Midnights children salman rushdei Essay

This essay has a total of 2154 words and 11 pages.


midnights children salman rushdei





1. Comment on the author’s style and characterization. Are the characters believable
or paper cutouts? Comic or tragic or both? Are their dilemmas universal to human nature or
particular to their situation?

- Rushdie's narrator, Saleem Sinai, is the Hindu child raised by wealthy Muslims. Near the
beginning of the novel, he informs us that he is falling apart--literally:

I mean quite simply that I have begun to crack all over like an old jug--that my poor
body, singular, unlovely, buffeted by too much history, subjected to drainage above and
drainage below, mutilated by doors, brained by spittoons, has started coming apart at the
seams. In short, I am literally disintegrating, slowly for the moment, although there are
signs of an acceleration.

- In light of this unfortunate physical degeneration, Saleem has decided to write his life
story, and, incidentally, that of India's, before he crumbles into "(approximately) six
hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, and necessarily oblivious, dust."

- It seems that within one hour of midnight on India's independence day, 1,001 children
were born. All of those children were endowed with special powers: some can travel through
time, for example; one can change gender.

- Saleem's gift is telepathy, and it is via this power that he discovers the truth of his
birth: that he is, in fact, the product of the illicit coupling of an Indian mother and an
English father, and has usurped another's place. His gift also reveals the identities of
all the other children and the fact that it is in his power to gather them for a "midnight
parliament" to save the nation. To do so, however, would lay him open to that other child,
christened Shiva, who has grown up to be a brutish killer. Saleem's dilemma plays out
against the backdrop of the first years of independence: the partition of India and
Pakistan, the ascendancy of "The Widow" Indira Gandhi, war, and, eventually, the
imposition of martial law.

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2. What is the most important theme of the work?
- Spittoons appear through out Midnight's Children. The motif of the spittoon allows the
narrative to circle back on itself without losing its forward momentum; by reintroducing
it in different contexts, Rushdie builds meaning into the image and provides the reader
with a reference point and familiar angle of insight into the meaning of his tale. One
particular spittoon, and extraordinary silver spittoon inlaid with lapis lazuli, appears
at the beginning of the story at the house of the Rani of Cooch Naheen, and follows the
course of the narrative almost until the end, where it is eventually buried under the
rubble of civic reconstruction by a bulldozer. Rushdie's character Saleem comments on the
significance of the spittoon at several junctures in the novel, though spittoons and
betel-nut chewing (the Indian version of BeechNut chewing) take on wider and vaguer
significance in other sections. The silver spittoon becomes a link to reality for Saleem.
The following quotation occurs when Parvati-the-Witch has dematerialized Saleem:

"What I held on to in that ghostly time-and-space: a silver spittoon. Which, transformed
like myself by Parvati-whispered words, was nevertheless a reminder of the outside . . .
clutching finely-wrought silver, which glittered even in that nameless dark, I survived.
Despite head-to-toe numbness, I was saved, perhaps, by the glints of my precious
souvenir." (p. 456)

The following quotation occurs near the end of the book, at the event of the spittoon's loss:
I lost something else that day, besides my freedom: bulldozers swallowed a silver
spittoon. Deprived of the last object connecting me to my more tangible, historically
verifiable past, I was taken to Benares to face the consequences of my inner,
midnight-given life. (p. 515)

These two quotations illustrate that the spittoon represents the same thing for Saleem
that it does for the reader. It is a point of return, a lovely but mundane (after all, it
is for spitting in!) reminder of reality in a world that threatens to overwhelm with the
sheer volume and variety of its voices and experiences. Saleem is subjected to the voices
of the thousand and one Midnight's Children, that threaten to drown out his sense of
himself as an individual human, as well as to the manifold physical and psychological
beatings rained upon him through the course of his life; the reader is similarly assaulted
by the overwhelming density and pace of Rushdie's novel. Without points of return we would
be falling with the landslide rush of the story without hope of gaining an interpretive
foothold.

Spittoons, and betel-chewing, are endowed with other significance through the course of
the novel, though never so explicitly as in the quotations above. Memory, truth, and
storytelling are entwined into the motif of the spittoon. The group of old betel-chewers
that make their appearance in several places in the novel serve as a kind of repository of
common memory, and their stories are wrapped up in the game of "hit-the-spittoon," in
which the spittoon is placed a distance away from the chewers and they attempt to direct
their streams of red spittle into its waiting mouth. Rushdie warms up to the topics of
memory and spit at the beginning of the chapter entitled, appropriately enough,
"Hit-the-Spittoon:"

Please believe that I am falling apart . . . . This is why I have resolved to confide in
paper, before I forget. (We are a nation of forgetters.)

There are moments of terror, but they go away. Panic like a bubbling sea-beast comes up
for air, boils of the surface, but eventually returns tro the deep. It is important for me
to remain calm. I chew betel-nut and expectorate in the direction of a cheap brassy bowl,
playing the ancient game of hit-the-spittoon: Nadir Khan's game, which he learned from the
old men in Agra.

Another reference to the same game comes later in the same chapter:
And now the old men place the spittoon in the street, further and further from their
squatting place, and aim longer and longer jets at it. Still the fluid flies true. "Oh,
too good, yara!" The street urchins make a game of dodging in and out between the red
streams, super-imposing the game of chicken upon this art of hit-the-spittoon . . . But
here is an army staff car, scattering urchins as it comes . . . here, Brigadier Dodson,
the town's military commander, stifling with heat . . and here, his A.D.C., Major
Zulfikar, passing him a towel. Dodson mops his face; urchins scatter; the car knocks over
the spittoon. A dark red fluid with clots in it like blood congeals like a red hand in the
dust of the street and points accusingly at the retreating power of the Raj.

In both quotations the act of chewing or the juice itself is associated with truth and
memory; in the first, Saleem collects himself by chewing, calming himself so that he can
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