabric? Am 1 so far gone, in my
desperate need for meaning, that l'm prepared to distort everything - to
re-write the whole history of my times purely in order to place myself
in a central raie? Today, in my confusion, 1 can't judge. l'Il have to
leave it to others. For me, there can be no going back; 1 must finish
what l've started, even if, inevitably, what 1 finish turns out not to be
what 1 began (Rushdie, Midnight'S 166).
The author responds to the charges that there factual errors in Midnight's
Children in his article, '~'Errata' Unreliable Narration in Midnight's Children." These
errors include the tetrapod scheme that does not really exist in Bombay, and the dates
and details of some of the Hindu festivals that are incorrect. Midnight's Children is
not primarily an historical or journalistic accounting of life in Bombay. Il is a work of
fiction and fantasy, and part of writing fiction is making things up and using one's
imagination. If the location is a real city, then much of what is described in the setling
will really exist. But something like the tetrapod scheme is included because it
somehow forwards or expands the story, and is not a mistake on the author's part.
Rushdie is trying to create an atmosphere, and it is claimed by those familiar with the

43
~.
:'\ t city that he is very successful in brinlling to life the spirtus loci of Bombay. The error
..;;..-
in the chronology of the Hindu festival, which most probably was an oversight on the
part of the author, is very different from the deliberate, and thus significant,
inaccuracy in the death of Gandhi. He does admit that his description of Dyer's troops
as white instead of Indian was an unintentional mistake, but one which in retrospect
feels like Saleem's mistake, and not his own (Rushdie, "Errata" 99).
Parameswaran finds that the author manipulates factual and historical data as
part of his parody of history. There are two ways Rushdie does this:
At an overt level Rushdie spoofs the traditional form of histories. He
takes liberties with dates, undermining chronometric exactitude that is
one of the cornerstones of traditional historical writing (Parameswaran
41).
The other way he plays with history is by spoofing "traditional histories for often being
no more than biographies of kings and generals" (Parameswaran 41). Parameswaran
adds in a later aside that "Rushdie's understanding of Hindu manes and archetypes
leaves much to be desired" (45), but does not elaborate on this criticism.
According to Rushdie, the book Midnight's Children sets up agame between
itself and the reader; "the game is to find connections between Salim[sic] and history,
having set the game you have to play" (Dharker 355). The interviewer calls attention to
the connection between Rushdie's work and Gunther Grass' The Tin Druro, and how
they both use contemporary history as a source. The interviewer feels that there are
two distinct results of the use of historical allusion in Rushdie's novel; the allusions
could acquire a metaphoric dimension, or could read like historical records, and he asks
Rushdie if the occurrence of the laller is "a risk every writer who uses history has to
take?" (Dharker 355). Rushdie responds:
It's a danger, of course it's a danger. 1 mean, if you ... first of all, if
you accept a certain perceived shape in a historical period as being part
of the shape of your book then of course there are risks and limitations
in that. Secondly, the closer you get to writing about contemporary
events, the more dangerous it gets and you have to recognize that in the
book, that you can't write about the day before yesterday in the way you
do about sixty years ago. So the perspectives of the book alter as they
near the present and the later part of it is not wrillen the same way as
the earlier part of il. It is wrillen more flatly and more partially
(Dharker 355).
WhiIe Saleem is the main storyteller (as well as hero and narrator), he is
preceded by an older, more traditionaI storyteller. Tai, the Kashmiri boatman, lived

44
during the youth of Saleem's grandfather, and was forever telling stories of his
closeness to ancient historical and mythical events:
1 have watched the Mountains being born, 1 have seen Emperors die ... 1
saw that Isa, that Christ, when he came to Kashmir. Smile, smile, it is
your history 1 am keeping in my head (Rushdie, Midnight's 16).
Thus, as one critic notes, "Tai the storyteller represents the synthesistic fusion of time-
events; he is the repository of "racial-memory," to use Yeats' term" (Parameswaran 38).
Saleem is the symbol of what can be called a national memory, and he embodies:
this compression of history as a less harmonious process. Under
alternating fission-fusion, his individual identity is by turn fragmented
and enlarged by the "intertwined lives" around him (Parameswaran 38).
Saleem the character feels there are four ways in which he is linked to history, and
Rushdie the author employs several narrative devices in order to establish these links:
(a) he uses birth images and metaphors to mark turning points in history
and symbolize their long-term significance;
(b) he links political and historical events, starting with the Jallianwala
Bagh massacre of 1919, with one or the other of Saleem's circle of
friends and family, and;
(c) he uses Padma as a character who is functional at both narrative and
symbolic levels (Parameswaran 38).
Repetition is one of the main narrative devices used by Rushdie. Saleem is
constantly repeating himself, though rarely with the same emphasis or using identical
information. There are Many reasons why Rushdie has his narrative summarize so
freQuently. One reason deals with the episodic nature of the nove!. In some ways,
Midnight's Children follows the tradition of the picaresque genre, connecting almost
haphazardly a string or series of adventures and misadventures. Many critics have
noticed and comniented on the similarities between Sterne's Tristam Shandy and
Rushdie's Saleem Sinai. In order to keep the reader interested, and to avoid confusion
or the forgetting of occI. "rences, the protagonist reiterates his story. This also builds up
suspense, for it slows down the narrative while refreshing in the reader's mind what has
happened already, and stirs interest in what will happen next. The mood of suspense is
accentuated in the text by Padma's vocalization of 'what nextisms'. Padma is also a
narrative device which allows for repetitions. She cannot read, so already Saleem must
repeat, or at least orally present, what he has already written. And because she is
poorly-educated, she often does not understand the intricacies of the language, or the
reason for including what she views as irrelevant material. Although Saleem values her

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45
~'f1j
,,~.
role as a critic, he also feels that she may not be his ideal Iistener. He has known what
it is to "feel the sting of Padma's impatience" (Rushdie, Mjdnight's (02), and wishes:
at times, for a more discerning audience, someone who would understand
the need for rhythm, pacing, the subtle introduction of minor chords
which will later use, swell, seize the melody (Rushide, Midnight's 102).
Since Vico, history has often been seen in terms of cycles. Although events are
not identical, and do not always lead to certain results (otherwise history would be a
science with laws), there are similar features that show up when, for example, a
revolution is taking place. Saleem views his life as consisting of "repetitive cycles of
my history" (Rushdie, Midnight's 415).. During his Iife he undergoes a series of
physical and emotional batterings during his circular migration that eventually leads him
back to Bombay, the city of his birth, and countdowns that lead not only to endings but
to beginnings too:
Not ail critics are impressed with Rushdie's use of repetition in the narrative:
The structuralists may rave about its circular rhythm and rhapsodically
cite Yeats on the gyre, but l find repetitive retreats tiring as weil as
distracting. l am turned off by peroration, be it on "'e auto-therapy of
Morarji Desai, the birth of midnight's children, the hairstyle of Indira
Gandhi, or the inventory of noses (Sharma 169).
There are also repetitions in the symbolism of mirror images. Saleem's life
mirrors that of the newly-born nation of India, and vice versa. They are inter-
dependent, and the actions of one influences the other. Saleem is very aware of his
historical role, and from the time of his birth admits that, "1 was already beginning to
take my place at the centre of the universe" (Rushdie, Midnight's 126), and to realize
that, "everything that happened, happened because of me" (Rushdie, Midnight's 133).
Saleem affects history in many ways; through his telepathic powers, through his dreams,
through his physical manipulation of the past (i.e., cutting and pasting Gf ;;ewspaper
headIines), through writing his story, telling Padma his story, and through pickling the
past in jars. He realizes that there is not one truth, but several versions that can exist
in conjunction with, or in opposition to, each other. He speaks of "history in my
version," and acknowledges in the same sentence that there is "another version"
(Rushdie, Midnight's 1943). This is an issue Rushdie addresses in Jaguar's Smile, in
association with the official media in Pakistan during the Indo-Pak war. The
government I!ews agency was providing information that any inte'ligent person could
see was false, yet people either preferred to believe the optimistic slate propaganda, or
feared recriminations should they pulJlicly challenge the official word. This is the same
situation in India du ring the Emergency; the government-controlled media chose not to

46
c deal honestly with the issues of nasbandi (sterilization) and sium-clearing, and instead
published lies, or treated the subjects in euphemistic terms, for example calling the
destruction of squatters' homes a beautification project.
Midnight's Children is a book of dualities with the public/private story being
the basic double structure of the novel. While generally the affiliations between public
and private Iife are either clear, or make sense once pointed out, there are occasions
when the coincidence is stretched too far, and exceeds even the very loose and flexible
bounds of believability that exist in this novet For example, Saleem's line of reasoning
that begins with a clump of hair being pulled out by a teacher for his wanting to be a
hero, and winds up causing Nehru's death, is very faulty indeed. But this highlights
the narrator's Jack of perspective, and is put there intentionally by the author to remind
the reader to maintain a certain degree of scepticisrn. The same type of response is
encouraged in the reader when s/he is confronted with obvious historical or factual
errors on Saleem's part; for example Ganesh wrote down the Mahabharata not the
Ramayana, tetrapods are used to prop up structures not to reclaim land, Jagjit Sing
Aurora and not Sam Manekshaw accepted the surrender of Pakistani troops in
Bangladesh. These and other mistakes are pointed out in an article by the author, who
states:
It is by now obvious, 1 hope, that Saleem Sinai is an unreliable narrator,
and that Midnight's Children is far from being an authoritative guide to
the history of Post-Independence India (Rushdie, "Errata" 98).
The mistakes can also serve to deflate Saleem's ego, as does his error about Ganesh,
which follows shortly after his claim that he is knowledgeable about Hindu mythology,
despite being a Moslem.
Midnight's Children is an autobiographical novel, which means that Saleem is
100king back on his Iife, and remembering his past through a filter of time. This is a
complicated proceSs, and involves several Jevels of interpretation. There is the event
itself as it occurred in ils present time, Saleem's memory of the event, how Saleem
records the memory in I:'s book, and how he presents it orally to Padma. Although he
claims to be reading everything he writes aloud to Padma, when one considers the
sophistication of some of the language and structure present in the novel, it is difficult
to believe that this is the case. Unless, of course, the text of Midnight's Children is not
the same text as Saleem's autobiography.
Part of Saleem's anxiety to finish creating his novel, and recreating his past,
stems from the confusion over his identity. Saleem is a mixture of Many of the
religions and cultures found in India. Like Rushdie, he migrates with his family from
India to Pakistan for religious reasons. Saleem's search for identity is complicated by

47
the confusion over whom his parents really are. His ayah Mary had switched babies in
the hospital, putting Shiva, the real Sinai son, in the hands of Willie Winkie, and
substituting Saleem in his place. But Saleem is not definitely WiIlie's son, for his wife
had been seduced by the Englishman Methwold. Saleem's mothers include Winkie's
wife who gave birth to him, Amina and Mary who raised him, Parvati-the- Witch who
rescued him, and Padma who listens to him and who loves him. Padma represents the
ultimate mother, the goddess; "She is the 10tus-eyed mother of mud and moisture, the
"inner ear", "Padma the Source, the Mother of Time", the base of Indian identity (Couto
64). Saleem describes himself as the:
Child of an unknown union, 1 have had more mothers than most mothers
have children; giving birth to parents has been one of my stranger talents
- a form of reverse fertility beyond the control of contraception, and
even of the Widow herse If (Rushdie, Midnight's 243).
Saleem carries on the tradition of fathering a son who is not really his son. Baby
Aadam's biological father is Shiva, who is the biological son of Saleem's parents, Amina
and Ahmed.
Saleem adopts a multitude of substitute parents during his life's journey in the
allempt to discover his identity, and reclaim his pas!. Three of these surrogate parents
Padma, Mary and Tai seem especially influential for:
These three characters symbolically unify Saleem's complex identity and
define roots that Saiman Rushdie clearly wishes to reclaim: Indian,
Bombayite, Kashmiri Moslem, multi-cu\tural and trained in Western
modes of thought and expression (Couto 65).
Saleem's grandfather has his own crisis of identity; he is an European educated
doctor who originally refuses to be submissive to any man or god, and eventually dies
on the steps of a Hindu temple in the Kashmir; "symbolically affirming his spirituality
and the Hindu-Moslem unity that existed before the prospects of political power
created divisions" (Couto 61). He says of himself; "1 started off as a Kashmiri and not
much of a Muslim. Then 1 got a bruise on the chest that turned me into an Indian.
l'm still not much of a Muslim..." (Rushdi~, Midnight's 40).
Saleem's father also has identity problems; he longs for fictional ancestors, and
eventually, prodded by his alcoholic tendencies, comes to believe that he really is
descended from the Mughals. Saleem's nose, believed to be a sure sign of his
descendence from the Sinai clan, is mos! Iikely his inheritance from Methwold's French
grandfather. The problem he and his forefathers face, as Saleem sees it, is one that is
passed down from generation to generation, because "there is no magic on earth strong
enough to wipe out the legacies of one's parents" (Rushdie, Midnight's 402).

48
Perspective is problematic because one is often personally involved in a
(. situation, or as is the case with this hero, personally responsible for the situation, in
addition to carrying the legacy from his parents. Saleem uses the analogy of being in a
movie theatre and slowly moving closer 3nd closer to the screen until the image
dissolves into nonsensical shapes. Not only is perspective challenged, but there are also
the problems of memory and truth. The official version of an event, which, as
mentioned above, may or may not be truthful, can be entirely dissimilar from the
remernbered version of the sarne event. One's m'lmory of a situation is rarely the same
as someone else's memory of that situation. In fact, one could remember and believe in
the veracity of something that logically, according to fact, cannot be true. Upon
realizing that he has incorrectly recalled an election date, Saleem's memory will not
admit to the error: "but although 1 have racked by brains, my memory refuses,
stubbornly, to alter the sequence of events" (Rushdie, Midnight's 222).
ln addition to Saleem incorrectly recalling a certain event, there is also the
possibility that he purposefully misrepresents what he believes to be the truth. As
Rushdie reminds us about Saleem:
He is no dispassionate chronicler; he has a purpose. He wants so to
shape his material that the reader will be forced to concede his central
role. He is cUlling up history to suit himself, just as he did .....hen he cut
up newspapers to compose his earlier text, the anonymous note to
Commander Sabarmati. The small errors in the text are clues, indicating
that Saleem is capable of distortions great and small. He is an interested
party in the events he narrates (Rushdie, "Errata" 99).
Saleem is not merely or simply recording the past as he remembers it, but rather
shaping and molding it continuously to place himself at the centre of the universe,
responsible for events in the positive and negative sense of the word; that is, in
command and yet at fault. Saleem speaks of himself yearning after a place at the
center of history (Rushdie, Midnight's 316), and many of the symbols in the book
reflect this circular image, "of a centre reaching to circumferences, circumferences
reaching to a centre" (Swann 360); for example the perforated sheet, the spilloon, his
nose, etcetera. Saleem's not-so-hidden agenda is to secure his place in his writing, in
history, and in the mind of the reader.
There are many different kinds of truths, each at varying angles to the others,
and to the ideal, yet impossible, absolute truth. It is memory's truth which helps
Saleem write his version of history. Saleem reassures Padma, "1 told you the truth"
(Rushdie, Midnight's 211), but it is his memory's truth, and not a definitive truth. He
explains what he means by 'memory's truth':

49
because memory has its own special kind. Il selects, allers, exaggerates,
minimizes, glorifies, and verifies also; but in the end it creates ils own
reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of evenls; and no
sane human being ever trusts someone else's version more than his own
(Rushdie, Midnight's 211).
ln discussing the writing of Mjdnight's Children, Rushdie states that his
intentions were initially quasi-Proustian:
Time and migration had placed between me and my subject a double
filter, and 1 hoped that if 1 could imagine vividly enough it might be
possible to see history once more without the filters: as if the time had
not passed, as if 1 had never gone away (Rushdie, "Errata" 99).
But as he became more involved in writing the novel, he found Ihat it was, "the process
of filtration itself" that interested him: "It had become the way in which we remake the
past, to suit our present purposes, using memory as our tool" (Rushdie, "Errata" 99).
Saleem, by remembering and rewriting his childhood, is hoping to give the events of his
past meaning. He is very disturbed by the idea of having no significance, of evenls
and people being merely random. What frightens Saleem the most is absurdity, and it is
to create meaning that he narrates. He wishes to tell his slory, and save it as truth for
future generations:
One day, perhaps, the world may taste the pickles of history. They may
be too strong for sorne palates, their smell may he overpowering, lears
may rise to eyes; 1 hope nevertheless 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 (Rushdie, Midnight's 461).
Hence his desire to rewrite the history of India within his autobiography, which
enables him to place himself as the pivot around which everyone and everything
revolves. Padma doubts his sanity, for sI" cannot understand his need to be the centre
of the universe. Her life has a purpose, she has found meaning in her care and pursuit
of Saleem. His desire to incorporate history within his life, and 10 claim responsibility
for every event, becomes dangerous and self-destructive. Il is necessary for this trend
to end, and it is done in a very violent and swift way in the text. Saleem is hit over
the head with the spittoon his inheritance and the receptacle of his memories, and is
suddenly stricken with amnesia. He is been rendered without memory and without
history. He becornes known as 'the buddha', and seems very content with his position
as man-dog in the Pakistani army. When the other soldiers question him about his past
he replies, "Don't try and fill my head with that history. 1 am who 1 am, that's ail
there is" (Rushdie, Midnight's 351), and causes them to be, "unwillingly fascina.ted by

50
( this man with his nose like a cucumber and his head which rejected memories families
histories" (Rushdie, Mjdnjght's 351). Not only has Saleem become memoryless and
historyless, but he adamantly and fervently wishes to remain so. This is in direct
opposition to his previous desires. Saleem as the buddha, "by abandoning consciousness,
seceding from history," is selling "the worst of examples" (Rushdie, Mjdnjght's 351).
He causes his companions to be uneasy by rejecting his history, and, "at the deep
foundations of their unease lay the fear of schizophrenia, of splilling, that was buried
like an umbilical eord in every Pakistani heart" (Rushdie, Midnight's 351). Yet even in
this state of amnesia he manages to influence history. The model set by the hero is
followed by Sheikh Mujib, who declares the secession of East Pakistan, renaming it
Bangladesh. Therefore, as Saleem confesses, "1 remained responsible, through the
workings of the metaphorical modes of connection, for the belligerent events of 1971"
(Rushdie, Mjdnight's 351).
Another way to avoid absurdity and to give meaning to ineredible or puzzling
events is to create a mythology surrounding these events. Rushdie and Saleem both do
this in the novel; otherwise inexplicable happenings of history ar,e attributed to the
magic of the Midnight's Children, or the Cruelia de Ville evil of Indira the Widow.
The Hindu religion provides a grent amount of mythological allusions. Saleem's
nemesis is named Shiva, who is the creator and the destroyer. When his son is born
with large ears, Saleem thinks immediately of Ganesh, the elephant god. The novel
abounds with astrologieal signs, omens, and prophecies. The hero's life is prophesied
twice, one by the sadhu at Methwold's Estate, and again in great detail by Ramram
Seth. Of course, these propheeies refer at least partiy to Shiva, since it was he and not
Saleem who inhabited Amina's stomaeh.
Islam also provides allusions; there is an explanation about Mumtaz, the original
name of Saleem's mother (in Arabic it means excellent and was the name of woman for
whom the Taj Mahal was built), and the name Zulfikar, the two-pronged sword that
belonged to Ali, the cousin of the prophet Muhammad. Tai, a Kashmiri Moslem
known to Saleem's gr~ ..dfather, represents racial memory and knowledge, and is the
storyteller of his own version of history. Myths are constantly, and in sorne cases
instantly being created, for example the man-dog of the CUTIA unit which was fully
mythologized with twenty four hours. Myths and legends ean also evolve and beeome
something totally new; "Sometimes legends make reality, and beeome more usefui than
the faets" (Rushdie, Midnight's 47).
The country India is not only replete with mythology, but is a myth itself; "there
was an extra festival on the ealendar, a new myth to eelebrate, beeause a nation which
had never previously existed was about to win its freedom" (Rushdie, Midnight's 112).

r",
.'

51
Moments before India's and Saleem's birth, "the monster in the streets has already
begun to celebrate; the new myth courses through its veins, replacing ils blood with
corpuscles of saffron and green," the colours of the Indian flag (Rushdie, Midnjght'S
113). This is one possible myth of India, but it is not the only one that Rushdie
suggests. Considering midnight of August 15, 1947 as the birth of a new nation is
somewhat ridiculous, yet also mythical as Saleem is clear to point out:
because a nation which had never previously existed was about to win its
freedom catapulting us into a world which, although it had five thousand
years of history, although il had invented the game of chess and traded
with Middle Kingdom Egypt, was never the less quite imaginary
(Rushdie, Midnigh!,s 112).
The entire novel is an attempt to rewrite, and thus recreate, the story and history of
India. In order to do this, he unites aspects of everyday Iife with complete fantasy,
moments of magic and beauty with horror and destruction, because for Saleem it is
these things and many more that come together to form the country, and the concept,
called India.
According to C. Kanaganayakam in the article "Myth and Fabulosity in
Midnight's Children":
the use of myth of the inversion has a dual function, il gives a
diachronic perspective to the novel, setting up the experience of
twentieth-century India against a backdrop of the timelessness of myth
(88).
Rushdie experiments wilh ancient mythologies such as the Mahabharata, "mixing and
inverting myth in order to re-define cOlltemporary experience" (Kanaganayakam 85).
The second way he uses myth is as a means of "unifying and structuring ail the
fragments which constitute the novel" (Kanaganayakam 88).
As mentioried above, Rushdie employs both Islamic and Hindu mythology in the
text. The article cites the example of Zulfikar, traditionally a symbol for unit, in the
text is a character who speaks endlessly in favor of the partition of India
(Kanaganayakam 88). The Hindu myth Ramayana is also present in the novel in the
section about the Ravana gang, the monkeys who steal Ahmed's money (this is a
reference to Hanuman the monkey god), and the fire (in the epic it is set by Hanuman)
(Kanaganayakam 89).
Kanaganayakam feels that:
the narrator is deliberately inverting myth to reflect on the erosion of
values and traditional loyalties in Modern India. Il is almost as if

52
another myth is being enacted in the present century, in which the lines
of demarcation between good and evil are no longer clear (89).
This myth of good and evil is acted out in The Satanjc Verses.
The critic also points out the connection between history and myth:
The idea that myth is being played off against history becomes clear in
the names of the three important Midnight's Children - Saleem Sinai,
Shiva and Parvat. The name Saleem Sinai lends itself to a variety of
interpretations, one of them being the association with Mount Sinai and
Moses. Shiva according to the narrator, was named after "the god of
destruction and procreation." Parvati is the wife of Lord Shiva
(Kanaganayakam 90).
The article lists numerous parallels between the fictional and mythological characters,
some of which are comic like Saleem's sister, The Brass Monkey's, habit of setting rire
to shoes, which echoes the rire set by Hanuman the monkey god. Myths can also be
inverted, often in an ironic manner: for example, Padma "becomes, on the level of
myth, the source of life and the goddess of wealth. Ironically, Padma is poor in the
novel and her main grudge is that Saleem is impotent and that she cannot bear his child
(Kanaganayakam 91). The piece concludes that "the inversion of myth emphasizes the
dichotomy between the harmony of the past and the chaos of the present"
(Kanaganayakam 98).
Midnight's Children is divided into three sections or books, each of which is
further divided into chapters:
Books 1 and Il unfold a cultural history at two levels - the Indian
experiential and the Western rational ... Book III is a cry of despair: time
is running out before chaos and anarchy descend inexorably as they did
in the past (Wilson 62).
Saleem believes that most of what is important happens in your absence, and that your
past makes up who you are now. He begins his narrative in Book 1 before his birth, in
the time of his grandfatter and in the memory of Tai, another narrator or storyteller of
racial and cultural history. Book Il follows his growth and development and is an
energetic and vibrant section, capturing the general happiness of his youth. The change
to the next section is drastic; "Book III is a nightmare of violence and despair, with
Saleem plunging through the worst aspects of the history of the sub-continent in the
last decade" (Couto 62).
The narrator is very aware of the importance of structure or form in the novel.
The reader is bombarded with an endless stream of information, often in what seems to
be little or no chronological, or even logical order. To keep the reader interested and

53
reasonably clued-in, the narrator uses such devices as repetition, summary, the stressing
of parallel events, and simple explanation of the significance, under the guise of
enlightening Padma. Many factors in the book seem disparate, yet are in Cact
connected, and thus form or structure is imposed by both the narrator and by the story
itself:
Sometimes 1 feel a thousand years old: or (because 1 cannot, even now,
abandon form), to be exact, a thousand and one (Rushdie, Midnigh!,s
440);
and:
Form - once again, recurrence and shape! - no escape from it (Rushdie,
Midnight's 440).
Midnight's Children is a framed story; the narrator, who is also the hero of the
tale, is reciting his written work to another character, Padma. According to Rushdie,
he encountered problems with his original version of the novel, until he changed the
narrative voice from the third to the first person:
Now, suddenly, that opened up the story. Il suddenly fell into a
tradition which is related to the oral storytelling tradition in India. Il
enabled him [Saleem] to tell a story in the way in which Indian people
tell stories, which is very round about, full of digressions and jokes, and
asides, and exaggerates, and fantasises (Chinweizu 24).
Like Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights, Saleem is racing against time, and must tell
his story in order to save himself. Saleem compares his narrative technique to hers,
admitting that he too left his story, "hanging in mid-air."
Structuralists consider there to be two basic categories of time involved in any
discourse: the time of the story and the time it takes to read the story. In Midnight's
Children there are actually three (at least) different times; there is the plot time, the
narrating time, and the reading time. The first two eventually join since the narrator is
also the hero of the tale.
Time in this novel is stretched to its fullest potential by the narrator. Il slows
down or accelerates, it lingers to emphasize details, or compresses to Corward the plot.
There is a desire for chronology that is never satisfied, just as Aadam Aziz never fulfils
his original ambition, "the re-arrangement of the Quran in accurately chronological
order" (Rushdie, Midnight's 82). Time can become confused and blurred within the
plot or by the narrator, months are spoken of as III nights, and in more than one
instance it is impossible to determine the duration of an event - minutes, hours weeks?
months years, centuries? (Rushdie, Midnight's 454).

54
The most recurrent image of time is in terms of a countdown, the tick tock of a
clock towards a definite, predetermined moment. There are several countdowns in the
novel; the first is to the arrivai of Independence and the transfer of power. It is a very
complicated issue, for not only does it signh'y the end of the Raj but also the start of a
Partitioned India, and the Islainic nation of Pakistan. To the narrator, time couId not
be relied upon, but has rather been "an unsteady affair" because, "Il could even be
partitioned: the clocks in Pakistan would run half an hour ahead of their Indian
counterparts" (Rushdie, Midnight's 79).
According to Amina, Saleem's mother, it was his birth and not the arrivai of
Independence that caused time, and c1ocks, to stop on August 15th. Just before the
arrivai of Independence, Saleem summarizes his tale th us far, commenting, "there's
nothing like a countdown for building suspense" (Rushdie, Midnight's 106). The pace
becomes frantic, f1ying from years to months, days, hours, minutes, until the great
moment, midnight:
At the stroke of the midnight hour, while the world sleeps, India
awakens to life and freedom (Rushdie, Midnight's 116).
Simultaneously:
On the stroke of midnight, Sinai brother, your Begum Sahiba gave birth
to a large, healthy child, a son! (Rushdie, Midnight's 116).
The next countdown occurs in Pakistan, and is of a very different kind than the
earlier one:
But now time is counting down to an end, not a birth; there is, too, a
weariness to be mentioned, a general fatigue so profound that the end,
when it comes, will be the only solution, because human beings, like
nations and fictional characters, can simply run out of steam, and then
there's nothing for it but to finish with them (Rushdie, Midnight's 327).
ln India, the politicians tried to stop time, "clutching Time in their mummified
fingers and refusing to let it move ... in Pakistan, however, the clocks ticked and
tocked" (Rushdie, Midnigh!~ 327). This was a countdown to the war of September 22,
1965, and it picked up other endings and failures along its way. These include Aunt
Alia Aziz's awful spinster's revenge, the accelerated aging of the pregnant Amina Sinai,
the alarming growth in girth of Naseem Aziz, the stroke and retreat into childishness of
Ahmed Aziz - ail of Saleem's family were victims "of that spirit of detached fatigue
which made the end the only possible solution" (Rushdie, Midnight's 328).
The next countdown is in 50 me ways parallel to the first; it is a countdown to
the birth of his son Aadam, and to the implementation of the Emergency of June 25th,
1975. In fact the same language is used to describe the two births: Aadam's birth is

55
said to 'mirror' that of Saleem, his father. Baby Aadam arrives on the stroke of
midnight:
and owing to the occult tyrannies of that benighted hour, he was
mysteriously handcuffed to history, his destinies indissolubly chained to
those of his country. Unprophesied, uncelebrated, he came; no prime
ministers wrote him lellers; but, just the same, as my time of connection
neared ils end, his began (Rushdie, Midnight's 419-420).
The final countdown is a race against time, for its end means the end of Saleem
Sinai. He is cracking up, bits of his being are breaking away throughout his narrative,
just as pieces of his power and identity are denied ta him throughout his Iife. The
first crack shows and is mentioned ta the reader very early in the narrative (Rushdie,
Midnight's 36). At first he says that he has noticed a thin crack but it is "No matter.
We ail owe death a life" (Rushdie, Midnight's 37). But almost immediately following
this mention, he discusses his condition in arder to convey his urgency to the reader:
Please believe 1 am falling apart. 1 am not speaking metaphorically, nor
it this sorne melodramatic appeal for pity. 1 mean quite simply that 1
have begun to crack ail over like an old jug - that my poor body,
singular, unlovely, buffeted by tao much history, subjected ta drainage
above and drainage below, mutilated by doors, brained by spittoons, has
started coming apart at the seams. In short, 1 am literally disintegrating,
slowly for the moment, although there are signs of acceleration. 1 ask
you only ta accept (as 1 have accepted) that 1 shall eventually crumble
into (approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of
anonymous, and necessarily oblivious dus!. This is why 1 have revolved
ta confide in paper, before 1 forge!. (We are a nation of forgellers)
(Rushdie, Midnight's 37).
He speaks of 'moments of terror' that come and go, of "panic like a bubbling
sea-beast" which "boils on the surface, but eventually returas ta the deep" (Rushdie,
Midnight's 37). He forces himself ta remain calm so that he can finish writing his
story. Again there is "a countdown ticktocking to midnight" (Rushdie, Midnight's 462),
and with the striking of twelve o'clock will come release. Yet it is not truly a release;
he is "unable ta live or die in peace," for "it is the privilege and the curse of midnight's
children ta be bath masters and victims of their times" (Rushdie, Midnight's 463).
Padma is a central, yet ta sorne, a troubling aspect of the novel. Il is ta her
that the story is recited, but she is incapabl~ of understanding much of what Saleem
tells her, and even near the end of the recitation does not comprehend that the story
being told is Saleem's life story. She asks Saleem what happened ta Mary, one of the

56
characters in his tale. Saleem tells Padma to ask Mary herself, since they are
acquainted. Padma becomes annoyed and confused, wondering how she can question a
fictional character who does not really exist.
Padma is an illiterate, ilI-educated working woman. She is Saleem's 'open-
sesame', to use one of his own expressions, to the vast multitudes of similar people in
[ndia. She requests that Saleem share his story with her, as he explains:
1 have been interrupted by Padma, who brought me my dinner and then
withheld it, black mailing me: 'So if you're going to spend ail your time
wrecking your eyes with that scribbling, at least you must read it to me'
(Rushdie, Midnight's 31-32).
Saleem, and Rushdie realize that Padma is a usefuI device, "because it's impossible to
stop her being a cri tic" (Rushdie, Midnight's 32). She is able to challenge Saleem, and
also to prod, or stail the narrative's tempo.
By requesting that the text be read aloud to her, Padma places Saleem's story
within the Indian tradition. Oral storytelling is a very common and popular form of
entertainment, and of passing the culture down from one generation to the other.
Saleem also joins the tradition of 'recitation-Iiterature' which includes the Hindu text
the Mahabharata, recited by Vyasa to the elephant god Ganesh, who also served as
stenographer (Sharma [69), and the Moslem al Quran (the Recitation), which was
spoken to the iIIiterate Muhammad who later repeated it to a scribe.
Padma functions in the novel has been considered many things: from an
important character in the book, to a narrative prop, a symbol, a buffoon-type figure
who accompanies the hero in a Sanskrit play, or as the chorus in a Greek drama,
"always on the stage, but never initiating an action; essentially a non-participant but
occasionally giving a thrust to the play's progression" (Parameswaran 44). Another critic
has more aggressively discussed the purpose, or lack of purpose of Padma:
Barring eliciting, "0, mister, mister, mister," how is the dumb
interlocutor competent to absorb and examine a Niagara[sic] of subtle,
erudite, metaphysical-cum-surrealistic interpolations of the narrator-
historian? Even if Padma is removed from the book, the sweep or
direction of the narrative won't be qualitatively impaired (Sharma 169).
Excluding this one extremc reading of the novel, it is clear to most readers that
Padma does have an important structural and symbolic role in the novet. Padma guides
Saleem, urges on the narrative and becomes, "irritated, whenever my narration becomes
self-conscious, whenever, Iike an incompetent puppeteer, 1 reveal the hands holding the
strings..." (Rushdie, Midnight's 72). As a symbol Padma is a nurse, cook, mother and
potential wife. She also parodies the evil Widow figure in Saleem's warning that if they

57
marry "it will turn you into a widow!" (Rushdie, Midnjght's 444). Padma, in connection
to Saleem, has another symbolic meaning; "she is also his fellow-purveyor of pickle," or
history. Together they make history, as weil as preserving it. But the jar for the
future remains empty, because Saleem, Independent India, is impotent and cannot
impregnate Padma, the masses of India. His sperectomy has left him void of the hope
and possibility needed to generate Iife and rebirth (Batty 64).
While Padma is the person to whom Saleem directly reads his text, she is not the
only nor the ideal audience. She functions on one level as the reader's representative in
the text; "But Rushdie clearly presupposes for his work a type of reader who has
capacities for collaboration that go beyond Padma's simple demands for Iinearity and
logic" (Wilson 33). Padma wants to know what happens next in the story, she is anxious
for the tale to progress and demands that Saleem stick to what she sees is his primary
task; the relating of his Iife's story from the moment of his birth until the present.
Saleem's purpose is not identical to Padma's understanding of it; he is interested in
preserving his history through the acts of writing, telling and pickling his past. But he
is also interested in the process of preservation, not only in the result of the process.
Saleem is also writing an autobiography and needs to build suspense in order to
maintain the audience's attention; "Saleem's dilemma is similar to that of any
autobiographer: what he must accomplish is a circular journey from himself to himself"
(Batty 52). In order to keep the audience's curiosity at a high level, Saleem connects
his personal history with that of India, casting himself as a major player in the national
drama that has unfolded since Independence. He also uses a method of concealment in
his narration that shows itself in devices such as digressions, f1ashbacks and forwards,
summaries, etcetera, ail of which are counterbalanced by Padma's demand for Iinearity
and forward movement. Il is not possible, even if one should desire it, to tell the story
of Saleem, and thus India, in a straight forward, chronological narrative. The past is
too compIex, and if, as the critic Macherey implies:
the aim of narration is to defer its own resolution, then its method must
be 'hat of concealment: Here is the double movement: the mystery must
be concealed before it is revcaled...the entire elaborntion of the narrative
consists in the description and organization of this delay (Batty 53).
Therefore the perforated sheet through which Aadam catches glimpscs of part but not
the whole of Nasreen, can be seen as symbolic of the narration of the enlire text;
"narrative must aIways reveaI something while concealing something else" (BallY 53).
The hole is one of the many symbols that is repeated throughout this book.
There is a playon words involved in the concept, between the two homonyms whole
and hole. The novel revolves around Saleem's search for identity or wholeness. India,

5g
once the entire sub-continent, is divided into several pieces. Saleem, once part of a
(
complete family, watches his family like his country, split asunder. The Partition,
wars, the Emergency and baby-swapping, affairs, death and Islam are among some of
the causes that prevent Saleem, his family and his country from maintaining their
wholeness.
The bedsheet with the hole in the centre is a prevalent symbol which appears
from the first page of the novel:
guided only by the memory of a large white bedsheet with a roughly
circular hole some seven inches in diameter cut into the centre, clutching
at the dream of that holey, mutilated square of linen, which is my
talisman, my open-sesame (Rushdie, Midnight's 9-10).
Dr. Aadam Aziz, Saleem's grandfather, uses the sheet to examine a female patient in an
'Islamic' manner. He eventually falls in love with the woman and marries her.
Saleem's mother, Amina, repeats the concept of dividing someone up into parts in order
to train herself to love her second husband; "in short, she fell under the spell of the
perforated sheet of her own parents" (Rushdie, Midnight's 68). His sister Jamila uses a
sheet with a hole in order to maintain her modesty while performing on stage:
That was how the history of our family once again became the fate of a
nation, because when Jamila sang with her lips pressed against the
brocaded aperture, Pakistan fell in love with a fifteen-year-old girl
whom it only ever glimpsed through a gold-and-white perforated sheet
(Rushdie, Midnight's 313).
Aadam Aziz later suffers because of holes; his mother accuses him of being a 'heartless
boy' when he confesses to her "there's a hole in the middle of me the size of a melon"
(Rushdie, Midnight's 22). The hole was a result of his decision, "never again to kiss
earth for any god or man" (Rushdie, Midnight's 10). The problem was that "This
decision, however, made a hole in him, a vacancy in a vital inner chamber, leaving him
vulnerable to women and history" (Rushdie, Midnight's 10). Aadam Aziz's hole
represents his failures c a modern Western educated doctor to come to terms with his
own Iife, and a Partitioned India. There were no new traditions to replace Islam, which
the doctor chose to deny, at least no lasting new traditions since the failure of the
Congress to keep India united and to prevent violence. Islam, in Midnight's Children
and to Rushdie, represents authority. It is oppressive and confining, but it also gives
structure and meaning, provides tradition and gives a sense of belonging. One can
define oneself through Islam, and be sure of one's identity. But Saleem's grandfather
rejects this part of his heritage, and does not try to reclaim it for himself and his
family until the end of his life. ACter the Partition, Islam comes to represent different

59
things. In Pakistan, it is identical with the state, and is overbearing and threatening.
ln India, Islam looses its power, and to a certain degree, ils appeal.
Ther!' is also a certain type of hole or gap in the narrative. The story is not
toId in chronological order, but jumps back and forth in time. The present, the now of
the story is SaIeem's employment in the chutney factory, and his telling of the tale to
Padma. This is the point of reference from which he can transcend time from an era
before his birth through to his present life, taking detours and giving hints of past
events yet to come. Saleem explains that while sorne gaps should exist in his
knowledge, he is able to obtain a kind of omniscience:
most of what matlers in our lives takes place in our absence, but 1 seem
to have found from somewhere the trick of filling in the gaps in my
knowledge, so that everything is in my head, down to the last detail
(Rushdie, Midnight's 19).
Yet blanks and inconsistencies do exist in the story and are the possible result of
Saleem's inability at the moment to fully comprehend the situation, Saleem's or
Rushdie's faulty narration, or one of the two's purposeful manipulation.
Thus there are two basic types of holes in the noveI. As one cri tic points out,
Midnight's Children leaks:
Il had holes in its story - the hole in a sheet through which Aadam Aziz
sees, bit by bit, the girl he will marry, the hole through which the
children gaze at Lifafa Das' peep-show, the hole through which Saleem's
sister, Jamila, sings, so that she can become a star without compromising
her maidenly modesty - and it has holes in its plot - the failure of
Saleem's telepathic powers whenever the plot demands it, chronology
tampered with te preserve the correspondence between the life of Saleem
and the history of India. The holes in the novel are ail of them versions
of the hole that appears in Aadam Aziz when he resolves never again to
pray: they are the inevitable consequence of separating knowledge and
power (Cronin 209).
Saleem in the first parts of the novel is obtaining and realizing his power.
When he achieves a certain degree of knowledge and power, he must somehow be
deprived of one of the two. First there is his migration across the Pakistani border
which jams his transmission and takes away his power, then his temporary amnesia
without knowledge, during his service in the army, and finally his permanent drainage
by the widow of his magical powers, and his powers to procreate. Still, he maintains
his knowledge at the end, which he demonstrates through his making of the chutney
and his telling of the story. By these ncts of preservation and defiance, he is gaining a

60
...
,
certain amount of power, by empowering himself. Denied of his natural right to
~ ... reproduce, Saleem still manages to father several chitdren: his son Aadam, the jars of
chutney, and the oral and written versions of his life story.
Not only are there open holes or gaps in the story, there are also many closed
spaces which reappear in connection to Saleem. White in his mother's womb his future
is foretold in a prophecy. Everything prophesied does come true for Saleem, yet it was
not Saleem in Amina's stomach, but Shiva. This is an example of a 'hole' in the plot,
put there by the author but never explained. Saleem's initial powers begin to grow
white in a washing chest, and he gains knowledge of sex and love in a car trunk and a
washroom hut. He loses his knowledge temporarily being hit by a spittoon, his power
permanently in a sightless cell, and claims his immortality in a jar of pickled chutney.
Nancy E. Batty in her article "The Art of Suspense: Rushdie's 1001 (Mid-l
Nigh ts analyses the duaIistic s;ructure of Rushdie's narrative. She explores the idea of
a tension existing between the different aims of Saleem as narrator, and Padma as
narrateo, that "to a large extent shapes the entire narrative" (54). Batty points out that,
"in a discussion of the relationship between what is "real" and what is "true," Saleem
confesses his narrative philosophy" (54), and she cites examples from the novel:
~, for me, was ... something hidden inside the stories Mary Pereira

told me ... ~ was a thing concealed just over the horizon towards
which the fisherman's finger pointed in the picture on my wall (Rushdie,
Midnight's 79).
She continues that, "If ~ for Saleem is what is concealed, then real is essentially
secondary and contingent" and quotes the narrator to prove her point; "in autobiography,
as in ail literature, what actually happened is less important than what the author can
manage to persuade his audience to believe" (Batty 54). Consequently, if it is the
tension between Padma and Saleem that "shapes the entire narrative," then Padma can
neither be dismissed from the story nor demoted to the position of buffoon, "convenient
reader surrogate" (Wilson 26), or Greek chorus. She is, along with Saleem, a joint
creator of the narrative. !laleem is receptive to his audience, and as a skilful storytellar
is able to change the pace or focus of his tale depending on the feedback he is
receiving. Padma, he admits, "keeps his feet on the ground" (Rushdie, Mdnight's 150),
and during her temporary absence he feels, "a balance has been upset...because suddenly
1 am alone, without my necessary ear" (Rushdie, Midnight's 149). Saleem sees himself
as, "the apex of an isosceles triangle, supported equally by twin deities, the wild god of
memory and the lotus goddess of the present" (Rushdie, Midnight's 150). Hence,
Padma, Saleem and his memory are equally important components of the narrative.

61
-. Saleem is the narrator, a character and the hero of Midnight's Children. He can
~ be viewed as Rushdie's alter ego, in much the same way that Stephen in A Pertmit of
the Artist as a Young Man is said to be Joyce's alter ego. There are several similarities
between Saleem's and Rushdie's lives, both are Kashmiri .110slems born in Bombay
around the time of Independence (Rushdie was born in June, 1947, Saleem in August).
Both emigrated to Pakistan as youths, and both studied history. Some of the opinions
expressed by Saleem are shared by Rushdie, for example the horror of the 1975
Emergency and the misuse of power by Indira Gandhi and her cohorts. A book review
by P. Syal claims that:
Rushdie is, in fact, each of the characters he portrays - not just Lifafa
Das, the peep show man as D.R. Sharma has pointed out. He
reincarnated himself as Picture Singh, the Snake Charmer, and Ramram
Seth the fortune te11er - tricksters and jugglers all (Syal 349).
This is as true for Rushdie as il is for any novelist; they draw on themselves and their
life experiences in the creation of characters.
Saleem dominates the text; the story, hli story, is told in a first person narrative
from his perspective. Rushdie admits that there are certain drawbacks in having a
narrator who "swamps" a book as does Saleem; "it is very difficult to give the reader the
impression that the narrator's point of view sometimes diverges from the writer's"
(Dharker 351). Another problem that he notices has to do with Saleem's pervasive
authority which can make it "difficult for the reader to see through that authority to
another point of view about him" (Dharker 352). The benefit, at least from the writer's
perspective is that, "it's quite easy for a writer to have a figure through whom he can
speak" (Dharker 352).
Fantasy, to Saiman Rushdie, is "more an enabling device than a central part" of
his works of fiction. Saleem's telepathic powers, along with those of the rest of the
Midnight's Children, are "useful as a way of enriching realism" and not "an end in
itself' (Dharker 351). This is one of the reasons why the incredible powers given to the
children are not exploited to a larger extent; they werc to be ways of developing the
plot (for example, Saleem's telepathy gave him visions of his mother's iniidelity which
led to his first attempt at altering history), rather than becoming the main subject
matter. There was the possibility that a concept 50 strong as 1001 children with
magical powers would overcome realistic and political aspects of the book, and this was
avoided by leaving the midnight's children as a largely undeveloped idea. The
midnight's children are also a symbol of unrealised hope, just as India too remains an
unreali5ed hope (Chinweizu 25).

62
This book is not a political allegory (as is ~), but several political issues are
( explored, and factional stances are assumed. The writing of Mjdnight's Children is a
political act, and the novel concerns itself with political issues. The presentation of the
Widow is a statement of probable official consequences. With her centre-parted half-
white and half-black hair, and her looming presence, she is comparable to the animated
villain Cruella de Ville, but is meant to represent Indira Gandhi. Saleem makes it clear
that the Widow, the Madam, h Indirn Gandhi and that, as he says, "my historic mission
[was] to rescue the nation from her fate" (Rushdie, Midnight's 394). The Emergency,
Iike the Widow's hair, "had a white part - public, visible documented, a matter for
historians - and a black part which, being secret macabre untold, must be a maller for
us" (Rushdie, Midnight's 421), us meaning Saleem, the author and the reader. Saleem's
indictment of the Widow is sharp and vicious, and he states that while the famous
phrase at the time might have been Indira is India and India is Indira (Rushdie,
Midnjgh!'s 420):
1 have included this somewhat elementary summary just in case you have
failed to realize that the Prime Minister of India was, in 1975, fifteen
years a widow. Or (because the capital leller May be of use): a Widow
(Rushdie, Midnight's 420).
Bally speaks of Saleem's narrative beginning to transgress the bounds of fiction
for .. "when Saleem confesses his Widow-induced castration to Padma, he provides her
with the reason for his impotence and proves to her the existence of the fictional
Saleem" (63). She wonders if Rushdie, too, begins to transgress the bounds and the
propriety of fiction when he identifies the Widow as Indira Gandhi. The answer is
complex. Once someone enters the realm of fiction they cense tO be a "real" person and
become a fictional character, thus, "Indira Gandhi is undoubtedly a fictional character
in a novel by Salman Rushdie, just as Saleem is a character in his own autobiography."
Genelle argues persuasively that, "we shall not confound extradiegetic with real
historical existence nor diagetic (or even metadiegetic) status with fiction" (qtd. in Bally
64).
Bally applies this concept to Rushdie's work:
This duality is precisely the problem which Midnight's Children
confronts, but the novel is neither a political trentise nor a fantastical
tale: it is an act of seditioil, commilled not just against the state, but
against a prescribed conception of literature. Rushdie's implication -that
if history is composed of fictions, then fiction can be composed of
history - is perhaps the MOSt potent message of Midnight's Children.. u

Rushdie employs the art of suspense in this novel not just to titillate his
.,
;

63
audience, but to salvage Saleem's desperate narrative act from absurdity
and, in so doing, to risk delivering a powerful political and liternry
message (64).
White might argue that it is not always so easy to make a clean cut between
history and fiction, as least not once the history has been told in a narrative form.
Narratives involve the telling of stories, which includes plot, characters. etcetera. Real
Iife does not happen in a story form with a set beginning, middle and end, yet in order
to present the history in an interesting and coherent manner, it must be interpreted in
such a way as to become a narrative. By narrativizing real Iife, one brings it closer to
fiction, just as Rushdie has brought his fiction closer to history by historicizing it,
shaping the book according to real events and people.
While a fantastic tale on one hand, Midnight's Children also has some
characteristics in common with journalistic or non-fiction novels. Certain passages
provide data about the division of India into language states, or election information
based on the Indian census of 1961, and:
Such passages relate the novel to the modern phenomenon of the Non-
fiction Novel. The Non-fiction Novel is a novel based on contemporary
political events the genre having originated in some American novelists'
feeling that in the sixties real events in that country had acquired a
quality of fantasy (Banerjee 201).
Cronin explains how this juxtaposition of fantasy and non-fiction works:
The Indian-English novel is commitled to fantasy, because its premise is
the fantastic c1aim of one individual to embody the impossible diversity
of India. But if it were purely fantastic, India would dissolve into a
Never-Never land. The characteristic mode of th~ Indian-English novei
is fantastic realism. The term is common enough, but it familiarity
should not blunl our recognition that it is a paradox. The fantasist looks
inwards at the ordered world of his dreams: the realist looks out at the
chaotic c1utler of the world around him (211).
Cronin also feels that one of the main reasons for incorporating fantasy within
reality is because the "Indian English novel cannot be wriuen by a simple realist, but
only by a writer willing to flirt with fantasy, a writer ready to dally with the Bombay
talkie" (205). This is demonstrated in the novel by the failure of Saleem's uncle Hanif
to interest anyone in his documentary type film script, "The Ordinary Life of a Pickle
Factory".
Some of the language and imagery in this novel is tied to film imagery. Movies
play an incredibly significant role in Jndian Iife; they are a cheap and thus accessible

64
form of escape for an impoverished population. Bombay, the location of much of the
action in Mjdnjght's Children, is the Hollywood of India.
Structurally, Saleem provides the reader with hints or previews of events to
come, or according to the analogy Saleem himself supplies, 'trailers', as in episodic
cinemas. Along with trailers, Saleem employs another cinematic narrative device, the
synopsis:
A close examination of Midnight's Children reveals that the chapter by
chapter progression of the novel resembles the structure of an episodic
film, or seriaI, in which synopses of previous events provide a rhythmical
counterpoint to the tantalizing teasers which anticipate events to come.
The comparison of Saleem's technique to that employed by episodic
cinema is a relevant one: just as the cliffhanger seriai is ruthless in
manipulating the expectations of its audience, often resorting to
misleading clues in ils trailers, Saleem also employs sensationalism in
order to hold the interest of his audience. Narrative synopses provide
Saleem with a means of compensating for this sensationalism by imposing
order and significance on past events, but these synopses also slow the
narrative pace, thereby functioning to retard exposition and abet
concealment (Batty 57).
Thus the narrative of Midnight's Children is one of disclosure played against
concealment.
Movie images are also used to expand the English language and to create a
special version of Indian, or Rushdian, dialect. Examples include the narrator's aside,
"(we cut to a long-shot - nobody from Bombay should be without a basic film
vocabulary)" (Rushdie, Midnight's 33), and the "eroticism of the indire~t kiss" (Rushdie,
Midnight's 218), in which "life imilated bad art" (Rushdie, Midnigr.fi 217):
because what l'm watching here on my dirty glass cinema-sereen is, aCter
ail, an Indian movie, in which physical contact is forbidden lest it
corrupt the watchin~ f10wer of Indian youth (Rushdie, Midnight's 217).
Even reality is not immune to the movie analogy:
Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past,
the more concrete and plausible it seems - but as you approach the
present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible. Suppose yourself
in a large cinema, sitting at first in the back row, and gradually moving
up, row by row, until your nose is almost pressed against the screen.
Gradually the stars' faces dissolve into dancing grain; tiny details assume

65
grotesque proportions; the illusion dissolves - or rather, it become clear
thatthe illusion itself h reality... (Rushdie, mjdnjght's 165-166).
Saleem is concerned about ending his story, for it is the moment at which the
past meets the present, the point at which history, mythology and autobiography unite
in a finale of Saleem's and India's story. As the past catches up with the present the
narrator is left only bits of his memory and he is worried for this is not how the finale
to his story should be written. He begins to doubt himself and his story, remembering
his father's "improvised endings for fairy-tales whose original conclusions he had long
ago forgotten" and wonders:
(... if 1 began again, would l, too, end in a different place?) Weil then: 1
must content myself with' shreds and scraps: as 1 wrote centuries ago, the
trick it to fill in the gaps, guided by the few clues one is given
(Rushdie, Midnight's 427).
The amount of information Saleem provides can hardly be considered scraps, but still
there are gaps and holes in the story and in the narrative, hints, clues and tricks that
the reader must follow and interpret. The final puzzle in the book is the ending, and it
is a mystery to Saleem as weil as to the reader. He claims, "1 shall have to write the
future as 1 have written the past, to set it down with thn absolu te certainty of a
prophet," yet admits that one jar must remain empty, because it is impossible to
preserve what has yet to take place. Many cri tics read the last section of the novel
oPtimi.ltically, and Saleem does encourage that reading, speaking of events such as his
marriage to Padma, and his upcoming birthday. The final paragraph, however, is built
on paradoxes:
it is the privilege and the curse of midnight's children to be both masters
and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the
annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live Or die
in peace (Rushdie, Midnight's 463).
Privilege/curse; masters/victims; live/die: these are ideas in opposition to one another,
yet it is the energy and emotions present in the onposition that keep possibilities open.
Saleem and his children to come for 1001 generations may be, "sucked into the
annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes," but then they will become part of the who/e.
And the massive population of India is so tremendous that it is impossib!e to destroy
and il will live forever. So it is in this sense, that as long as there is Iife there is hope.
and not in terms of Saleem or his family, that the book can be viewed as ending on an
optimistic, or at least non-fatalistic note.
Rushdie's concern about reality. truth and their misrepresentation by those in
power is apparent in his work. Although incorporating aspects of fantasy and magical

66
realism, it is realism that is the key clement. Reality to Rushdie is a fluid thing, not
(
fixed; "Realism is not an aesthetie idea. Realism is also a politieal idea. [t's also an
imaginative idea" (Dharker 352). Unlike sorne books whose world is too elosed, where,
"Il doesn't seem to spi Il into the world outside, the world doesn't seem to invade," he
wishes to allow his writing to remain "slightly more open at the edges" (Dharker 357).
The interaction between reality, fiction, history, fantasy, polities, fiction and non-
fiction hns a position in the world of Mjdnight's Children. It is the role of writers to
take a stand, to be politieal and to challenge that small group in authority who control
what is truth and reality. By ereating u:lernate realities, and writing alternate histories,
you ean provide other pietures of the world. Ultimately, Mjdnight's Children does not
provide solutions, but opens the door to endless possibilities.

~.

67
CHAPTER 6 PAKISTAN/PECCAVISTAN AND POLITICAL
MYTHOLOGY IN SHAME

Since without me the pen of destiny writes about me,


why, then, do they ascribe its good and bad to me?
Yesterday without me, and today, Iike yesterday, without
me and thee - tomorrow on what allegation will they
cali me to the Judge? (The Rubai'yat of 'Umar Khayyam 71).

Midnight's Children, Iike the country it represents, is a huge, rambling, fantastic


entity, filled with hope and possibility. ~,like Pakistan, is smaller, meaner and
lacking in hope. India is dynamic, changing and evolving; Pakistan, as portrayed by
Rushdie, is somehow static and stagnant, a stillborn child, strangled at birth on its own
umbilical cord, Iike Raza Hyder's son. Rushdie insists that ~ is not purely an
'an ti-Pakistan' book; "Il is aIl a question of the correct understanding of time and
history. That is what is important, otherwise one gets lost in these terms" (Gentleman
59). India, Iike Pakistan, commilted horrific crimes during the Partition and ils
politicians are involved in their fair share of scandai and corruption (e.g. the
Emergency of 1975). \Vhen guilty, India does not escape Rushdie's sharp indictments,
but it is a moment or event of Indian history that is shameful, not the concept of lndia
itself. Pakistan, described by a critic in reference to Shame as "India's angry
appendage, that sad artificial afterbirth of Independence" (Hyman 93), (although
technically it came into existence a full day before Independent India), is according to
the narrator of Shame a mistake right from the beginning, "a failure of the dreaming
mind" (qtd. in Hyman 93). Pakistan, which translated from Urdu means "Land of the
Pure" is an acronym thought up by a group of Moslem intellectuals in London. Each
lelter represents a different ethnic group that together comprise Pakistan: P for
Punjabis, A for Afghans, K for Kashmiris, S for Sindhis and tan for Baluchistan. Il is
interesting to note that there is no mention of the Bengalis, inhabitants of what was
once part of India, then East Pakistan and is :.ow the independent nation of Bangladesh.
Midnight's Children traces Indian history from Independence in 1947 through
the 1975 Emergency. Shame is situated in Post-Independent Pakistan, concentrating on
the decades of the 19505 through the 19705. Or, as the narrator prefers, the Iate
fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries of the Hegerian calendar. ln Midnight's
Children the narrator is a character and plays a guiding role in the story. Saleem Sinai
is the hero of the tale, and his personal history parallels the history of India. One cri tic
feels that in writing Midnight's Children and Shame, "Rushdie has actually conjured up
a striking new genre by mixing free-flight fairy-tale with savage political indictment"

68
(Guruprasad 175). Rushdie employs parody, satire and elements of the grotesque to
( belittle and ridicule the objects of his derision. Yet despite overlapping time periods
and locations, the two novels are very different in both style and structure. In
Midnight's Children Saleem's family story is woven together with the story of India.
Rushdie often uses parallel structure in this novel; events in the Sinai clan are the result
and/or the cause of the real historical occurrences. In ~ Rushdie once again sets
up a situation of family and politics, but the structure is different from that in
Midnight's Children. In~, the fictional families, the Harappas and the Hyders
represent the real-life politicos the Bhuttos and the ul-Haqs. Rather than having a
fictional family intertwined with historical figures as in the previous novel, in ~
the fictional families parody the historical personages.
One review comments on the structure:
To be geometric for a moment: there is the real Pakistan, and parallel
with it there is Rushdie's satirical equivalent, Peccavistan, so called after
an apocryphal one-word message home from Napier du ring his campaign
- "Peccavi", "1 have Sind" (the pun's irony is compounded when you are
reminded that the prefix pak means pure) (Encounter 72).
There is a central story of a political power struggle between the Hyders and the
Harappas, and a peripheral story of shame and shamelessness:
Rushdie moves between central and peripheral story with a masterful
sense of timing and suspense. Occasionally, too, he sidesteps from the
comic horror of Peccavistan to the comic horror of Pakistan where an
epic power struggle is emerging between another ex-libertine called Ali
Bhutto and an equivocal puritan called General Zia...
This delicately maintained parallel gives Rushdie a latitude which
he exploits very skilfully indeed. The excursions into Pakistan proper
allow him to act as incisive observer of the poli tics of Islam, while back
in Peccavistan those observations are milked for their rich comic
potential (Encou,~~ 72).
The narrative of ~ is divided into two distinct parts. T;,e first part recounts
the fictional story of the peripheral hero, Omar Khayyam Shakil, his friendship with
the Harappa family and his marriage into the Hyder family. This story, for the
fictional tale tells but one story, is divided into many plots and sub-plots. These
include Omar's life of shamelessness, Sufiya's life of shame, the tale of political and
personal rivalry between Isky and Raza, and its counterpart, the oppressive existence of
the women. Ali of these sub-plots unite to tell one story of public and private lives of

69
the ruling families of an imaginary nation, and of the effects of violence, oppression
and shame on the inhabitants of this nation.
The other section of the narrative exists outside of the world of Omar Khayyam
in a more real world of newspaper articles, British and Pakistani poli tics, and the life of
the narrator. But the narrator of this story is also the narrator and the author of the
other story. He is a doubting narrator, and wonders if he is the proper storyteller. He
has a friend, a poet in Pakistan, who ~ight be beller suited to tell this story or another
of his own invention. But his friend has been jailed and no longer writes, so that
leaves the narrator to tell the tale, "inventing what never happened to me" (Rushdie,
~ 28). By mentioning his jailed friend, the narralor who is also the implied author
and perhaps even the author himself, is making a very political statement about
censorship and lack of intellectual freedom in Pakistan. Other voices intrude in the
narrative, calling the narrator 'Outsider! Trespasser! Poacher! Pirate!'. They challenge
him, and his right to tell this story:
We reject your authority. We know you, with your foreign language
wrapped around you like a flag: speaking about us in your forked
tongue, what can you tell but lies? (Rushdie, ~ 28).
This questioning of the narrator probably reflects similar queries aimed at Rushdie
himself. Since he resides in England, spent fCW years in Pakistan and is considered a
'Iapsed' Moslem, his ability along with his right to deal with topics of sub-continental
and Islamic content have often been challenged. The narrator responds to the challenge
with the question; "is history to be considered the property of the participants?"
(Rushdie, Shame 28).
This is a key concept in Rushdie's work. He feels that the actual participants in
historical events and movements do play a vital part, and that each actor, no malter
how small his raie, is able to affect the outcome. An example of this occurs in
Midnight's Children when Saleem unexpectedly joins the language marches, and by the
recitation of a four-line rhyme, the only thing he could remember in Gujarati, allers
the path of history. This example, however, only serves to reinforce the importance of
participants in history; it still remains to be shown that non-participants too can affect
history and thus become part of history and claim at least partial ownership. In
Grimus, the narrator talks about one of the characters making a rendezvous with a
small historical event:
If he had known, he would have philosophized at length about the
parade of history, about the historian's inability to stand apart and watch;

70
it was erroneous, he wou Id have said, to look upon oneself as an
Olympian chronicler; one was a member of the parade (Rushdie, Grimus
13).
Rushdie, through the act of writing about the events in Pakistan, ceases to be a
'Trespasser' and becomes a participant. This ties in with Hayden White's belief that by
virtue of the Interpretation involved in writing, an historian always influences his
audience, and alters hislory. Like Saleem and other historians, the author becomes an
active member in the parade of life.
Rani Harappa's shawls represent a third type of narration that exists within the
fictional tale. Like the tapestry of Philomela which tells the story of her rape (she is
unable to tell it direct1y since her tongue has been cut out) ( Fletcher 123), Rani's
shawls tell her story. Rani, too, has been silenced; she is a woman living in a country
undergoing an Islamic revival, sent away to the family estate in the Sind, while her
husband engages in an assortment of ilIegal and immoral activities in the city. Rani
embroiders eighteen shawls of memory, a 1001 tales entitled "The Shamelessness of
Iskander the Great" (Rushdie, Shame 191). In her epitaphs of wool she perpetuates his
memory, which is very different from what is perceived by her daughter Arjumand.
The Virgin Ironpants believes in the legendary and divine status of Iskander. Rani's
shawls reveal "unspeakable things which nobody wanted to hear" (Rushdie, ~ 191).
They spoke of his infidelity despite his claim of pious celibacy, of his cruelty, of the
torture he inflicted upon others, of the shame of his corruption. The shawls show
Iskander strangling Democracy, assassinating possibility, and the death of Little Mir, for
which Iskander is eventually tried and executed. The handicrafts provide a summary of
the male story, and because they concentrate the acts of the government into a small
area, their violence and shamefulness are emphasized.
There are several different times and spaces in this story. The narrator is telling
the story of an imaginary Islamic sub-continental post-independence nation from the
perspective of modern-day England. The narrator reminisces about different incidents
in his life; a trip to Pakis,an after the birth of his son "a few weeks after Russian
troops entered Afghanistan" (Rushdie, Shame 26), and the death of the Pakistani girl
Anna which he says was not so long ago. Sorne critics, for example Narayan, believe
that "in Shame the first person comments are by the author himself (tongue in cheek)
giving details about what he thinks of it ail (79), and that during the course of the
novel "Rushdie takes the reader into confidence" (80). The narrator teases the reader,
telling of events that happen in the 14th and 15th century, and then adding that he is
referring to the Hegerian calendar, which would make the date correspond to the 20th
century. He also mentions a period of 4000 days which is much more confusing than

71
II years. Omar Khayyam and Sufiya Zinobia both suffer from a kind of insomnia, and
need very little sleep. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, and the narralor
often finds himself in the position of having to turn back the clock. Time is
'disobedient', and il "inflicts strange ironies on its victims" (Rushdie, ~ 258).
While history in Midnight's Children is 'chutnified', Time in S1!.lI.m.e. "cannot be
homogenized as easily as milk" (Rushdie, S1!.lI.m.e. 13).
Timothy Hyman in his review "Fairy-tale Aglprop" compares the use of
narrative and narrator in Midnight's Children and ~, and feels that in S1!.lI.m.e.
Rushdie has somehow failed, that "the substance of the novel...seems to slip away, or is
never allowed to surface" (Hyman 93). Hyman explains the difference between the two
novels:
In the earlier book the tale was often fractured by the narrator, but this
narrator was himself part of the fiction, and it was even possible to read
it ail as his marvellous, unreliable yarn. But in Shame the authorial
presence is Rushdie himself, suddenly interposing in his everyday role as
enlightened, sharply-commenting man of the world. From the fairy-tale
we shift jarringly into a kind of Time-Out Agitprop (Hyman 93).
As in ail his novels, history is a complex topic in ~ that is interactive and
interdependent with other topics. One critic analyses Rushdie's use of history in this
novel:
Shame depicts the contemporary political situation in Pakistan ... The
novel contains, however, a vivid presentation of history in the sideplot
involving relationships between the two important architects of Pakistan's
history - Raza Hyder and Iskander Harappa (who are, in fact, based on
General Zia and Zulfikar Bhutto respectively) (Pathak 213).
History, like time in Shame, is not a positive force; it has been misused and iIl-treated
for so long that it can no longer function properly:
History was old and rusted, it was a machine nobody had plugged in for
thousands of years, and here ail of a sudden it was being asked for
maximum output (Rushdie, Shame 82).
History is also seen as a woman, a seductress capable of destroying men:
History had been waiting for Iskander Harappa to notice Her, and a man
who catches History's eye is thereafter bound to a mistress from whom
he will never escape (Rushdie, Shame 124).
History is an evolutionary process under which changes occur, and only the strongest of
the species survive:

72
History is natural selection. Mutant versions of the past struggle for
dominance; new species of fact arise, and old, saurian truths go to the
wall, blindfolded and smoking last cigarettes. Only the mutations of the
strong survive. The weak, the anonymous, the defeated leave few marks:
field-patterns, axe-heads, folk-tales, broken pitchers, burial mounds, the
fading memory of their youthful beauty. History loves only those who
dominate her: it is a relationship of mutual enslavement (Rushdie, Shnme
124).
History is compared here to Darwin's theory of natural selection, the survival of the
fittest, to remains searched or on an archaeological dig, and to a destructive type of
sexual relationship.
Another important concept developed throughout Rushdie's novels is the
relationship between the individual and history. Midnight's Children and ~
specifically concentrate on recreating the history of the Indian subcontinent and:
He makes in them commendable attempts to charter interlocking and
interdependent relationships of history and the individual and to restore
the much-needed sense of dignity to the latter (Pathak 223).
Mixed in with general theories of history is information of a journalistic nature.
The narrator mentions news events in England, connects the timing of personal trips
with larger political events such as the arrivai of Russian troops in Afghanistan, and
within the fictional story includes such occurrences as the disappearance of a former
chief minister, the elections, and the war between East and West Pakistan.
Shnme is a novel of poles, of opposites and parallels. There are two distinct
narrations in Shame; one is the fairy-tale, and the other is the commentary by the
narrator (implied author?) that many critics claim is the voice of Rushdie himself. Like
Rushdie's other novels, ~ is the product of the intertwining of various strands of
stories, images, plots and themes. Shame, like Midnight's Children, demands a
knowledge of the history and politics of the sub-continenl. But somehow the demand
is not so urgent in M':Inight's Children, perhaps because the book is a novel first and a
political commentary second, and the reverse is true for Shame. Poli tics are vital to
Rushdie, in his personal life and in his writing; "Rushdie counts himself a political
animal and considers the act of description a political act" (Sethi 137). The writing of
~ is in a sense a political act for it was at least partially inspired by his reaction to
a racially-motivated attack on his sister in the London underground (Smith 50). He is
angered by the growth of racism and xenophobia in England, and believes that as a
writer one must take a stand on issues, Shame is not mereiy a diatribe against the evils
of racism, but an exploration of the human reactions to the evil. He explains that:

73
one of the things that struck me over and over again, when violence was
done to people, especially racially motivated violence, one or the most
common responses to it was not anger but shame. Il struck me that if
violence engendered shame, it was 31so true that shame engendered
violence. And 1 began to think that this lillie cluster or ideas - shame,
honor, pride - those three were somewhere very close to the center or
how we organize our experience, and that nobody had really plucked that
thread out berore to look at it (Smith 50).
Because much of ~ is wrillen as a parody, one must be ramiliar with
Pakistan's history to understand and appreciate the various levels present in this novel.
For without the knowledge that the libertine-turned-pious Isky is Bhutto, his adoring
daughter the Virgin Iron Pants is Benazir Bhutto, and his protege-cum-murderer is
General Zia ul-Haq, the reader would miss much or the meaning and depth or the
book. Rushdie admits that similarities exist between his characters and Bhutto and Zia,
but claims that his true interest was not in doing portraits:
What interested me was the relationship of two men, one or whom is the
other's protege and then becomes his executioner. Il was a kind or
Shakespearean tragedy, 1 thought, the stuff of high tragedy. fuU the
characters involved were not high tragic characters, this was not King
Lear. They're gangsters, clowns, hoodlums who had somehow got into
the cast or a high tragedy. And what you had to do was, take the plot
of tragedy and write it like farce, a kind or macabre, black rarce (Smith
50).
It is through an exploration or relationships, of opposites and doubles that the
structure and meaning of Shame can best be grasped. Many of the elements or the
novel exist in parallel structures, where they can be compared and contrasted to each
other. This is especially true for the characters in the novel; Iskander Harappa and
Raza Hyder exist as roils to one another. One is a civilian, the other in the military; as
the career or one rises that or the other onen plummets. They are related by marriage,
and their wives hope to strengthen this tie by wedding Hyder's first born son with
Isky's daughter. Sadly, Hyder's son is strangled by his umbilical cord while still in the
womb, and the Hyders are only able to produce daughters aner this. Both men have
strained relationships with their wives, and both ror awhile desire the same woman as
their mistress.
There are also certain parallels between these rictional characters and politicians
in the real world. Many or the characters in ~ are parodies or their counterparts
in Pakistani history:

74
Zia Ulhaq is Razor Guts Hyder Raza; Z.A. Bhutto is Iskander Mirza.
Nusrat Bhutto becomes Penelope-Iike Rani Harappa, and Benazir Bhutto
Arjumand Harappa, the Virgin Ironpants. Some less central figures
retain their own names in Rushdie's chronicle; even General Ayub
remains as A., Yahya Khan becomes President Shaggy Dog, Sheikh
Mujib becomes Sheikh Bismillah (Guruprasad 186- 187).
The fictional plot of Shame traces the politics of twentieth-century Pakistan and can be
viewed as:
an extended chronological account of the scandalous reigns of Z.A.
Bhutto and Zia Ulhaq CMLA (Chief Martial Law Administrator parodied
into Cancel My Last Announcement), even prophesying his abracadabra
fall as he fled unmanned in his wife's burqua into the oblivion of the
Himalayan tribes and straight into the vengeful arms of the scandalous
three-mothers of Omar Khayyam (Guruprasad 186).
Shame is not about Bhutto and Zia, as they really were, but "as they might
appear, centuries later, in some 1001 nights - magnified, transmogrified, distorted"
(Earight 26). Shame is and is not abut Pakistan - or is not Q!l!:l about Pakistan; it is
"aIso about sexual rivalry, ambition, power, betrayal - matters found everywhere and
always - and about poli tics and religion, history and ghosts" (Earight 26), as are ail of
Rushdie's novels. In his review of Shame, D.J. Earight explains that "It is not the
mingling of reality and fanta.y that disquiets, but the degree of reality in the fantasy"
(27).
Along with the Many parallels between recent political figures and characters in
~ there are also a number of historical and Iiterary allusions that deserve mention.
The MOSt obvious is the connection between the hero Omar Khayyam Shakil and the
Persian poet Omar Khayyam. The poet was born in or near Nishapur, which is also the
name of the character's house in the town of Q. Nishapur, translated from Urdu Mean
'City of Night.' Although they share their names and their place of birth, it is made
c1ear by the narrator that 01..ar Khayyam Shakil is not a poet. He does, however,
follow the ad vice given by the poet Khayyam, that is to enjoy Iife and feel no shame:
Khayyam, if you are drunk with wine, be happy. If
you have sat with a beloved who has a face like the Moon,
be happy. Since the end of the affairs of the world is
nothingness, suppose that you are not, but while you are,
be happy (Rubai'yat 116).
The narrator discusses the poet Omar Khayyam, and emphasizes the similarities between
the poet and himself:

75
Omar Khayyam's position as a poet is curious. He was never very
popular in his native Persia; and he cxists in the West in a translation
that is really a complete reworking of his verses, in many cases very
different from the spirit (to say nothing of the content of the original.)
l, too, am a translated man. 1 have been borne across. Il is generally
believed that something is always lost in translation; 1 cling to the notion
- and use, in evidence, the success of Fitzgerald-Khayyam - that
something can also be gained (Rushdie, ~ 29).
If one agrees with sorne of the critics who claim that the narrator is actually Rushdie,
then one can make the following substitutions: Rushdie has never been very popular in
his native India or Pakistan. Rushdie's translation is not necessarily from one language
to another (although the argument has been made that he writes in a special blend of
Indian English), but from one culture to another, from the East to the West. Much has
been gained by Rushdie from this translation: prestige, recognition and acceptance in
the West. Thaker Guruprasnd argues that:
Omar Khayyam ShakH's role in this novel is identical with that of Saleem
Sinai in Midnight's Children. Both are the author's alter ego and
represent his satirical venom applied with merciless comic vituperation to
the political reportage of scenario in the two countries. And both are
supremely grotesque vehicles for linking fanciful family tale and murky
political history (179).
Omar Khayyam, the hero who did not write poetry, had a brother who did
write verse. His name was Babar, and he was a guerilla in the Impossible Mountains
outside of Q. His nickname was 'Emperor':
in memory of that other Babar whose throne was usurped, who took to
the hills with a raggcu army and who at last founded th~t renowned
dynasty of monarchs whose family name is still used as a title bestowed
on film tycoons (Rushdie, Shame 121).
Maulana Dawood, the religious zealot who believes Karachi is the holy land
Mecca, has a name derived from two sources: Maulana is said to be the name of a
Moslem holy man, while Dawood is the translator of the English version of the Koran
used by Rushdie.
Iskander Mirza is another character whose name is loaded with historical
significance. Iskander, the Arabic version of Alexander, in an epiphany, sees himself
as a reborn Alexander the Great and begins his reformation as "would-be Olympic
champions must conform to the most stringent of training routines" (Rushdie, Shame
124). Later, during the birth of the legend of Chairman Iskander Harappa, "A NEW

76
MAN FOR A NEW CENTURY" he tears open his shirt during an impassioned speech,
baring his "hairless breast" to the "cheering, weeping crowd" (Rushdie, ~ 130). The
narrator notes in an aside:
(The young Richard Burton once did the same thing, in the film
Alexander the Grent. The soldiers loved Alexander bccause he showed
them his batlle scars) (Rushdie, ~ 130).
This juxtaposition of images, Richard Burton's Alexander baring his powerful chest to
soldiers, and the politician Isky Harappa exposing his 'hairless breast', very effeminate
terms, to the 'cheering, weeping crowd' serves to ridicule and unman Isky at the same
moment. Another real-Iife politician, Juan Peron, successfully performed the same
stunt of ripping off his shirt in an emotional moment and endeared himself to the
crowd of decamisados. poor 'shirtless ones', forever. So with this action, Isky j~
portrayed as a ridiculous figure and a wily politician at the same time.
Other characters are set up poJemically within the world of~. Omar
Khayyam Shakil and Sufiya (Shame) Hyder are the hero and heroine of the novel.
They represent the two peles of shame and shamelessness. They are not typical heroes;
both are peripheral characters, and grotesques. Omar is an obese cartoon, a voyeuristic
lecher who must hypnotize women in order to salisfy his carnal desires. Sufiya is a
naive child on the surface with an evil blackness growing within. Even the narrator
questions Omar's qualifications; "Oizzy, peripheral, inverted, infatuated, insomniac,
stargazing, fat: what manner of hero is this?" (Rushdie, Shame 25). Upon leaving the
security of his family home for the first time at the age of twelve, Omar was wholly
unfamiliar with the emotion shan.a, in which he was now forbidden to indulge
(Rushdie, ~ 39). Sufiya, a mentally retarded person and thus pure, is the
receptac!e for the shame of others. She is called Shame by her mother Bilquis, and
eventually absorbs 50 much shame that it destroys her purity and beauty, and leaves a
beast in its stead. ' The narrator asks, "what's the opposite of shame? What's left when
sharam is subtracted? That's obvious: shamelessness" (Rushdie, Shame 39). Therefore,
the opposite of the blushing Sufiya, the embodiment of shame is the degenerate doctor,
Omar Khayyam, shamelessness itself.
Rushdie states in an intervie',y quoted earlier that it is the "liule cJuster of
ideas - shame, honor, pride" (Smith 50), that are central to human experience and
concepts in the tex!. Shame, the tille of the novel, is also a central theme. Early in
the text the word shame, or sharam as the narrator prefers, is defined for the reader:
This word: shame. No, 1 must write it in its original form, not in this
peculiar language tainted by wrong concepts and the accumulated detritus

77
of ils owners' unrepented past, this Angrezi in which 1 am forced to
write, and 50 for ever alter what is wrilten ...
Sharnm, that's the word. For which this paltry 'shame' is a
wholly inadequate translation. Three lelters, shjn re mim (written,
naturally, l'rom right to left); plus mhl\l: accents indicating the short
vowel sounds. A short word, but one containing encyclopaedias of
nuance. Il was not only shame that his mothers forbade Omar Khayyam
ta feel, but also embarrassment, discomfiture, decency, modesty, shyness,
the sense of having an ordained place in the world, and other dialects of
emotion for which English has no counterparts (Rushdie, ~ 38-39).
So the emotion of shame, and its counterpart shamelessness, are the motivations
for and the results of much of the actions in the story. Thesil emotions do not remain
in li ue opposition to one another, just as the human embodimenls of these emotions,
Omar Khayyam and Sufiya, do not remain apart. Omar the companion of Isky, and
Sufiya, the daughter of Isky's protege Raza 'Razor Gut' Hyder Harappa, are coupled
first as doctor and patient, then as husband and wife and finally as murderer and
victim. Thus, the two fc;nilies and the two emotions are securely Iinked. Although
Omar Khayyam is named the hero of the novel, the narrator considers Sufiya Zinobia
to be the most important persan, or symbol in the tex!:
This is a novel about Sufiya Zinobia ... Or perhaps it would be more
accurate, if also more opaque, to say that Sufiya Zinobia is about this
novel (Rushdie, Shame 59).
The killing of Anna Mohammad in London, for reasons of honour. the aHack of the
other young woman, and the shame these incidents entailed, are personified and
explored through the fictional character of Sufiya Zinobia.
And what is the significance of Sufiya Zinobia's shame? Since Omar Khayyam,
and most of the other male characters in the book are totally shameless, it is left to
martyrs Iike Sufiya and the other women to suffer in their stead. In Islam it is the
female who must cover her body lest she tempt a male. Sufiya cannot withstand the
evil indefinitely; the beast of shame is powerful and must destroy. It begins with
Sufiya, the receptacle of shame, and comes full circle to her shameless nemesis, Omar
Khayyam. Shame is a complex symbol in the novel, it represents a 1055 of power and
thus a 1055 of self often felt by oppressed peoples: women, racial and religious
minorities. Sufiya Zinobia, born as shame and reborn as the beast ois a symbol for the
long-oppressed common people turning on their oppressors; the beast is the result of an
unholy alliance between Islamic fundamentalism and Westernization (the doctor Shakil)"

78
(Narayan 81). Sufiya is also born of the Partition (her parents met while seeking refuge
in the Alhambra fort in Delhi) which "las a violent and shameful event.
Not only are characters set up in parallel structures, so are the plots and subplots
of the novel:
Once upon a time there were two families, their destinies inseparable
even by death. 1 had thought, before 1 began, that what 1 had on my
hands "las an almost excessively masculine tale, a saga of sexual rivalry,
ambition, power, patronage, betrayal, death, revenge. But the women
seem to have taken over; they marched in from the peripheries of the
story to demand the inclusion of their own tragedies, histories and
comedies, obliging me to couch my narrative in ail manner of sinuous
complexities, to see my 'male' plot refracted, so to speak, through the
prisms of its reverse and 'female' side. Il occurs to me that the women
knew precisely what they were up to - that their stories explain, and
even subsume, the men's (Rushdie, ~ 173).
Thus the two plots are united te create one story, just as the two families are joined
through marriage and association to form one. Each plot does have different
characteristics, the male plot uses typical satire techniques such as:
parody, irony, c10wnish language, grotesquery and a mock-satiric
protagonist, and there are also humourous names, puns, jokes and folk
sayings (and mis-applied folk sayings). The plot of the "lives and
daughters is more realistic and tragic in its presentation, while the theme
of women's role generally lies in between and is dealt with in styles
ranging from the tragic to the mildly amusing (Fletcher 123).
Although there are many similarities and parallels between Pakistan and the
country in the story, the reader is reassured that the tale of Omar Khayyam is a fairy-
tale, and that there is no reason to be disturbed by the story. While Rushdie outside of
the novel admits to the connection between the country in Shame and the real country
of Pakistan, within the 'lovel the narrator insists that the two are not the same:
The country in this story is not Pakistan, or not quite. There are two
countries, real and fictional, occupying the same space, or almost the
same space. My story, my fictional country exist, Iike myself, at a slight
angle to reality. 1 have found this off-centring to be necessary; but ilS
value is, of course, open to debate. My view is that 1 am not writing
only about Pakistan.

r, .
79
-
..,..,
, 1 have not given the country a name. And Q. is not really Quetta
at ail. But 1 don't want to be precious about this: when 1 arrive al the
big cit.y, 1 shall cali it Karachi (Rushdie, ~ 29).
The narrator begins this section by stating clearly that Omar's home land is not Pakistan,
and then almost j lmediately adds the Qualifier 'or not Quite'. At another point in the
narrative he says, "If this were a realistic novel about Pakistan," implying that this is
either a non-realistic novel, or not about Pakistan. Hp. then Iists ail the topics he would
have to include were this a realistic novel - corruption, anti-Semitism, smuggling,
oppressive islamic revivais - topics which would have caused the book to be banned
and would have disproved the notion that he was "writing universally and not only
about Pakistan" (Rushdie, ~ 70). (Shame was banned in Pakistan.) This book,
however, is a "sort of modern fairy-tale", and not, according to the narrator, designed
to upset anyene. He is obviously teasing and challenging the reader here; ~ is not
a work of history or non-fiction, but it is clearly a parody of recent political
occurrences in Pakistan and bound to anger sorne of its audience. But it is also about
issues larger than just one country; it is about hatred and violence, the oppression of
women and the degeneration of men, about poli tics, religion, pride, honour and shame.
The fairy-Iand of ~ is not really Pakistan and does not have a na me. This
is explained in part by a Quotation from Milan Kundera: "A name means continuity
with the past and people without a past are people without a name" (Rushdie, ~
88). The people of Pakistan and of the fairy-Iand do have a past, but it is an Indian
past, and no longer possible in the revisioning of the subcontinent:
To build Pakistan it was necessary to cover up Indian history, to deny
that Indian centuries lay just beneath the surface of Pakistani Standard
Time. The past was rewritten; thcre was nothing else to be donc
(F.ushdie, ~ 87).
The narrator does make one last allempt at naming his country:
There's an apocryphal story that Napier, aCter a successful campaign in
what is now the south of Pakistan, sent back to England the guilty, one-
word message, 'Peccavi', 1 have Sind, l'm tempted 10 name my looking-
glass Pakistan in honour of this bilingual (and fictional, because never
really ullered) pun. Let it be Peccavistan (Rushdie, Sham~ 88).
The mirror images of Pakistan (Land of the Pure) and Peccavistan (Land of
Sinned/Sind) are not absolute opposites; although a refleclion is in sorne ways the
reverse of ilS objects, the basic similarity remains, and mirror images are oCten
mistaken for the real thing.

80
Rushdie is interested in the idea of belonging, of having a past, of being rooted
in a home land. This is a concern shared with millions of others of his Generation from
the Indian subcontinent. Born a Muslim in the soon to be independent and
prcdominantly Hindu India, by the age of fourteen Rushdie had survived a family
exodus to the Islamic nation of Pakistan, and a personal migration to England, the
country of his former colonizers. Rushdie knows, as do millions of people in this very
international world of today, what it meanl 10 be without a home and to belong
nowhere. That is to belong completely nowhe.e, !.lut also to be a member of many
societies and nations; "having a foot in both camps" (Smith 50), as Rushdie himself
admits has been a positive influence on his work. The narrator in ~ tells of his
experience as a moha jir, or immigrant:
l, too, know something of this immigrant business. 1 am an emigrant
from one country (India) and a newcomer in two (England, where 1 live,
and Pakistan, to which my family moved against my will). And 1 have a
theory that the resentments we moha iirs engender have something to do
with our conquest of the force of gravity. We have performed the act of
which ail men anciently dream, the thing for which they envy the birds;
that is to say, we have f10wn (Rushdie, ~ gS).
Migration is seen as an anti-gravitational force, a force that can generate hope along
with a collection of less positive side effects: hatred, jealousy, suspicion. The narrator
tells of himself and others Iike him:
we have come unstuck from more than land. We have f10ated upwards
from history, from memory, from Time (Rushdie, Shame 87).
Thinking of immigrants who have lost not only their homes, but also their raots and too
often their hope he finishes; "1 may be such a person. Pakistan may be such a country"
(Rushdie, Shame g7).
Just as it helps to have knowledge of the politics of Pakistan, it is also use fui to
have a familiarity with the language, Urdu. This knowledge is not vital, but does add
to the comprehension and enjoyment of the novel. Some UrOu translations have been
mentioned already: 'Land of the Pure' for Pakistan, 'City of Night' for Nishapur and
the many meanings of sharam. Some others include the names of three generals in the
army: Raddi (junk, rubbish), Bekar (useless), and Phisaddi (a good for nothing, one who
always comes last) (Narayan 81).
Some critics feel that Rushdie, Iike G.Y. Desani before him, has rewrillen the
English language and c1aimed it as a legitimate Indian language. For while it is "tainted
by history," it is also "an international language", one which is capable of absorbing
"new rhythms, new histories, new angles on the world" (Rushdie, "The Empire" 8).

81
.
Rushdie says, "1 don't think there's another language large or flexible enough to include
so many different realities" ("The Empire" 8), and gives as examples the Irish, the white
and then the black Americans ail infusing English with their different identities and
declaring it as their own. Claiming the language is not simply changing the dialect or
vocabulary, as did Desani with the use of babu-English in Ali AbQut H. Hatterr, for:
a great deal more than formaI, stylistic alteration is going on in this new
fiction. And perhaps above ail, what is going on is politics.
In the rich, powerful societies of the West, it is possible to
exclude poli tics from fiction; to treat public affairs as peripheral and
faintly disreputable. From outside the West, this IQoks Iike the sort of
position one can only take up inside a CQcoon of privilege. There are
very few major writers in the new English Iiteratures who do not place
politics at the very centre of their art (Rushdie, "The Empire" 8).
The narrator in Shame plays several roles; he is the inventor, the story-teller of
the fictional tale, he is a reporter of current events who expresses his political beliefs
and he is a writer of journals who shares his personal Iife. Shame is clearly a work of
fiction, but it is also a political and an historical tex!.
That ~ is a fictional piece is obviQus, some Qf the characters and situatiQns
may be based Qn real people and events, but much of what happens within the text is
the product of Rushdie's imagination. He builds on events, layering them with satire.
fantasy and myth. Parody, and the idea of a double structure of fiction mimicking
reality has already been discussed. Although the narrator insists that he is writing a
tale of nQn-fiction he points out many parallels to real events in the real Pakistan.
'Peccavistan' is an exaggeration. its characters are grotesques in the same way that the
characters in Winesburg. OhiQ are grotesques; while many qualities of their personalities
are under-developed, other qualities become so intense that they can cause a fixated
state that is portrayed by obsessive acts. Rani Harappa knits her shawls. Naveed Hyder
produces babies in arithmetical progression, and Omar's mothers sacrifice their
individuality in their determination to protect themselves from shame.
The narrator insists that Shame is a fairy-tale, and man y references are made tQ
both fairy-tales and myths. but ~ is a fantasy more than a fairy-tale; that is it
does not follow the rigid plot structure or pattern of a fairy-tale but has a IQoser, freer
structure. The plot of Sufiya Zinobia and Omar Khayyam follows an inverted versiQn
of Beauty and the Beast; initially Omar. fat and degenerate is the beast, and pure
Sufiya the beauty. Omar reforms, physically and morally, while Sufiya. destroyed by
the burden of shame, becomes the beas!. The entire tale is also contained within the
person of Sufiya; "The beast inside the beauty. Opposing clements of a fairy-tale

82
combined in a single character..." (Rushdie, ~ 139). Sufiya becomes a Dr.
Jekyll/Mr. Hyde creature,. and when this j, realized by others, she is transformed into a
Sleeping Beauty, kept harmless under the spell of Omar's sleeping potions. The
awakening of Sufiya Zinobia is like the opening of Pandora's box, and the result is her
metamorphosis into the instantly mythologized white panther. Rani's shawls are
compared to the stories told in 1001 nights, the Harappa men visiting their wives at
night are the forly thieves. There is a screen at Nishapur depicting lhe mythical
mounlain of Qaf, and the narrator sees himself as the mythical ash tree of Norse
legend, the Yggfrasil. Aiso referred to as mythological are the characters Iskander
Harappa and Talwar Ulhaq, who coincidentally shares a name with the late leader of
Paldslan, General Zia ul-Haq. M.D. Fletcher in the article "Rushdie's Shame as
Apologue," argues lhat "~ is essentially an apologue which strategically employs
parody, ridicule and the fantastic to achieve its purpose" (120), and defines what that
means:
The term apologue is from Shelson[sic] Sack's Fiction and the Shape of
.!k!k[ and his distinction between satires and apologues as coherent
works of fiction is apposite. In Sacks' terms, a satire is a work in which
each part is employed to the single purpose of ridicule, while an
apologue is a work "organized as a fictional example of the truth of a
formulable slatement or closely related set of such statements" (120).
Fletcher sums up that:
Uilimately, there is allegorical intent, with the personification in Sufiya
of the violence resulting from shame, and there is also the rule-shallering
use of the fanlastic as fictional strategy to break through the illusions
about human nature and "given" reality that support sexual and political
discrimination and oppression (131).
ln Midnight's Children it is Saleem's actions that shape the lives of others, in
~ "once again others had acted and by so doing had shaped the story of [Omar's]
life" (Rushdie, Shame D:I). The difference between Midnight's Children and Shame is
Ihat "Midnight's Children allempts to fuse realism and fantasy. In Shame. Rushdie
explores the possibility of turning fiction into a fruitful dialogue between the two"
(Durix 463). Durix wriles that Shame's merit and originality lie in the alternation of
familiarity and strangeness which forces readers to stay alert and to question their
vision of reality ail the time" (453). Shame makes a political statement about the
present day situation in Pakistan; but it also continues Rushdie's exploration of larger
issues:

83
it reaffirms the novelist's paradoxical altitude towards major problems in
fiction such as realism and verisimilitude, the relationship between
wr.iter, narrator, characters and reader, and works towards an original
conception of art (Durix 452).
ln The Salanic Verses it is the activities of one character in his dreams that
influences not his Iife, conscious and subconscious, but also the lives of everyone else.
Again, many of the same concerns are pursued: history, truth, migration, fact and
fiction, truth and untruth. The basic structure, as in the first two books of the trilogy,
is one of polarities, of opposites balancing one anolher. Instead of the tension being
between the public and private stories, or between history and parody, in The Satanic
~ the dreaming and waking worlds, and the basic forces of good and evil.

- 84
CHAPTER 7 ISLAM AND IMMIGRATION IN
THE DREAM AND WAKING WORLDS OF THE SATANIC VERSES

"1 am a bas tard child of history" (Rushdie, "In Good Faith" 53).

The Satanic Verses is the third book in the Rushdie trilogy. Il was short-Iisted
for the Booker Prize, and has made Saiman Rushdie the most famous, and infamous
writer of the 1980s. Il is The Satanic Verses, and its perceived insu1ts and blasphemy,
that stirred up outrage in the Islamic wor1d and caused a death warrant to be issued on
Rushdie's head. Il is interesting to note that Rushdie, who is so concerned in his novels
about the idea of the individual's influence on history and the interaction between
history and fiction, has managed through the publication of this fictional work, to
become a renown historical and Iiterary figure, and to change the course of history.
This novel, Iike the first two in the loose trilogy or triptych, is based on
dualities, and the tension that exists between the two extremes. Midnight's Children's
most prevalent duality is between the public and private stories, ~'s involves the
parody of real Iife politicos by their fictiona1 counterparts. The main tension in The
Sa13nic Verses lies between the dream world and the waking world.
The Satanic Verses is a more religious and thus more political book than the
others. In Islam, the religion that it fictionalizes, secular and non-secular lives are not
merely joined, but are one and the same. Is1amic law which is the law in Moslem
countries, is based on the Koran, which in turn draws on ancient Arab culture and
tradition. Thus, Islamic law is every Moslem's right, heritage and duty. Insulting
Muhammad is like stabbing a man with Zulfiqar, AIi's two-edged sword; it is a double
atlack involving one's religion and one's ancestry.
The Satanic Verses tells the story of two Indian men who have established
parallel, yet very distinct lives. Gibreel is a star of the Indian 'masala' movies,
portraying gods and deities with leading ladies such as Pimple Billimoria. Saladin is the
man of a thousand and (~'le voices, able to impersonate anyone or anything. His big
break came \Vith the Aliens Television Show because it allowed him to move up from
radio while still disguising his Indian heritage. Saladin's main objective it to erase his
past, and to start afresh as a real British citizen. Coincidentally (or perhaps not
coincidentally since Rushdie believes there is a reason behind coincidences), Gibreel,
too, wears costumes and disguises for his movies, not to hide his Indianness, but to
accentuate and revel in the traditional myths of the land. Even though he is a Moslem,
Hindu myths play a role in his cultural and national identity.

r
85
They are both travelling to England, Saladin to return home and Gibreel to
pursue a woman, when their plane is hijacked and consequently bombed by Sikhs
seeking an independent homeland. During the hostage phase, Gibreel fights to stay
awake, because ever since the time he denounced his faith and publicly ate pork, he has
begun to suffer from strange dreams. They are seriai dreams in which he not only
represents, but becomes, the archangel Gibreel. The plane explodes, the two men
descend miraculously to safety, and the madness begins.
Gibreel, whose mental transformation had already started in his dreams, now
physically changes into an ange!. Saladin begins an opposite mutation; he has the
misfortune of growing a goat-Iike body, complete with horns, hooves and a tail.
Dreams seep into waking life; one man's nightmare becomes everyone's reality. ft is
important to remember that things are not necessarily as they appear on the surface,
that looks can deceive, and the truth can be very different from what you first
imagined it to be.
The narrative structure is based on the counterparts of a waking world and
dream worlds. The waking world is not necessarily more realistic, for it begins with
the safe descent to England of two passengers ejected from an exploded plane, and
includes the growing of horns, taits and halos on human bodies. The main stories entait
Saladin's and Gibreel's metamorphoses and journeys through London, the Mahound/Baal
story, the Imam story and the Ayesha/butterfly story. Like the leaking of emotions in
Midnight's Children, there is the leaking of stories, so that the reader eventually comes
to realize that they are not separate entities, but connected parts of a who le; that whole
being Gibreel's psyche. It is Gibreel's sub-conscious that creates the worlds of
Mahound, Ayesha and the Imam, for he suffers recurrent dreams that take the form of
separate stories within the narrative. Because the different realities exist within the
mind of one man, there is a certain amount of overlapping or leaking amongst worlds;
characters in the dreams imagine that they see Gibreel, and Gibreel in the London story
becomes the archangel about whom he has been dreaming. Even though Gibreel seems
to be the creator of at least sorne of the plots, and the influencer of others, he is not
the narrator nor is he the only protagonist.
From the beginning of the novel, the narrator establishes himself as a mysterious
being, omniscient, almost god-Iike, yet not the only being present. After the opening
scene of Gibreel and Saladin falling from the detonated aircraft, the narrator stops the
narrative to ask the questions: "Who am I? Who else is there?"(Rushdie, Satanic Verses
4). Later one of the ghosts that haunt Gibreel, Rekha Merchant, asks him, "You
imagine there is only your One Thing in charge?"(Rushdie, Satanic Ver~es 333),
meaning that at that point in the narrative a divine being, since Gibreel had turned into

85
an approximation of the archangel Gibreel. During a discussion of the human condition
versus the angelic condition, the narrator wonders if, "Halfway between Allahgod and
homosap, did they ever doubt?"(Rushdie, Sntnnic Verses 92). He comments that angels
did doubt (the opposite of faith), ask forbidden antiquestions and engage in the old
antiquest for freedom, yet unlike men:
Angels are easily pacified; turn them into instruments and they'lI play
your harpy tune. Human beings are tougher nuts, can doubt anything,
even the evidence of their own eyes. Of behind-their-own eyes
(Rushdie, Sntanic Verses 92).
He closes the discussion by admitting that he has been engaging in blasphemy; '1 know;
devil talk. Shaitan interrupting Gibreel. Me?'" (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 93). There is
a deliberate lack of clarity here, for the reader and the narrator are unsure whether the
'me' refers to Shaitan or Gibreel. If he is Shaitan the devil, why is the connection not
made to Saladin who physically transforms into a devilish creature. If he is Gibreel, is
that the actor Gibreel, the archangel Gibreel, or sorne combination of them both? One
critic states that feels that "Gibreel's awareness of himself as both Gabriel and Satan,
and of both dream-personae as in sorne way a reflex of Mahound, signais a quite
profound exploration in the book of the ambiguities of good and evil" (Hospital 666).
During one of his dreams, Gibreel the actor rinds himself changing into Gibreel
the archangel, who is also part of Mahound the Prophet:
Gibreel, who has been hovering-above-Iooking-down, feels a confusion,
who am l, in these moments it begins to seem that the archangel is
actually inside the Prophet, ... 1 emerge, Gibreel Farishta, while my other
self, Mahound, lies Iistening, entranced, 1 am bound to him, navel to
navel, by a shining cord of Iight, not possible to say which of us is
dreaming the other (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 110).
When his waking and dreaming Iife begin to melt into one another, Gibreel for
awhile tries to differentiate between the two, or at least between his two selves:
He had begun to. characterize his 'possessed', 'angel' self as another
persan: in the Becketlian formula, Not 1. He. His very own Mr. Hyde
(Rushdie, Satanic Verses 340).
His girlfriend Allie does not want to encourage this kind of rationalization, for she
believes that Gibreel is sick, and that his sickness has taken the form of schizophrenia;
"Allie attempted to argue against such descriptions. 'It isn't he, it's you, and when
you're weil, it won't be you anymore'" (Rushdie, Satanic Ve~ 340).
The narrator sets himself up in a divine position, as the creator who upon
establishing the world decides to allow his creations to make their own choices and (ead

87
their own lives. This is the old question of free will versus pre-determination.
Christian religions (especially Catholic) employa combinat ion of the two concepts, for
white God knows ail and has the power to control everything, individuals make choices
that will determine their future and whether they go to heaven or to hell. In Islam, the
concept of pre-determination seems stronger than that of free will, and the expression
Inshallah (Allah be willing) is one utlered with frequency and with belief. For no
matter what decision an individual makes, if it is not ultimately willed by Allah it will
not come to be. Rushdie's interpretation of this idea is clearly shown du ring Saladin's
encounter on the airplane with the devout Moslem who refuses to buckle his seat belt
because whether he lives or dies depends on Allah's will and not on safety regulations.
(This is based on a story about tying up a camel in the Hadith, a collection of the
Prophet's sayings.)
The creator/narrator in Th~ Satanic Verses is somewhat removed l'rom the strict
religious interpretation of the raie of creator. The narrntor explains how he views his
role and his responsibilities:
l'm saying nothing. Don't ask me to clear things up one way or the
other; the time of revelation is long gone. The rules of Creation are
pretly clear: you set things up, you make them thus and so, and then you
let them roll. Where's the pleasure if you're always intervening to give
hints, change the rules, fix the fights? Weil, l've been pretty self-
controlled up to this point and 1 don't plan to spoit things now. Don't
think 1 haven't wanted to butt in: 1 have, plenty of times. And once, it's
true, 1 did. 1 sat on Alleluia Cone's bed and spoke to the superstar,
GibreeI. Ooparvala or Neechayvala, he wanted to know, and 1 didn't
enlighten him; 1 certainly don't intent to blab to this confused Chamcha
instead (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 408-409).
This is very different l'rom what Moslems view is the raie of Allah, and could be closer
to an anti-god or satanic view of human existence. On a different level, this is also
connected to the function of the author in a fictional work. Of course s/he cannot
present the characters and expect the story to continue sim ply because they exist on
paper. The question really is how interfering, how obviously manipulative should an
author, and by extension his narrator, be. Should they tell the story, or allow the
character, through their actions, to show the story to the audience.
The narrator claims that he is going to give his characters, and especially
Gibreel, a free reign and allow them to shape lheir own destinies; "1'01 giving him no
instructions. l, too, am interested in his choices - in the result of his wrestling match.
Character Y[ destiny; a free-style bout. Two l'ails, two submissions or a knockout will

88
decide" (Rushdie, Satgnic Verses 457)0 So the narrator not only relinquishes control,
but also responsibility, for Gibreel and his actions. He gives up his god-like position
and takes on the attitude of observer who is interested in the action but not endangered
by its outcome. He even seems to lose control of the narrative, unable to provide
definite answers and needing 10 ask questions of others. These questions, because they
remain for the moment unanswered, also serve to spark the reader's curiosity.
The Satanic Verses. like Rushdie's last two novels, is structured on a series of
dualities, opposites that define one another, that give each other meaning. These pairs
of opposing ideas balance one another, and they pull the narrative apart at the same
time as they are holding it together. Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta are the
main pair of opposites in the narrative. From the first scene in the novel they are
described in contrast to each other, and this technique continues throughout the length
of the book, following them through numerous adventures and metamorphoses. Il is
Saladin's misadventures and Gibreel's dreams and adventures that shape the stories and
plot of the novel.
This is an complicated structure whose complexity is further intensified by the
overlapping stories and characters, especially the assorted renditions of Gibreel. The
narrator explains Gibreel's mental state as follows:
Gibreel:
moves as if through a dream 000 he no longer recognizes the distinction
between the waking and dreaming states; - he understands now
something of what omnipresence must be like, because he is moving
through several stories at once (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 457)0
He thei. lists the various levels or personifications of Gibreel that exist:
there is a Gibreel who mourns his betrayal by Alleluia Cone, and a
Gibreel hovering over the death-bed of a Prophet, and a Gibreel
watching in secret over the progress of a pilgrimage to the sea, waiting
for the moment at which he will reveal himself, and a Gibreel who feels,
more powerfull,: every day, the will of the adversary 000 And there is a
Gibreel who walks down the street of London, trying to understand the
will of God (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 457).
Sorne of these are simply different aspects or developments of the same character, just
as people in real life can change through experience and time. In this circumstance,
however, sorne of the Gibreels must truly be separate, for they exist not in distinct
times, but simultaneously in parallel dimensions. They reside in his dream world,
within the realm of the subconsciouso Yet they are more than just figments of his
imagination, for these dream worlds come to be indistinguishable from the waking

89
world; they infringe on what would normally be considered Gibreel's 'real' Iife, and
cause strange events ta take place. The variaus Gibreels and their staries must
eventually join, since physically they are one. Gibreel makes the final connections
between his selves, and also associates himself with his nemesis, Saladin, by telling him,
"'Sil down and shut up, Spoono ... l'm here ta tell you a story'" and "embarked upon his
story, - which was also the end of many staries" (Rushdie, Sntnnic Verses 543).
Because Gibreel has trouble differentiating between his various states of
consciousness, he finds that, "Fictions were walking around wherever he went, ...
fictions masquerading as real human beings" (Rushdie, Satnnic Verses 192). If one
cannat tell which world is real, how can one know whether or not ils inhabitants are
real or fictional. Gibreel speaks rude verses in Arabic at night, even though he does
not know the language. He deais with these 'nightshows' be embracing schizophrenia,
that is, by succumbing ta the notion that he consists of two unique entities, rather thnn
different levels of consciousness within the same being. Allie and the psychiatrists
misunderstand the implications of this separate identity concept. They believe that
Gibreel is rebuilding the boundary wall between dreams and reality, and is recovering,
whereas this ::llher entity was secretly being made strong and would one day be able ta
challenge Gibreel for control.
Other characters are aware of the strangeness of their reality, and are involved
in the creation of staries. Allie for awhile experiences, "the prickly, ~ feelin:l of
being stranded in a false milieu, and alien narrative" (Rushdie, Sntanic Verses 340).
Saladin finds himself imagining what his dying father, "with his open, dreaming eyes"
could see; "into three worlds at once, the actunl world of his study, the visionary world
of dreams and the appronching after-Iife as well" (Rushdie, Sntnnic Verses 524).
The double-structure in this book, as in the first two novels in the trilogy, is
the foundation upon which the narrative is buill. Gibreel and Saladin, the two ends of
the spectrum, represent many different things. Gibreel, the archangel, grows a halo
and stands for absolute good while Saladin becomes Shaitan, the personificntion of eviJ,
complete with horns, hooves and a tail. Gibreel, who is very Indian in character, is
accepted into English society, while Saladin, the most Ang!icized of Indians, is rejected
by his British wife, hnrassed by immigration, loses his job, and is forced ta take refuge
in an Indian ghetto. He had changed everything: his name, his voice and his
citizenship. He himself claims; ''l've never felt l belonged ta a race" (Rushdie, Satnn ic
Verses 267). What he experiences is his worst nightmare, for he had fought his entire
life ta escape his Indian past, and ends up becoming the alien he portrays on television,
and a scapegoat for the sins of others. One reviewer illustrates Saladin's predicament in
The Sntnnic Verses:

90
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world; they infringe on what would normally be considered Gibreel's 'real' Iife, and
cause strange events to take place. The various Gibreels and their stories must
eventually join, since physically they are one. Gibreel makes the final connections
between his selves, and aise associates himself with his nemesis, Saladin, by telling him,
"'Sit down and shut up, Spoono '" l'm here to tell you a story'" and "embarked upon his
story, - which was also the end of many stories" (Rushdie, Slilllnic Verses 543).
Because Gibreel has trouble differentiating between his various states of
consciousness, he finds that, "Fictions were walking around wherever he went, ...
fictions masquerading as real human beings" (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 192). If one
cannot tell which world is real, how can one know whether or not its inhabitants are
real or fictiona!. Gibreel speaks rude verses in Arabic at night, even though he does
not know the language. He deals with these 'nightshows' be embracing schizophrenia,
that is, by succumbing to the notion that he consists of two unique entities, rather than
different levels of consciousness within the same being. Allie and the psychiatrists
misunderstand the implications of this separate identity concept. They believe that
Gibreel is rebuilding the boundary wall between dreams ami reality, and is recovering,
whereas this other entity was secretly being made strong and would one day be able to
challenge Gibreel for contro!.
Other characters are aware of the strangeness of their reality, and are involved
in the creation of stories. Allie for awhile experiences, "the prickly, wrong feeling of
being stranded in a false milieu, and alien narrative" (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 340).
Saladin finds himself imagining what his dying father, "with his open, dreaming eyes"
could see; "into three worlds at once, the actual world of his study, the visionary world
of dreams and the approaching aCter-life as well" (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 524).
The double-structure in this book, as in the first two novels in the trilogy, is
the foundation upon which the narr"rive is built. Gibreel and Saladin, the two ends of
the srectrum, represent many different things. Gibreel, the archangel, grows a halo
and stands for absolute good while Saladin becomes Shaitan, the personification of evil,
comple\e with horns, hooves and a tail. Gibreel, who is very Indian in character, is
accepted into English society, while Saladin, the most Anglicized of Indians, is rejected
by his British wife, harassed by immigration, loses his job, and is forced to take refuge
in an Indian ghetto. He had changed everything: his name, his voice and his
citizenship. He himself claims; "l've never felt 1 belonged to a race" (Rushdie, Satanic
~ 267). What he experiences is his worst nightmare, for he had fought his entire
Iife to escape his Indian past, and ends up becoming the alien he portrays on television,
and a scapegoat for the sins of others. One reviewer iIIustrates Saladin's predicament in
The Satanic Verses:

90
The real, as opposed to the merely pyrotechnical tensiCJn in his novel
arises from the fact that its true protagonist, Saladin Chamcha, is a man
who nas at a huge cost become an English gentleman only to discover
that in contrast to the great days of the empire, there is no longer any
there there. What is now required of a proper Englishman is to hate
himself as an exploiter. So it is only in order to end up despising
himself as an Englishman that Chamcha has had to learn to despise
himself as an Indian (Decter 22).
The narrator explains that there are "two fundamentally different ~ of self"
(Rushdie, Satanic Verses 427), represented in the book by Saladin and Gibreel. He
discusses what are prime poin ts in the text
Might we not agree that Gibreel, for ail his stage-name and
performances; and in spite of born-again slogans, new beginnings,
metamorphoses; - has wished to remain, to a large degree, continuous -
that is, joined to and arising from his past; - that he chose neither near-
fatal iIlness nor transmuting fall; that, in point of fact, he fears above ail
things the altered states in which his dreams leak into, and overwhelm,
his waking self, making him that angelic Gibreel he has no desire to
be; - so that his is still a self, which, for our present purposes, we may
describe as 'true' ... whereas Saladin Chamcha is a creature of selected
discontinuities, a willing re-invention; his preferred revoit against history
being what makes him, in our chosen idiom, 'false'? And might we then
not go on to say that it is this falsity of self that makes possible in
Chamcha a worse and deeper falsity - cali this 'evil' - and that this is
the truth, the door, that was opened in him by his fall? - While Gibreel,
to follow the logic of our established terminology, is to considered 'good'
by virtue of wishing to remain, for ail his vicissitudes, at bottom an
untranslated man (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 427).
The problem with the logic of the above section is that it is not shown to be
true in the novel. For awhile, Gibreel physically and mentally mirrors the archangel,
but as his hold on sanity becomes more and more precarious, and the dreams more
powerful, his goodness diminishes. He is capable of evil, of causing indirectly the
death of Rekha Merchant, and directly the deaths of Allie, Sissodia, and himself. By
the same token, Saladin as a character goes beyond the personification of absolute evil,
and by the end of the novel is redeemed and given a second chance in life.
Saladin Chamcha, along with Gibreel, has an intricate relationship with the
narrative and narrator of The Satanic Verses. The reader enters into Saladin's mind and

91
is exposed to his intimate thoughts. The point of view is not restricted 10 one person,
-
.~,
'r~: ~l;'
even within the space of a single paragraph, but jumps back and forth between
Saladin's private thoughts and the narrator's perspective of the situation. The following
quote is an example of how this works:
1 am the incarnation of evil, he thought. He had to face il.
However it had happened, it could not be denied. 1 am no longer
myself, or not only. 1 am the embodiment of wrong, of what-we-hate,
of sin.
Why? Why me?
What evil had he done - what vile thing could he, wouId he do?
For what was he - he couldn't avoid the notion - being
punished? And, come to that, by whom? (1 held my tongue) (Rushdie,
Satanic Verses 256).
The discussion concludes on the following page in the text:
No more of that, Saladin Chamcha told himself firmly. No more of
thinking myself evil. Appearances deceive; the coyer is not the best
guide to the book.
Devil, Goat, Shaitan? Not I.
Not 1: another.
Who? (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 257).
The first quotation involves the omniscient narrator probing the thoughts of the
character Saladin Chamcha. He senses that the man, Saladin, now encompasses more
than his original being. Il ends with the statement in brackets, "(1 held my tongue),"
which is clearly the narrator speaking in an aside to the reader and to himself,
reinforcing his belief in the minimal amount of Interference in the lives of his
creations. The second quote begins once again from Saladin's point of view, but ends
with what can be 'seen as either Saladin, or the narrator speaking.
Saladin's dreams, like Gibreel's, can influence the waking world. He envisions a
bomber with a Canadian accent, and then finds himself aboard a plane and recognizes a
slightly taller and more graceful version of the dream woman carrying a baby that he
correctly imagines to be a bundle of dynamite sticks. Chamcha at first dismisses this
notion, for he is leaving India and:
This was precisely the type of superstitious f1ummery he was leaving
behind. He was a neat man in a buttoned suit heading for London and
an ordered, contented life. He was a member of the real world
(Rushdie, Satanic Verses 74).

- 92
This obviously is an ironic statement, for Saladin is soon to enter a world of
nightmares and hallucinations, a world in which the real woman is the dream bomber,
in which appearances deceive and things are not as they seem. Within this novel there
are different types of narrative. The main narrative has already been discussed; that is
the narrator as creator of a fictional world, who then, with nominal involvemp"1t allows
the stories to happen. Other narratives in this novel include the dreams of Gibreel
Farishta and the film world.
The dreams of Gibreel are a fascinating form of narrative. There are two
leading dream storles, that of Mahound the Prophet and Baal the Poet, and that of
Ayesha and the pilgrimage to Mecca. This dream is a kind of tall tale which relates the
story "of the pilgrimage of an entire Indian Moslem village to the west coast of India,
and into the Arabian Sea, en route to Mecca. The pilgrimage is led by Ayesha, a
strange snowy-haired epileptic girl, who goes around naked but covered by butterflies
(bullerflies are also her only food!). The journey evokes Gandhi's celebrated salt march
- and also the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, for a column of bullerflies
accompanies the villagers" (Hospital 665). Another brief dream tells the tale of the
deranged Imam, a parody of the Ayatollah Khomeini. A version of this section also
appeared as a short story entitled "Untime of the Imam". The main dreams occur in
seriai fOI'm which is a technique also used to build suspense and arouse the audience's
curiosity, and is found in popular forms of entertainment such as magazine stori~ and
television programs. Within the dreams Gibreel is a creator (for he is the dreamer),
director and participant.
At first Gibreel is distressed by his visions, and as Saladin notices, fights
"against the onset of sleep. Or, as it turned out, dreams" (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 82).
Gibreel confesses to Saladin that he is afraid to fall asleep because of these nightmares,
which coincidentally had begun the very night he had eaten "the unclean pigs"
(Rushdie, Satanic Verses 83). The narrator and Gibreel explain that:
In these visions he was always present, not as himself but as his
namesake, and 1 don't mean interpreting a role, Spoono, 1 am him, he is
me, 1 am the bloody archangel, Gibreel himself, large as bloody life
(Rushdie, Satanic Verses 83).
Saladin interprets the dreams as simple egomania, but Gibreel takes them very seriously,
and "sweating from fear" continues:
'Point is, Spoono,' he pleaded, 'every time 1 go to sleep the dream starts
up from where it stopped. Same dream in the same place. As if
somebody just paused the video while 1 went out of the room. Or, or.
As if he's the guy who's awake and this is the bloody nightmare. His

93
bloody dream: us. Here. Ali of it' (Rushdie, Satanjc Verses 83).
Gibreel had blasphemous thou8hts during his childhood, and even then lhey
terrified him. So his fear of falling asleep and lransforming into the archangel cannot
be underestimated. Gibreel is not, however, a practising Moslem, for he has eaten
unclean pig flesh, and denounced his faith. He cannot understand why he is suffering
from these dreams or delusions, and finally reasons that the answer must be one of two
possibilities:
The terror of losing his mind to a paradox, of being unmade by what he
no longer believed existerl, of turning in his madness into the avatar of a
chimerical archangel, was so big in him that it was impossible to look at
it for long; yet how else was he to account for the miracles,
metamorphoses and apparitions of recent days? 'It's a straight choice,' he
trembled silently. 'Il's A, l'm off my head, or B, baba, somebody went
and changed the rules' (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 189).
Reality is a concept that Rushdie plays with and stretches to its limit and
beyond. The narrator plays with reality in the novel, claiming that 50 me activity was
impossible, but swearing that it really happened, just the same:
Let's face il: it was impossible for them to have heard one another, much
less conversed and also competed thus in song. A~~elerating towards the
planet, atmosphere roaring around them, how could they? But let's face
this, too: they did (Rushdie, Salanic Verses 6).
He melts the boundaries between conscious and sub-conscious worlds, causing the
character Gibreel to be unable to differentiate between dreaming and waking states, and
to doubt his sanity. During his waking hours, Gibreel is haunted by the ghost of
Rekha Merchant, a former lover who commilled suicide due to his neglect. A ghost, as
he and others in the novel come to know, is 'unfinished business' (Rushdie, Satanic
Verses 129). He is not the only character haunted by ethereal visions. Rosa Diamond,
the old woman who originally befriends the two travellers, is also bothered by fantasies
of a ninth-century Norman invasion, and a former lover who was killed by her
husband. Rosa, after meeting Gibreel, begins "to dream her story of stories," because
she "needed him to help her complete her last revelation" (Rushdie, Salanic Verses 151).
Other ghosts that haunt the story are Allie's mountain climber who appears after her
development of fiat feet which caused her inability to climb any more, and the crime
and violence in England, which is attributed to ghosts.
Il is strange lhat on one hand Gibreel feels controlled by his dreams, while on
the other hand, what he dreams can alter his and everyone else's life. Gibreel is

- 94
1: terrified of his dreams for he does not understand their purpose, and fears that they
signify his loss of sanity:
Sometimes when he sleeps Gibreel becomes aware, without the dream, of
himself sleeping, of himself dreaming his own awareness of his dream,
and then a panic begins, 0 God, he cries out, 0 allgood allahgod, l've
had my bloody chips, me. Got bugs in the brain, full mad, a looney
tune and a gone baboon (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 92).
The lives of both Gibreel and Saladin are lives of illusion; they are actors, and
are constantly putling on disguises and assuming roles. Gibreel acts in Indian religious
movies, and although a Moslem, has played the roles of many Hindu deities. During a
period of mental breakdown and loss of identity, it is proposed to Gibreel that he again
perform a religious part, this time as the archangel Gibreel. The movies would be
based on Gibreel's dream-narratives, and il was hoped that:
once those stories were clearly placed in the artificial, fabricated world
of the cinema, it ought to become easier for Gibreel to see them as
fantasies, too. That Berlin Wall between the dreaming and waking state
might weil be more rapidly rebuilt 'lS a result (Rushdie, Satanic Verses
347).
Ironically, for Rushdie had no way of knowing at the time of writing, the Berlin Wall
is no longer a solid structure, but is now riddled with holes and gaps. The result of
these movies was to convince Gibreel of his angelic status, the reverse of what had
been hoped.
The Satanic Verses has been treated and analyzed as if it were a political or
academic treatise rather that a work of fiction. Rushdie was aware that writing about
Muhammad couId cause trouble, and therefore took what he felt were adequate
precautions in order to avoid affront:
I genuinely believed that my overt use of fabulation would make it clear
to any reader that I was not attempting to falsify history, but to allow a
fiction to take off from history. The use of dreams was intended to say:
the point is not whether this is "really" supposed to be Muhammad, or
whether the satanic verses incident "really" happened; the point is to
examine what such an incident might reveal about what revelation is,
about the extent to which the mystic's conscious personality informs and
interacts with the mystical event; the point is to try and understand the
human event of revelation. The use of fiction was a way of creating the
sort of distance from actuality that I felt would prevent offence from
being taken. I was wrong (Rushdie, "In Good Faith" 56).

,l'"
"'"'l,>.
95
He has used similar techniques in his other novels in orel"r to explore the same concepts
of Iiterature and history. Here Rushdie speaks of the "mystic's conscious personality"
and how it "informs and interacts with the mystical event": in Midnight's Chitdren it is
a fictiona1 character who influences and creates a fabulous version of Indian history.
Virgil in Grimus realized that the historian is a member of the parade of Iife, an active
participant. History and fiction are interdependent in the novels, for il is by
contemplating history through the freedom of fiction that other truths and stories truths
can come into existence.
Rushdie was wrong in thinking that he could avoid offense. Since the
publication of The Satanic Verses in September 1988, he has been char8ed with
blasphemy and sentenced to death. While the Iranian press calls Rushdie "a self-
confessed apostate", others prefer the title "Iapsed Moslem" (Pipes 9). Rushdie states
that the absence of belief disallows f2r. the presence of blasphemy. Others will
disagree; Moslem fundamentalists for one, and also those who support Rushdie. In an
article in The New Reoublic ("Two Cheers for Blasphemy" 7), it is wrillen that not only
is Rushdie's work blasphemous, but that "blasphemy is nothing to be ashamed about. Il
is a birthpang of democracy," and Iists some former blasphemers that we read with
respect today: Milton, More, Galileo, Spinoza, Locke, Voltaire, etcetera. The article
tries to appreciate the fundamentalist view, admilling that, "For the believer, it is
confusing, no doubt, to live in a society in which his truth counts only as an opinion."
Another critic points out that the novel has been banned in countries such as India,
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, but has also been subject to examination
under blasphemy laws in England (Wood 29). The book was temporarily restricted in
Canada because if was accused of being hate Iiterature, a charge not usually levied
against works of fiction.
Rushdie has been accused by friends and foes alike of "asking for it," that is of
being aware, as a Moslem-educated person, that his novel would be highly offensive
and cause public outrage. The first answer to this accusation is that doubting is the
right and even duty of intellectuals. The second answer is supplied by Hospital who
responds:
1 find myself thinking of Shakespeare and Raleigh, the great patriotic
sailor, losing favour, confined to the Tower of London, and eventually
executed; Shakespeare, much more heretical in both his political and
religious ideas, but - to use a Rushdian mixing of metaphors - knowing
on which side his bread was buttered and covering his ass with
ambiguity (667).

96
[n his work Rushdie daims that the acts of writing and recording history
involve the innuencing and participating in that history too. The Satanic VerHs has
had a tremendous impact on religion and politics. Rushdie has proven himself to be
true in the belief that everyone is capable of innuencing history. The author and his
novel not only guided, but caused certain historical events to take place. He \tas been
charged with blasphemy and today, one and a half years after his book was published,
he remains in hiding with a $5.2 million price on his head. While a general charge of
blasphemy has been attached to Rushdie and the book, there are certain sections and
incidents that have incited the MOSt trouble. A look at the meaning of blasphemy,
some critics' understanding of the inflammatory sections, and Rushdie's retrospective
review of his work will help in the overall anall'sis of The Satanic Verses. In a recent
Newsweek article, his first major commentary since he went into hiding a year ago,
Rushdie provides a simple answer to the charge of blasphemy:
[ am not a Muslim. Il feels bizarre, and wholly inappropriate, to be
described as some sort of heretic after having lived ml' life as a secular,
pluralist, eclectic man. l am being enveloped in, and described by, a
language that does not fit me. l do not accept the charge of blasphemy,
because, as somebody says in "The Satanic Verses," "where there is no
belief, there is no blasphemy." l do not accept the charge of apostasy,
because 1 have never in ml' adult life affirmed any belief, and what one
has not affirmed one cannot be said to have apostasized from. The Islam
1 know states clearly that there can be no coercion in matters of
religion." The many Muslim l respect would be horrified by the idea
that they belong to their faith purely by virtue of birth, and that any
person so born who freely chose not to be a Muslim could therefore be
put to death (56).
The Koran, the religious text of Moslems, is believed to be the Word of Allah,
passed from the Archangel Gibreel to the Prophet Muhammad. Il is inerrant, thus "to
doubt that the Qur'an is the exact message of God is to deny the validity of
Muhammad's message and to imply that the entire Islamic faith is fraudulent at base"
(Pipes 10). There are several parts of The Satanic Verses to which Moslems have taken
offense. The first of this is the title itself. A problem arises when the title is
translated into Arabic, because the term "Satanic Verse" is an English one, conjured up
by Orientalists. It refer to the verses in the Koran which were at first included and the
repudiated by Muhammad and removed. They concern the worship of the three
goddesses as intermediaries between humanity and Allah. The Archangel Gibreel told
Muhammad that they were false verses, inspired by the Shaitan and not part of the

(
97
Recitation. Rushdie says that he first discovered the existence of the Satanic Verses in
a book by W. Montgomery Wall while doing scholarly research. Daniel Pipes, in his
article "The Ayatollah, the Novelist, and the West," explains the difficulties with the
title:
When rendered into Arabie, the phrase becomes AI- Ayat ash-
Shaytanjya, using a word for "verses" (ilVlI1l which refers specifically to
the verses of the Qur'an. Back-translated into English, therefore, the
Arabie title would be :Thr: Qur'an's Satanic Verses." And, with just a
touch of imagination, tha. is easily rendered as "The Qur'anic Verses
Wrillen by Satan," or evea "The Qur'an Wrillen By Satan" (II).
Another type of Satanic Verse f'lund in the novel are the love dillies Saladin used to
drive Gibreel insane with jealousy; "by frequent telephone caIls in which, using his
various accents, he recites to Gibreel Iillle love-ditties which suggest someone else is
seeing her too (Hospital 664).
The other major problem according to the Moslem audience has to do with the
dream about Muhammad, which devises only two chapters of the entire novel:
"Mahound" and "Return to Jahilia". Again, it is the titles that give the first offense.
Mahound is a derogatory European name given to the Prophet during the Middle Ages
which conjures up beast and devil-Iike images. Jahilia, the Arabie word for ignorance
or barbarism, is Rushdie's name for Mecca (Pipes 10). Yet it is the name of a pre-
Islamic Mecca, or at least one that has not fully embraced the tenets of Islam. Rushdie
reacts to the charges against the use of Mahound that:
this is an instance in which de-contextualization has created a complete
reversai of meaning. A part of the relevant context is on page 93 of the
novel. "To turn insults into strengths, whigs, tories, Blacks ail chose to
wear with pride the names they were given in scorn; Iikewise, our
mountain-climbing, prophet-motivated solitary is to be the mediaeval
baby-frightener, the Devil's synonym: Mahound." Central to the
purposes of "The Satanic Verses" is the process of reclaiming language
from one's opponents. Trotsky was Trotsky's jailer's name. By taking it
for his own, he symbolically conquered his captor and set himself free.
Something of the same spirit lay behind my use of the name Mahound
(Rushdie, "In Good Faith" 54).
Rushdie describes the human or fallible aspects of Muhammad by mentioning
"stories of Muhammad's doubts, uncertainties, errors, fondness for women" ("In Good
Faith" 56). But according to Pipes, "the real problem lies in the implication that the

98
entire Qur'an derives not from God through Gabriel, but from Muhammad himself,
who put words in Gabriel's mouth (II). This i5 evident in the following quote from
the novel:
Gibreel, hovering-watching from his highest camera angle, knows one
small detail, just on tiny thing that's a bit of a problem here, namely
that it was me botli times. baba. me first and second also me. From my
mouth, both the statement and the repudiation, verses and converses,
univer~es and reverses, the whole thing, and we ail know how my mouth
got worked (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 123).
Price explains that the last comment ("and we ail know how my mouth got worked")
"refers to Gibreel's being forced to say what he does by Mahound" (II). A similar
example involves Salman the scribe whose alteration of the recitation goes undetected
temporarily by Mahound.
The final problematic topic is women. Rushdie says that he brings up the three
goddesses and their rejection in order to discuss Islam's altitude toward women. In his
recent defense in Newsweek he quotes a verse from Qur'an; "Shall He (God) have
daughters while you have sons? That wouId be an unjust division" (54), and adds "1
thought it was at least worth pointing out that one of the reasons for rejecting these
goddesses was that they were female. The rejection has implications that are worth
thinking about. 1 suggest that such highlighting is a proper function of Iiterature (54).
He justifies the names of Mahound's wives being l1sed by the prostitutes of Jahilia as
part of his search for:
images that crystallized the opposition between the sacred and profane
worlds. The harem and the brothel provide such an opposition. Both
are places where women are sequestered, in the harem to keep them
from ail men except their husband and close family members. in the
brothel for'the use of strange males. Harem and brothel are antithetical
worlds, and the presence in the harem of the Prophet, the receiver of a
sacred texl, is Iikewise contrasted with the presence in the brothel of the
clapped-out poet, Baal, the creator of profane texts. The two struggling
worlds, pure and impure, chaste and coarse, are juxtaposed by making
them echoes of one another; and, finally, the pure eradicates the
impure.... The purpose of the "brothel sequence," then, was not to "insult
and abuse the Prophet's wives, but 10 dramalize certain ideas about
morality; and sexuality, too (Rushdie, "In Good Faith" 54).
The use of the same names for prostitutes and wives has been one of the most quoted
examples blasphemy in the nove!, and the above-quoted section is one of the few if

(. 99
only defenses of the action. One of Rushdie's purposes in including so much
information about Islam that has at least a basis in history is to challenge existing
mythology. Another is to altack the restrictive and close-minded altitude of "imposed
orthodoxies of ail types" (Rushdie, "In Good Faith" 53).
Birth, death, and rebirth are ideas Rushdie began discussing in his first novel
Grimus. There, Flapping Eagle experienced a rebirth in the form of immortality; here
Gibreel and Saladin are reborn into non-mortal beings. Rebirth in this novel occurs in
a variety of forms. Their original fall from the plane echoes the birth of time. Il is
aIsa a parody of the creation myth. Rebirth is called "Gad stuff" (Rushdie, Sntanic
~ 17), selting the narrator up as a creator. There are reincarnations, and especially
secular reincarnation, which is basically a renaming. Both Saladin and Gibreel undergo
this process. Many of the names in this novel have religious, or more specifically,
Islamic connotations. Gibreel Farishta was born Ismail Najmuddin; "Ismail aCter the
child involved in the sacrifice of Ibrahim, and Najmuddin, star of the failh; he'd given
up quite a name when he took the angel's" (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 17). He is an actor
and takes on the stage name, Gibreel, aCter the archangel who recites the Koran to
Muhammad, and Farishta, a nickname, 'personal angel', that his mother used ta cali
him. In movies, in his dreams, and finally in reality (or as close to reality as the world
of the novel approaches), he cornes ta be Gibreel the archange!. The other protagonist.
Saladin, has also changed his name or mutated from Salahuddin Chamchawala into
Saladin Chamcha. He, too, is an actor, and sa this simplified version of his name is a
wise career move. But it is also part of his trying to forget or deny his past, ta leave
India behind and become a new persan in a new country. In a newspaper article
Rushdie discusses in detail the significance of the name Chamcha (spoon):
a chamcha is a very humble, everyday object. The ward is Urdu; and it
also has a second meaning. Colloquially, a chamcha is a persan who
sucks up to powerful people, a yes-man, a sycophanl. The British
Empire would no have lasted a week without such collaborators among
its colonized pcoples" (Rushdie, "The Empirc" 8).
Alleluia Cane is another character whose name is loaded with meaning. Allcluia is a
Christian reIigious term, but when shortened ta her nickname Allie, it bccomes very
similar ta Ali, the Prophet's cousin. Her last name was originally the Jewish version,
Cohen. Cone, is the name of the mountain which the prophet-businessman Mahound
climbs in order ta meditate, and which means universe in Arabic. [n fact, the Prophet
in Gibreel's dreams is given a nickname by the town residents of Jahllia: he-who-g0'll=.
up-and-down-old-Coney (Rushdie, Saranic Verses 93).

100
The businessman, in this twisted rendering of the Prophet Muhammad, is called
Mahound. The narrator explains the significance of this version of the name:
His name: a dream-name, changed by the vision. Pronounced
correctly, it means he-for-whom-thanks-should-be-given, but he won't
answer to that here; nor, though he's weil aware of what they cali him,
to his nickname in Jahilia down below - he-who-goes-up-and-down-
.IlliI=Coney. Here he is neither Mahomet nor MoeHammered; has
adopted, instead, the demon-tag the farangis hung around his neck. To
turn insults into strengths, whigs, tories, Blacks ail chose to wear with
pride the names they were given in scorn; likewise, our mountain-
climbing, prophet-motivated solitary is to be the medieval baby
frightener, the Devil's synonym: Mahound (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 93).
Other unusual names include the Indian movie star Pimple Billimoria (there is a
real Pimple in Indian films today), Saladin's wife Pamela Lovelace (literary allusion),
and Eugene Dumsday (Doomsday), the "man of science" whose purpose is to warn
people against, "the evolutionary heresy of Mr. Charles Darwin" (Rushdie, Salanic
Verses 75).
The same names are used for characters in different levels of the nove\. Gibreel
is the appellation of the actor, the archangel, and ail the combinations of the two that
populate the dreams. Ayesha is the name of the Prophet's wife and her alter-ego in
one dream, the Imam's nemesis in a second, and the Butterfly girl in a third. Hind and
Mishal are other names that appear in dreams, and the London section.
There is a type of rebirth or transformation involved in the careers of the main
characters; Gibreel becomes gods, and Saladin, an alien. One can be reborn or invented
by others, the way Rosa imagines Gibreel to be her lover Martin, and Gibreel invents
Allie and makes her the enemy. The renaming act is a kind of self-creation, and this
is seen most vividly in Saladin's case when he tries to erase ail traces of his Indian
heritage. The two men experience a type of birth when they are transformed and
mutated into their angelic or satanic selves. The metamorphoses in the book are
continuous, and they never seem to arrive at a conclusion. Saladin wonders why
rebirth, the second chance given to himself and Gibreel after the plane explosion, feels
so much like a perpetuaI ending (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 26). The answer is simple,
but this simplicity does not make it easy to accept; "To be born agai". vou first have to
\!k" (Rushdie, Sata"ic Verses 403).
Gibreel is reborn through the acts of his sub-conscious; he has little control, and
eventua11y gives in to the stronger will of his other selves. Saladin consciously remakes
himself. Il is not an easy task, and there are problems and repercussions:

( 101
A man who sets out to make himself up is taking on the Creator's role,
according to one way of seeing things; he's unnatural, a blasphemer, and
abomination of abominations. From another angle, you could see pathos
in him, heroism in his struggle, in his willingness to risk; not all mutants
survive. Or, consider him sociopolitically: most migrants learn, and can
become disguises (Rushdie, Salanic Verses 49).
Rushdie addresses the problems of being an exile, a migrant and an immigrant.
He has experienced these states of existence personally, and has explored them to a
certain extent in Midnight's Children and~. Among the debris from the bombed
plane were the belongings of the migrants aboard, "upon whose legitimacy the British
government had cast its ever-reasonable doubts" (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 4). These
fragments consist of:
the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed
mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished
futures, lost loves, the forgolten meaning of hollow, booming words,
land, be10nging, !l.Q.!M (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 4).
Saladin, despite his valiant efforts, has not succeeded in transforming himself
into a 'real' British citizen. Saladin is arrested and dehumanized to such a degree that
he loses him human characteristics and becomes the animal the police claim he is, the
alien he portrays on television. Saladin insists that he is British, but the response from
the officiais is "Look at yourself. You're a fucking Packy billy. Sally-who? - What
kind of name is that for an Englishman?" (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 163). Saladin
motions to the police officers, whose names are Stein, Bruno and Novak, and demands,
"And what about them? ... They don't sound so Anglo Saxon to me" (Rushdie, Satanic
Verses 163). What he has not realized yet is that as long as he remains a visible
minority, he will never be accepted as British. Perhaps he couId enter the category of
'other British', the same category into which he places the first generation born of
immigrant parents. His opinion of them is rather derogatory because he feels that "they
weren't British ... not really, not in any way he could recognize" (Rushdie, Satanic
Verses 259). He is not recognized as British either, and not just by white Englishmen;
sub-continentals tell him he should recover "with us, among your own people, your own
kind." He is weak and disillusioned at this point, and it is only later, when he is alone
that he states; ''l'm not your kind... You're not my people. l've spent half my Iife
trying to get away from you" (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 253). The end of the book finds
him returning to India, with an Indian woman from his youth, and gelting a second
chance in Iife. Hopefully, simply leaving is not Rushdie's personal solu'ion to the

l 102
problems of bigotry and racism, but a solution that best suits the circular movement
that he prefers in his narrative. Midge Decter analyzes the book as follows:
The Salanic Verses is about the love/hate, envy/contempt of a highly
educated and privileged colonial for his adopted metropolitan culture.
And being unable either to untangle or to encompass this tangled passion,
Rushdie tries to carry the whole thing into that region of mystification
that the Latin Americans cali magic realism - which is, to be sure,
neither magic nor realism but rather something that provides a kind of
facsimile fantasy of transcendence (22).
The disturbing dream section about the Imam provides another forum for the
discussion of exile and related concepts:
which must not be confused with, allowed to run into, ail the other
words that people throw around: emigre, expatriate, refugee, immigrant,
silence, cunning. Exile is a dream of glorious return. Exile is a vision
of revolution: Elba, not St Helena. Il is an endless paradox: looking
forward by always looking back (Rushdie, Salanic Verses 205).
Saladin strives to become 'foreign' or British, while others aim for the contrary; "The
curtains, thick golden velvet, are kept shut ail day, because otherwise the evil thing
might creep into the apartmenl: foreignness, Abroad, the alien nation" (Rushdie, Satanic
Verses 206). The dream about the Imam is also an allack on the Ayatollah Khomeini,
and the beliefs behind the Iranian revolution. At first the tale of the Imam is
incorrectly identified as history, but the narrator quickly corrects his error saying, "No:
not history. His is a stranger dream" (Rushdie, Salanic Verses 210). It is more of a
nightmare than a dream, because much of what Rushdie writes is true. The Imam
proclaims that they will make a revolution, "that is a revoit not only against a tyrant,
but against history." History, to the Imam, is the ultimate enemy:
History is the blood-wine that must no longer be drunk. History the
intoxicant, the creation and possession of the Devil, of the great Shaitan,
the greatest of the lies - progress, science, rights - against which the
Imam has set his face. History is a deviation from the Path, knowledge
is a delusion, because the sum of knowledge was complete on the day
AI-Lah finished his revelation to Mahound (Rushdie, Satanic Verses
210).
Baal, a famous satirist and poet during Mahound's time, asks Mahound several
challenging questions about the nature of this new idea, Islam. He challenges that:
Any new idea, Mahound, is asked two questions. The first is asked
when it's weak: WHAT KIND Of AN !DEA ARE YOU? Are you the

103
/~. :
kind that compromises, does denls, accommodntes itself to society, nims
~u' to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded,
ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than
sway with the hreeze? - The kind thnt will almost certainly, ninety-nine
times out of a hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will
change the world (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 335).
Islam is clearly the second type of iden. The second question is asked after this new
iden has proved itself strong nnd able to' survive. Baal questions Mahound ngnin; "How
do you behave when you win? When your enemies are at your mercy and your power
has become absolute, whnt then?" (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 369). The second question
continues; "Compromise is the temptation of the weak: this is a test for the !rong"
(Rushdie, Satanic Verses 467). When this test is applied to Gibreel, the actor-turned-
messcnger whose power over Saladin and London has become complete, the answer
supplied hy the text is somewhat surprising: "Is it possible thnt evil is never total, that
its victor, no malter how overwhelming is never absolute?" (Rushdie, Salanic Verses
467).
Gibreel, the reincarnation of the archangel, is connected to evil, even though his
previous connection has been to purity and goodness. There are several possible
solutions to this puzzling situation. There is a very fine line between opposites:
love/hate; sanity/madness; good/evil; "Running through The Satanic Verses, then, there
is a continuaI symbolic wordplay, a kind of theme and variations imported from music,
suggestive of mythic repetitions of archetypes and pushing one to a contemplation of
the inter-connection of sex and love and religion, endurance and transcendence and
hubris, and good and evil" (Hospital 666). At this point the narrator begins to speak of
Gibreel in tarms of a 'fal1en man' (Rushdie, Satanic Verses 407), and not an angelic
apparition. And as mentioned earlier, appearances can be deceiving, and perhaps it was
Gibreel who was the Shaitan, and Saladin who was the angel al1 along. Mahound, the
holiest of men to Moslems, was seen as the devil by medieval Europeans. Rushdie is
trying to explode existing rnyths, to awaken people from their lethargic existence
because:
A people that has remained convinced of its greatness and
invulnerability, that has chosen to believe such a myth in the face of all
the evidence, is a people in the grip of a kind of sleep, or madness
(Rushdie, Satanic Verses 271-272).
He is speaking here of bath the British and their Iingering altitudes of imperialism and
superiority, and Moslem fundamentalists who wish to remain in the Middle Ages.
Rushdie asserts that; "The point is this: Moslem culture has been very important to me,

104
but it is not by any means the only shaping factor. 1 am a modern, and a modernill
urban man, accepting uncertainty as the only sure thing" ("In Good Faith" 56).
This novel completes a circular movement, and ends with the possibility of new
beginnings; "However, the prerequisite is the destruction of the gods, those avatars
whose verses engulf and evi.~cerate human life" (Briemberg 35). The new generation
must learn the mythologies of the street, the rewritlen and revisioned tales of yesterday;
in Rushdie's reality, even the most sacred of mythologies must evolve if people are to
be full Y alive.

105
CHAPTER 8 CONCLUDING REMARKS

This thesis has studied the fictional 1V0rks of Saiman Rushdie, Grimus,
Midnight's Children, ~ and The Satanic Verses, concentrating on the use of fiction,
myth and history in the narrative. The goal of this study has been to explore Rushdie's
use of these ideas in order to rework existing histories and mythologies, and to allow
for the surfacing of suppressed stories, and the creation of new myths.
The first two chapters served as introductions to theoretical concepts of
narrative. The first chapter concentrated on technical aspects of narrative, especially in
relation to works of fiction. Several scholars were discussed, including Chatman,
Prince, Bal and Rimmon-Kenan. Sorne important factors of narrative that were
beneficial in the analysis of Rushdie's work were the double or parallel structure of
story and discourse, the concept and uses of the narrator, and other factors such as
character, time and selling.
The next chapter explored theories of history. The main theories analyzed were
from the writings of the philosophers of history White, Mink and Ricoeur. According
to these and other theorists, history is a narrative, and the writing of history involves
an artistic process similar to the writing of fiction. The historian is a participant in the
history s/he writes, because Iike the novelist s/he must choose not only what to present
but also how to present it.
The first two chapters form a theoretical basis from which the novels of
Rushdie can be approached. The first chapter provides technical concepts we need to
be able to analyze the narrative. The second chapter presented history and fiction as
related ideas instead of opposites, and introduced the reader to the notion of the
interconnection and interdependence of history and fiction, which is developed by
Rushdie throughout his body of work.
Grimus was Rushdie's first novel, and exists outside of the triptych that consists
of Midnight's Children, ~, and The Satanie Verses. Grimus is a fantasy novel, and
not set in any specific time period. There are different realities and dimensions in
Grimus, just as there are in the other three novels. The use of language is very clever;
puns and puzzles abound. Several ideas suggested in this novel continue to be
important in Rushdie's writing. These include the ideas of rewriting history, the
historian as a participant, and the development and re-development of mythology. The
use of parallel structure in Grimus, the circular movement and the continuous rebirth
and mutations of characters are ail part of a pool of ideas that Rushdie returns to again

106
and again. He explores these issues in different ways in his other novels, trying to
create an atmosphere where reclamation of one's language, past and identity are
possib;e.
Midnight's Children is firmly grounded in the actual history of the post-
Independent subcontinent, and also in theories of history. Rushdie's utilization of an
individual's story connected to and contrasted with the larger story of India, allows him
to explore sorne of the ideas proposed in Grimus. Rushdie includes real historical
events in the story, but often alters the dates or other factors. There are several reasons
behind this; one reason is that by altering the facts the author is stressing the fictional
aspect of the book. Another reason is to accent Saleem's unreliability as a narrator, for
he too alters and misreads history in order to fit bis. story and to accentuate his
importance. A third reason is one pursued through the loose trilogy, and it has to do
with destroying the official version of the pasto This gives those who have been
forgotten or misrepresented a chance to rewrite and thus reclaim their pasto
~ also has a strong c,onnection to real historical occurrences. Midnight's
Children is based mainly on India, while Shame concentrates on the area of
Pakistan/Peccavistan with brief sojourns to England. The Satanic Verses follows the
migration to England with dream-journeys to the distant land of Jahilia. This circular
movement from India to Pakistan, then England and finally to one's Islamic reots in
Jahilia (Mecca) is a larger version of the migrations that can be located within each
individual tex!. Il also connects to the life of Rushdie himself, who has undergone
similar migrations and mOJements. Il represents a search for identty, a constant flux
that is undergone physical1. and emotionally by immigrants everywhere. In trying to
adapt to a new life, one must be able to balance fixed traditions with modern change.
Too much in one direction leads to stagnation; too much in the other direction results in
chaos. Rushdie seems to favour chaos, because out of chaos can come rebirth and new
beginnings,
The novels are based on a double or parallel structure which is the basic
structure of narrative. This parallel structure appears in the form of paired characters,
for example Saleem and Shiva in Midnight's Children, who are antithetical yet co-
dependent: "they in a way become alter egos - one is like dark side of the other"
(Mason 7). Rushdie states that this is part of the creative tension in his work (Mason
7). Narratives or stories within the texts can also exist parallel to each other, as do the
waking and dreaming worlds in The Satanic Verses, the lands of Peccavistan and
Pakistan in ~, and the private and public histories in Shame. Themes too can be
presented as polarities, for example good and evil in The Satanic Verses. The two
extremes are not permitted to remain opposites, or to remain apart. The border is made

107
to be transgressed, it must be, so that the past can blend with the present and create
the future. If the mixing of ideas is prevented, the result could be the destruction of
ail history - including knowledge - and a period of repression and death as is described
in the short story "Untime of the Imam."
The use of narrator and narrative in the novels is very significanl. There is not
one set style, but rather a series of experimentations and alterations from one book to
another, and within the texts themselves. Grimus uses several narrative voices and
styles including a third person omniscient, a first person and even a written diary. In
Midnight's Children Saleem is character and narrator, historian and participant, recorder
and creator. Everything in this novel is dependent on the actions of the narrator
Saleem. Il is a framed story, in the tradition of 100\ Arabian Nights; acted, written
and recorded by Saleem, and told to Padma and the audience. ~ incorporates
several narrative voices and styles ranging ,'rom political satire to journalistic accounts
to fairy tales. The Satanic Verses also employs a variety of narrators which suits the
blending and commingling of realities that make up the story. Again the application of
a varied and confusing group of narrative voices and styles represents the search for
identity and the desire to deflate and weaken the official version of reality and the
pasto
Rushdie experiments with the English language, infusing il with Indian words
and expressions, playing with sound and meaning, and generally pushing it to the Iimit
and beyond. Stretching and manipulating the language, reclaiming it as a valid Indian
vehicle of communication is one of the themes evolved in the novels. Rushdie with his
masterpiece, "Midn;ght's Children has ratified the right to use Indian English as a
language" (Sethi 136). He wants to decolonize the language, to take the power of
naming and creating away from the former masters, the British, and to return it to its
rightful owners, the citizens.
By reclaiming the language, Rushdie begins the rewriting and reclaiming of
Indian history and Iife:
He has used the art of the novel as a weapon for provo king change - a
change in ideas and perceptions - and at the same time he has managed
to condense the transitions of a society in flux into a single work. By
borrowing from the language of cinema - of cross-cutting and jump cuts
- from Indian epics, from personal history, memory and the country's
political progress, he has created a language of his own that completely
breaks away from the Iiterary tradition in India so far (Sethi 136).
The characters portrayed in his novels are divided selves, fragmented,
migrational, undergoing constant metamorphoses. This is part of many people's

108
experience in this modern age of easy travel and communication. But it is especially
significant to subcontinentals, many of whom migrated once during the Partition to
Pakistan, and again to England. This follows the pattern of Rushdie's Iife, and there
are elements of autobiography in the novels which become clear in the character of
Saleem Sinai. Rushdie, however, is not only speaking of physical migrations from one
location to another; he also explores movements in time, space, the past, and the
perception of the past: "The past, he says, is a country we have all emigrated from"
(Sethi 137).
ln order to reclaim one's language, one's past and even one's self, it is necessary
to rework and revision the past, including history and mythology. This will crate gaps
and cracks that will allow other versions of the past to come to the surface. Rushdie
uses history in the setting, plots and the themes of his work, yet "while recording
historical truths, he is not in favour of giving a mere transcript of reality" (Pathak 217)..
ln ~ the narrator comments on the difficulty of using history as a guiding force in
a fictional narrative:
1 build imaginary countries and try to impose them on ones that exist. l,
too, face the problem of history: what to retain, what to dump, how to
hoId on to what memory insists on relinquishing, how to deal with
change. And... 1 haven't managed to shake myself free of it completely
(88).
Myth, along with history, is used in the process of shattering the restrictive past and
building a more open future. This is done in two ways: by rewriting or inverting
existing myths, or by developing entirely new and modern ,myths. A critic states that:
the narrator is deliberately inverting myth to reflect on the erosion of
values and traditional loyalties in Modern India. Il's almost as if another
myth is being enacted in the present century, in which the Iines of
demarcatioil between good and evil are no longer clear. (Kanaganayakam
89).
Grimus discusses the concept of the creation of myth, and one of the characters
spends his immortal Iife studying this process. Midnight's Children traces the
development of the myth of India by inverting old myths and also by expressing new
alternatives. Shame tackles politics and the mythologizing of politicians into legendary
beings. To do this he creates an imaginary land which is juxtaposed agains.t the real
country of Pakistan. The Satanic Verses deals with one of the greatest myths of all: the
religious myth of Islam. This novel is also an exploration of the new myth discussed in
the above quote, one "in which the laws of demarcation between good and evil are no
longer clear." Il is in this text that the most basic polarity, good and evil, can no

109
longer be differentiated; perhaps the old distinctions were too strict, perhaps also they
are no longer adequate descriptions in today's world. It is necessary to blur and blend
even opposites, and to shatter the formulated realities in order to create future stories
and legends.
Throughout his work Rushdie stresses his use of history and fiction as guiding
forces in the narrative, and as a means of revitalizing legends and mythologies of the
pasto This thesis has concentrated on the areas of fiction and history, narrative.
mythology, truth and reality because these are ail vital to the interpretation and
understanding of the novels. His Iiterature encompasses acts of de-creation and re-
creation; he makes holes in the accepted stories, infuses them with questioning and
doubt, and then offers parallel or alternative stories in their place. This, he feels, is his
dutY as a political being and as an author. Evidently, he has successfully challenged the
existing powers; religious leaders and heads of governments have banned his books and
tried to silence him by calling for his death. He has exposed weaknesses and falsehoods
in politics, history and religion by reviewing the past from other angles and by allowing
other voices to tell their stories.
Rushdie, Iike his character Saleem, may be handcuffed to history, but it is a
history of his own creation, full of gaps and crevices through which other
Interpretations and manipulations of the past can leak, creating as Saleem describes, "a
state of affairs which is nothing short of revolutionary; and ils effect on history is
bound to be pretty damn startling" (Rushdie, Midnight's Children 237).

110
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