Saleem as an Allegory for India in ‘Midnight’s Children’
“To understand just one life you have to swallow the world” – Explore the presentation of Saleem as an allegory for India in ‘Midnight’s Children’ The peculiarity of the title ‘Midnight’s Children’ makes it immediately obvious that this novel is out of the ordinary. Perhaps its most extraordinary aspect is the allegory of the character Saleem, of just one human being, for the downfall of postcolonial India. Yet Rushdie does not make it as simple as this; combined with the allegorical nature of Saleem are autobiographical and fantastical aspects. And our narrator’s distinctive wit and morals give him an identity, arguably one that’s too narrow to conceivably represent an entire country, the thing which is a conglomeration of people, politics, geography, religions, languages, and cultures. Simultaneously, obvious aspects such as Saleem sharing his birth with that of the independent Indian state, and ultimately his breakdown, mirror that of his homeland. Such associations are superficial however, because it is the depth and style of Rushdie’s narrative which really creates the parallel between Saleem Sinai and postcolonial India. But in terms of the reader’s understanding of Saleem’s life and therefore his world, a solipsistic critic would claim that a life cannot be proved to exist, let alone understood, certainly not within the parameters of a novel and therefore one cannot swallow the world – it is precisely this which needs to be explored. Despite Saleem’s clear purpose of reflecting the events in India, some factors perhaps make it impossible to fully comprehend both person and country. There is the unreliability of Saleem’s narrative, in which he draws attention to his flaws calling himself, “an incompetent puppeteer”, and his memory which “selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies…creates its own reality.” In the essay ‘Is Nothing Sacred?’ Rushdie says, “The interior space of the imagination is a theatre that can never be closed down.” On one level this serves as an epistemological idea that the reader can neither know nor understand the truth of contemporaneous India, emphasising the omniscience of Saleem as narrator. On quite another level it shows that history is put together, invented, just like a person invented by circumstance, or a character in a novel. This tells us that perhaps there is also more to the India which we have been taught of, that the facts were overwhelmed by lies, propaganda, agendas. In fact, the moment of independence, a historical fact, is called a “mass fantasy”, a “collective fiction” and coincides with the birth of the midnight children who possess magical powers, a juxtaposition of truth with falsehood, imagination and reality. Rushdie’s narrative mode seeks to convey a coexistence of fantasy and reality. Parvati, who has turned Saleem invisible so he can return to Bombay, fallen in love with him, but endured the impossibility of consummation because her husband “superimposed upon her features the horribly eroded physiognomy of Jamila Singer”, endures a painful labour: “The cervix of Parvati-the-witch, despite contractions as painful as mule-kicks, refused to dilate.” Her role in the novel is magical, yet her troublesome labour coincides temporally with the time between Mrs Gandhi’s guilty verdict and consequent seizure of emergency powers. Likewise, the “grasping, choking” magical power of Shiva’s knees has such significance, as the return of this violent figure into the narrative is at a similar date to that of India’s first nuclear explosion. Of course there are other examples of the overlapping of fiction and fact, but in these, Rusdhie shows how strange and unstable was the political reality of the time. It may also be an ironic suggestion, that despite the novel being written for a Western audience, its magical realism, together with Saleem’s memory confusion, has an alienating effect, perhaps Rusdhie implying that the Western reader is distant and ignorant of India’s past, unable to empathise with the problems of ex-colonial victims but rather feel a sense of shame. This sense of strangeness and instability of the politics and problems of the time becomes associated with Saleem. It seems he is unable to live a personal, independent life, but only one that is occupied with the country’s and other people’s problems, possibly representative of them. His birth being simultaneous with that of ‘new India’ prompts Mr Nehru to write him a letter saying, “It will be in a sense the mirror of our own.” His downfall is simultaneous with that of India, highlighted by his awareness of his bad memory and importantly, the employment of the triple end-stops “…” and a complex, perplexing syntax, “I don’t want to tell it! – But I swore to tell it all. – No, I renounce, not that, surely some things are better left…? – That won’t wash; what can’t be cured must be endured!” This pattern of cracks and splitting of Saleem’s language and psyche increases, which creates incoherence, symbolic of Saleem’s and therefore India’s own ‘cracking up’. This is significant because it again displays Saleem’s lack of individuality, how he is “handcuffed to history” – the macro-scale of history is constantly referred back to the micro-scale of the individual. Ultimately, it is a statement that not only is it possible, but perhaps necessary to observe one particular life in order to try to understand the whole world. Despite his existence as an allegorical device and his lack of individuality, Saleem does have his own personality, and is clearly human. His creativity is displayed in his language, ranging from the colloquial slang of “goonda”, “Sahib”, “nakkoo”, to the eloquent, poetic descriptions like “incomprehensibly labyrinthine salt-water channels overtowered by the cathedral-arching trees”. There are page-long sentences, passages riddled with compound words. His impressionability and cultural diversity are illustrated in the neologisms, “twoness”, “overtowered”, “Godknowswhats”. And his childlike humour is shown, with his account of Zafar’s enuresis: “I awoke in the small hours in a large rancid pool of lukewarm liquid and began to yell blue murder,” and his love of “Snakes and Ladders”, symbolic of his rather cheeky fascination of sex. In creating this image of Saleem, Rushdie has employed a plethora of techniques and styles, such as magic realism, Western, Bollywoodian, and modernism. It’s as if old literary techniques are insufficient in describing the newly independent India with its newfangled diversity. It is appropriate that a postcolonial novel in English tries to create a typically Indian voice and that in its very character, and that of Saleem, displays the plurality of voices that make up the country. Indeed, the idea of plurality is one of the novel’s most important features. The concept that a single person could symbolise a multitudinous, diverse country encapsulates the tension between the one and the many, so relevant to the multilingual, interdenominational, cultural hybrid that was India. “Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me.” This exclamation excellently summarises Saleem’s narrative; in starting his story thirty-two years before his birth, he shows his belief that the past was related to his life in some way. There is a connection between past and present, the individual and the state. As history has shaped what is present, Saleem is shaping the world around him, particularly with his “Midnight Children’s Conference”. Telepathy lets him break barriers of language, barriers which caused categorisation and violence. Rushdie makes his point of view clear giving violent associations to such uniformity, and the peaceful ones to the pluralism of the conference. Saleem’s English blood, poor background, wealthy childhood, different religious influences and “the nose of a grandmother from France” form a cultural composite, that again reflects India’s diversity. A similar illustration is Lifafa Das, who causes Saleem to wonder, “is this an Indian disease, this urge to encapsulate the whole of reality?” A postcolonial interpretation is that Das promotes the multiculturalism that was spawned by colonialisation and the effect it had on imagination and art. Furthermore, the Midnight Children’s Conference is a construct for pluralism; the magical powers of the different members serve to empower ‘the many’. This remains an ideal however, as the conference, their magic, and ultimately Saleem, completely disintegrate, a socio-historical parallel for the demise of India. It is only right that a novel should be as large as it its subject matter, and probably the crucial feature of ‘Midnight’s Children’ is the expansive allegory of Saleem, and the importance of the narrative. An understanding of India is certainly achieved through Saleem’s character and language. The most important themes of ‘unreliability of memory’, and ‘the one and the many’ are paramount in achieving the overall illustration of postcolonial India through our narrator. Interestingly, it is often speculated that the novel is autobiographical. Arguably, this shows Salman Rusdhie as quite vain and dislikeable due to Saleem’s egotism, his self-display of being high-and-mighty. This is not the case; any possible self-portrait is not made explicit at all, but what is very clear is how Rushdie expresses himself through Saleem Sinai, the most important example of which is his promotion of pluralism, and the vitality of cross-cultural fertilisation.
Though Salman RushdieÃ¢s MidnightÃ¢s Children if full of comic details and humorous anecdotes of Saleem SinaiÃ¢s family history, the overall tone of the novel is in sharp contrast. Destruction and deception pervade much of the novel, and in the end, even when Saleem is getting married, he still sees his future as a journey to obliteration. Though it seems that SaleemÃ¢s destruction is necessary to allow Aadam Sinai, who seems even more determined and powerful than the previous generation of midnightÃ¢s children, to continue the life of his parents and country, Rushdie implies that the future offers no hope for Aadam. Despite AadamÃ¢s position as the new child of midnight, his family has been condemned to a life of repetition, and thus he will only experience another cycle of annihilation.SaleemÃ¢s family history is plagued by the curse of repetition. From the spell of the perforated sheet to the name changes to the switching of babies, each generation seems merely an echo of the one past. Throughout the novel, Saleem emphasizes the theme of repetition, saying that Ã¢there was no escape from recurrenceÃ¢? (326) and that his own life is a Ã¢repetitive cycle of my historyÃ¢? (477). Though not directly related to Saleem, Aadam Sinai is the biological grandchild of Naseem and Aadam Aziz, and is convoluted into the history of SaleemÃ¢s life by his association with Shiva. Thus this trend of repetition will also pass on to Aadam. Saleem says, Ã¢as my time of connection nears its end, his beganÃ¢?, indicating AadamÃ¢s fate to carry out the same role as Saleem (477).The events Aadam are to repeat present the most melancholic aspects of AadamÃ¢s future. Saleem SinaiÃ¢s life has, with few exceptions, been a downward path. As midnightÃ¢s child, he was the embodiment of hope for India and her people, the Ã¢happy Child of that glorious HourÃ¢? (133). However, his maturation is entangled in a string of shattered hopes. First, his desire to conduct a united midnightÃ¢s childrenÃ¢s conference was made impossible by the vastly different ideologies of the children. Then his love for Jamila Singer was sternly rejected, and to top it off, he is sent to fight for Pakistan. His dreams of saving India are again destroyed by his poverty, and finally, even his hope, which gave his life purpose, was drained out of him by the castration. Similarly, Aadam is the embodiment of hope, being the child of midnightÃ¢s children as well as a child of the time emergency, Aadam should have even more potent powers. This, coupled with his tenacious will, which was so Ã¢steelyÃ¢? that he would Ã¢surely refuse to be defeated by any mere diseaseÃ¢? (487), indicates that he has the potential for even greater gifts. However, doomed to the curse of repetition, Aadam will simply live to see his hopes and power be crushed, just as his father did.Not only will AadamÃ¢s life be marked by disappointment, the fate of India seems to also be one full of bloodshed. From the massacre of 1915 to the Chinese invasion to the Indo-Pakistani war to Indira GhandiÃ¢s emergency rule, Indian history has been nothing but turmoil and war. Saleem states that his own life is Ã¢handcuffed to historyÃ¢?, demonstrating that his association with the history of India is not a glorious gift, but rather an imprisonment. For Aadam Sinai to live in the same environment, and partake the same role of prisoner as his father, is not an uplifting image.The midnightÃ¢s children are the embodiment of hope for India. Through their magical powers and their sacred bond with each other, they have all the potential to make differences, to be Ã¢the force which drives between the horns of the dilemmaÃ¢? and Ã¢fulfill the promise of their birthÃ¢? (292). Though Saleem tries to direct this power to save India, he concludes, Ã¢the purpose of the five hundred and eighty-one lay in their destruction; that they had come, in order to come to nothingÃ¢? (348). Even the most elite group is powerless to make any progress because Ã¢prejudices and world-view of adults began to take over their mindsÃ¢?, thus they are forever bound to think the same way as their parents, with few ideas of change or advancement (292). It would naturally follow that even though Aadam has magical powers, they will be of no use as well.Saleem asks the question of whether thereÃ¢s any point to action if everything is planned in advance, whether one should just Ã¢give up right here and now, understanding the futility of thought, decision, action, since nothing we think makes any difference anyway; things will be as they willÃ¢? (86). According to him, his life is an exact fulfillment of RavanaÃ¢s prophesies, who Ã¢ got nothing wrongÃ¢? (97). SaleemÃ¢s life is planned and seen in advance, and none of his efforts bring about any results. Thus he indicates that the answer should be simply to give up, to surrender to the pointlessness of life. AadamÃ¢s life is also prophesized by his father to be an exact repetition of his own, thus implying that any effort on AadamÃ¢s part to escape his imprisonment in the repetitive history will be futile as well.What is most surprising about this novel is that romantic love always fails to provide any hope. His love of Jamila Singer only results in his rejection and imprisonment in the military. In the end, his love for Padma also fails to give him any anticipation for the future. He states that Ã¢I will be separated from Padma, my dung-lotus extending an arm towards me across the turbulent sea, until she drowns in the crowd and I am alone in the vastness of the numbers…I am being buffeted right and left while rip tear crunch reaches its climax, and my body is screamingÃ¢? (532). Saleem sees love, the most powerful and uniting force of all, as another inevitable failure. His initial idealism and hopes of unity among all of India has disintegrated slowly as he lives and experiences life outside the overprotected world of the Methwold Estate. Doomed to repeat the past, Aadam will befall the same fate, where his initial determination will disintegrate with time and living. In the end, not even love, the most basic and powerful of human emotions, will be able to save him.Throughout the novel, Saleem refers to optimism as a disease. Regarding his goal of a united midnightÃ¢s childrenÃ¢s conference, he states that this idealism arose from the Ã¢optimism of youth Ã¢” which is a more virulent form of the… disease…Ã¢? (262). Perhaps SaleemÃ¢s bleak outlook arises from his recognition of the blinding nature of optimism. During the optimism disease, Mian AbudullahÃ¢s downfall is attributed to his ignorance of his enemies. Ã¢And so it was that none of the HummingbirdÃ¢s optimists were prepared for what happened. They played hit-the-spittoon, and ignored the cracks in the earthÃ¢? (47). After so many failures, Saleem finally realizes the fallacy of optimism. Ã¢It was the end; Saleem gave way to his grief. All my life, I have tried to keep my sorrows under lock and key…but no moreÃ¢? (499).After experiencing so much defeat and disappointment, Saleem has come to realize that life is pointless, and dreams can never be achieved. He states that life is an Ã¢endless dualityÃ¢?, an inescapable cycle of snakes and ladders, ups and downs that will not alter despite the greatest of efforts. In the end, he concludes that even though his son Aadam, a child of both magical times and magical children, represents a new chapter in history, he will, none the less, be Ã¢trampledÃ¢? by history just as he has been, just as the next 1001 generations will be (533). Perhaps SaleemÃ¢s need for centrality and his willingness to bend history to fit his life arises out of a desire for some form of purpose. He recognizes his failure to fulfill his duty as the savior of India, and thus asserts himself as the key to Indian history in hopes of finding some other connection to his mother nation.
Imaginary Handcuffs: Misguided Concern for the Past in Midnight’s Children
Salman Rushdie’s creation, Saleem Sinai, has a self-proclaimed “overpowering desire for form” (363). In writing his own autobiography Saleem seems to be after what Frank Kermode says every writer is a after: concordance. Concordance would allow Saleem to bring meaning to moments in the “middest” by elucidating (or creating) their coherence with moments in the past and future. While Kermode talks about providing this order primarily through an “imaginatively predicted future” (8), Saleem approaches the project by ordering everything in his past into neat, causal relationships, with each event a result of what preceded it. While he is frequently skeptical of the true order of the past, he never doubts its eminence; he is certain that everyone is “handcuffed to history” (482). His belief in the preeminence of the past, though, is distinctly different than the reality of time for the Saleem who emerges through that part of the novel that Gerard Genette calls “the event that consists of someone recounting something” (26) (Saleem-now, we can call this figure). Saleem-now is motivated to act not by the past, but instead by the uncertainty and ambiguity of the future. Saleem’s construction of his own story is an effort to mitigate the lack of control he feels in looking toward the unknown future. To pacify himself he creates a world that is ordered but this world is contrary to his own reality. Saleem spends much of his energy in the story setting up neat causal relationships between events in his past to demonstrate his place “at the center of things” (272). He carefully mentions his tumble into the middle of a parade for the partition of Bombay and then proceeds to propose that “in this way I became directly responsible for triggering off the violence which ended with the partition of the state of Bombay” (219). When telling us of his school-mate Cyrus disappearance from school and emergence as a great religious prophet Saleem quickly mentions the Superman comics that he had given Cyrus earlier, and attributes Cyrus’ rise to prophetdom as a direct response to these comics. By viewing Cyrus’ motivation in this way Saleem says “[I] found myself obliged, yet again, to accept responsibility for the events of my turbulent, fabulous world” (309). There is an obvious note of skepticism toward these most overt acts of placing himself at the center of things. At one point he asks himself “am I so far gone, in my desperate need for meaning, that I’m prepared to distort everythingto re-write the whole history of my times purely in order to place myself in a central role?” (190). But while he might doubt his most overt reordering of the past, he is never skeptical of the past’s monolithic effect on its future. Saleem assembles the first book to demonstrate the breadth of his “inheritance” (119), and the heft of the book underscores the degree to which he believes that the past is “the cold waiting vains of the future” (7); to understand the activity of any moment, you need look no further than the past. When considering who he is, he responds, “My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me” (440). His beliefand Rushdie has him carefully say “my answer,” rather than “the answer”leads him to write his autobiography to demonstrate the way each event is the result of “everything that went before.” As intended we come to see the characters as the product not of any forward movement, but as a product of what has already come. That which Jean Paul Sartre says of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is also true of Saleem’s story: “the past takes on a sort of super-reality” (267), for it is here that the answers to the present lay. Saleem, like Faulkner, would have us believe that the characters are “explicable only in terms of what has been” (271).But Saleem-now, Rushdie’s creation, is explicable in very different terms. He is undoubtedly shaped by the past, but the primary motivating factor in his actions is the uncertainty of the future. This motivation falls into two broad categories. First, he wants to impress Padma and his son with his life story. He explains that “this is what keeps me going: I hold on to Padma. Padma is what matters” (337). As he admits, he is “needing-to-be-loved” (392), and by crafting his story carefully he can impress Padma with his worth. The very fact that he is needing to be loved, rather than is loved attests to the uncertainty of this venture. The uncertainty and anxiety is exaggerated when Padma leaves him for a spell, shortly after her departure he laments, “I feel confused . . . in her absence my certainties are falling apart” (187). In a life defined by numerous “exiles,” forced by his parents, Saleem’s uncertainty about any relationship is sorely felt. His other motivation for acting, and acting quickly is his desire to finish the story before his life ends. In the first page he explains, “time (having no further use for me) is running out. I will soon be thirty-one years old. Perhaps. If my crumbling, overused body permits” (3). The “perhaps” suggests his uncertainty with his own mortalityhe is not certain how much more his body can permit, and throughout the story he says that he “must rush on” (475), so that he can finish before an uncertain death. His uncertainty about his position even after death is present in both of these concerns, and motivates him to project his image into the future. While Saleem liked to claim that he is “the sum total of everything that went before me,” it becomes clear that Saleem-now is a being much larger than just the sum of these past parts. The ambiguity and uncertainty of the future is also what forces him into his hopeful belief about the importance of the past. He desires meaning in his life, and as Frank Kermode tells us, concordance, and its attendant meaning comes from an “imaginatively recorded past and imaginatively predicted future, achieved on behalf of us, who remain in the middest” (8). But Saleem is too aware of the uncertainty of the future to predict anything but his own death. He realizes when young that he cannot have control over India’s future (273), and in the end understands that he also cannot have control over his ownhe glumly recognizes that “anything you want to be you kin be” is “the greatest lie of all” (533). Instead he looks backward with the understanding that, “if everything is planned in advance, then we all have meaning” (86). As Saleem searches for form, it is natural for him to turn to that part of his life that he can control, rather than that that he cannot. The construction of the story seems an effort to convince everyone, including himself, that things really are plannedthat the day of his birth really did endow him with meaning. While there is a hint of incredulity toward the idea that everything is planned in advance he never backs down from the idea that they are all “handcuffed to the past” rather than dragged into an uncertain future.The Salman Rushdie-created-consciousness of Saleem, howeverthe only consciousness that we see from the insiderefutes Saleem’s own suggestion that an accurate portrayal of man has him looking backward. Saleem’s efforts are what Gary Morson would call backshadowing, or viewing the past as “having contained signs pointing to what happened later.” Morson says that this kind of storytelling “tends to eliminate sideshadows,” which can be roughly defined as a sense of the openness and ambiguity of the future (235). As we see through Saleem-now, though, sideshadows are an integral element of the texture as life. By creating Saleem-now in this way, Rushdie seems to be agreeing with Sartre, who succinctly stated, “we can no longer arrest man at each present and define him as the sum of what he has'” (270). It is the uncertain futurea coffee cup whose “bottom that you do not see” (271)that pushes man to act, not some element of the past.Kermode’s theory of concordance aims for a reordering of the past and imagining of the future, but his work focuses on the portrayal of the future and some idea of apocalypse. His emphasis on the future rather than the past seems, in part, an implicit statement about the ease with which order is found in the pasthistorians have a much easier time than futurists, and Kermode would rather deal with the task of the tougher profession. Martin Heidigger’s explanation for the way the individual in the midst of time gains meaning similarly emphasizes the future: “running ahead is the fundamental way in which the interpretation of Dasein is carried through” (13). In his creation of Saleem-now Rushdie seems to agree with the vitality of the future in defining the individual, and by juxtaposing this reality with the temporality that Saleem hopes for, Rushdie exposes the temporal myth that a too-strong-desire for concordance can engender.
The Novel Consciousness in Midnight’s Children
In Atlas of the European Novel, Franco Moretti argues that “The novel functions as the symbolic form of the nation-state …and it’s a form that not only does not conceal the nation’s internal divisions, but manages to turn them into a story.” He characterises the ‘nation-state’ as a single geographical territory in which a nation’s pluralistic ideological and cultural landscape coincides with the monolithic notion of a political state, resulting in irreconcilable “internal divisions”. Moretti thus posits the novel as, in the words of Ian Watt in Rise of the Novel, the only “logical literary vehicle of culture” (Watt 13), a discursive site through which an inconclusive dialogue between the multiple fragments that constitute the national discourse can be narrated. It challenges the “literary traditionalism” (Watt 13) of “previous literary forms [that] had reflected the general tendency of their cultures to make conformity to traditional practice the major test of truth”(Watt 13). Hence, this essay aims to explicate how the novel Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie subverts the binary between nation and narrative, asserting that it is only through “individualist and innovating reorientation” (Watt 13) that a literary work can present a cohesive plot which accurately reflects a national narrative.
In focalizing the narrative through the subjective lens of an intrusive narrator who has the ability to “avert [his] eyes” (Rushdie 112) and express issues “in [his] opinion” (Rushdie 112), Rushdie thematizes the individualistic process of personal remembrance of the novel whose “primary criterion was truth to individual experience” (Watt 13). However, rather than advocating a dichotomous relationship between individual recollection and a historical truth, Rushdie establishes instead a mimetic relationship between the two. In tying Saleem’s very existence from the moment of his birth to India’s historical narrative, Rushdie blurs the line between Saleem’s subjective personal recollection and the narration of supposedly objective historical ‘fact’, the latter of which is often widely mistaken for an indisputable truth. Midnight’s Children asserts instead that “Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events” (Rushdie 254). Hence, in validating the complex process that personal recollection undergoes before eventually producing a “coherent version of events”, Rushdie mirrors Moretti’s exoneration of the novel form and its role in producing a cohesive narrative encompassing multiple fragments of time.
He likewise posits the novelistic recollection of events at the core of the storytelling, proving hisbelief that a certain extent of “truth can be discovered by the individual through his senses”(Watt 12). Hence, through exposing the inherent fictionality of what the hegemonic reader identifies as ‘fact’, Rushdie thus encourages his readers to question their proclivity for internalizing constructed fictions as a natural truth, given that “fact is produced by the narrative simulacrum” (Bowen 94) and is hence in itself a work of novelistic fiction. The mimetic portrayal of Saleem’s life story in alignment to India’s historical narrative also functions to expose the performativity of nationhood and the illusion of sovereignty. For one, the detailing of the family’s personal relationship with William Methwold serves to parallel the problematic separation between the newly freed India and it’s pre-colonial past. The liminal space of transition between the colonial state and the newly independant India is problematized in how “the sharp edges of things are getting blurred”(Rushdie 98) in such a naturalised way that they fail to realize how the remaining fragments of colonial power “is changing them” (Rushdie 99). The illusion of freedom from imperialist notions upon gaining political independence is exposed instead as an imagined state, whereby in reality, conformity to colonial practices have been so deeply entrenched into the subconscience of the colonial subjects, making their identities inseparable from their colonial past. The private sphere observed and pieced together through the lens of Saleem’s private memory hence constructs a truth that ironically seems to be a more objective representation of reality.
This aligns with Rushdie’s essay Errata, in which he claims “Reality is built on our prejudices, misconceptions and ignorance as well as our perceptiveness and knowledge.” (Rushdie 25). Saleem’s observations of the habitual nature of how “every evening at six they are out in their gardens” and how “they slip effortlessly into their imitation Oxford drawls” (Rushdie 99) thus serve as a subjective yet grounded representation of the transition. The pretentious and affectatious manner with which he observed the locals mirror the mannerisms of the colonizers novelizes the bigger picture encompassing a sense of disconnect between the cultural and political circumstances of the nation. The newly freed nationhood is instead exposed as being merely performative, plagued with an underlying reality of an undocumented legacy. Hence, the individual experience here is revealed to be a reflection on a microcosmic level of the larger truths of the nation-state. The novel as a discursive site not only allows for the utterance of different fragments of discourse within society, it also provides a cohesive structure to disjointed fragments of temporality. As an intrusive narrator whose storytelling not only toggles between his personal narrative and the nation’s political history, the use of analepsis and prolepsis in the novel also gives a temporal dimension to the fragmentation of national discourse.
The novel mirrors the human “consciousness, the awareness of oneself as a homogenous entity in time, a blend of past and present…[that hold] together [his] then and [his] now” (Rushdie 351). It posits itself within a fixed temporality, yet embodies the lapse between private time and public time, making sense of the experiences within ones private consciousness in correlation to the external landscape. Having been tied to India’s political events from birth, Saleem’s consciousness and it’s cohering function within his own personal narrative hence doubles up to present a cohesive archive of national events. Here, the novel becomes a discursive site for the nation to negotiate and overcome its “fear of schizophrenia, of splitting” (Rushdie 351), both spatially and temporally through the utterance of the various fragmented responses to the political shifts within the country. The “past and the present… divided by an unbridgeable gulf” (Rushdie 351) is brought to terms with one another within a literal space harnessing the cohering qualities of the human memory.
The novel in this case not only becomes a reconciliatory tool, but also “responsible… through the workings of the metaphorical works of connection” (Rushdie 351) for influencing the reality of the nation in being the “literary vehicle of culture” (Watt 13). Furthermore, the novel, as in Making the Novel, “is characterized more by certain kinds of discourses with particular ideological agendas, than it is by specific formal features associated with genre” (Hammond and Regan 25) allows for its appropriation in Midnight’s Children to expose the multiplicity of discursive fragments that constitute the notion of the nation. For instance, the cultural discourse, represented by motifs of dreams and the imaginary, collide with realist notions seemingly of the political discourse throughout the novel. In alignment with Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, where it is proposed that a nation is “an imagined political community”(Anderson 7), Rushdie’s novel constantly reiterates the idea of the country as being a “new myth”, “a mythical land”, “a collective fiction”, “a fable” and “a dream we all agreed to dream” (Rushdie 112). Yet, notions of the subjective imaginary are plotted alongside realist notions of “the calendar” and “the game of chess” (Rushdie 111), provoking the credibility of such tangible representations of indisputable time and knowledge, seeing as they are inherently notions of subjectivity themselves. As so, Rushdie asserts how “the “real” is the product of the imaginary” (Bowen 94), with fragments of collective discourses only coming together through the novelistic construction of a timely narrative. Furthermore, the public discourses are also interrupted abruptly by a private discourse, which dismiss the former as producing mere “generalized, macrocosmic notions” (Rushdie 112).
The multiplicity of different discourses colliding here to form the narrative of Midnight’s Children hence exemplifies the function of the novel as being the discursive site in which the multiplicity a nation can be dealt with. Hence the novel, characterized by “an unprecedented value on originality, on the novel; and it is therefore well named” (Watt 13), thus functions as an effective literary manifestation of the particularity of the human mind. The discursive site it establishes, mirrored in Saleem’s congregating function amongst the voices of the Midnight’s children, enables the utterances of multiple discourses within the nation to exist within a single cohesive plot. The foregrounding of individualism and personal memory also establishes the imagined and performative nature of the political sovereignty, with it being a mere figment of “mass fantasy” (Rushdie 111).
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Watt, Ian P. The rise of the novel: studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Univ of California Press, 2001.
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