“Haroun and the Sea of Stories” by Salman Rushdie Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Sep 18th, 2020


In his novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie provides a wonderful synthesis of the best literary elements of Indian and Western traditions. Even though the novel is initially targeted at children audiences, the themes it elucidates are equally interesting to grown-ups. The author’s style is rather unconventional as well. Rushdie’s background lets him create an inimitable blend of stylistic devices such as zeugmas and puns that have vivid implications for the culturally-related jokes.


Trying to determine the book’s genre, it would be unfair to claim that it is a romance. Thus, a romantic genre implies the dominance of a love story over other plotlines. In the meantime, Haroun and the Sea of Stories are more than a classic romance. While it contains the elements of romantics, it likewise comprises those of an adventure story and fantasy. Also, romance is typically expected to offer the so-called happy ending.

That of Haroun and the Sea of Stories does not offer such a bonus. Even if its end cannot be characterized as sad, it is at least ambiguous. It would be most rational to characterize the book’s genre as magic realism. The book discusses real problems and situations, although the characters experience them within imaginary settings. From this perspective, a parallel to Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland might be drawn – serious themes are elucidated in the context of a magic environment.

Dastan Genre

Another aspect that should be necessarily discussed in the presence of the elements of the dastan genre in the book. The author has successfully incorporated the basis of the genre into the novel. Thus, the entire book is built on oral history structure-preserving the old storytelling tradition of the East. Haroun’s father is a skillful storyteller – his stories are both exciting and magical. In the meantime, the author puts a particular emphasis on the stories’ value trying to determine whether it resides in the truthfulness or the interesting plot.

Hence, when the main character of the book asks the core question – “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” – the author welcomes the readers to speculate on the stories’ role in the modern world (p. 22). In other words, Rushdie intends to revive the significance of the forgotten dastan tradition showing that story-telling is a true art that is above the norms of reality.

Supernatural Elements

The supernatural elements that the author integrates into the text have strong connotations for the eternal questions of real life. It might be assumed that Rushdie attempts to address the most ambiguous philosophic dilemmas with the help of parallelism. The major part of his supernatural characters seems to represent an allegory of a particular notion or phenomenon of real life. Thus, for instance, the imaginary people of Chup look like an allegory for the society that exists in the context of a severe authority of the government.

Hence, the author writes that “vows of silence and their habits of secrecy had made them suspicious and distrustful of one another” (p. 185). Such a characterization of the Chupwala society illustrates the author’s opinion regarding the value of censorship and the negative impact of authoritarian control – Rushdie shows that these people are unable to survive to face a true challenge.

Another supernatural character that implies some connotations for the social phenomenon is Mudra or the Shadow Warrior. Speculating about the tenor of life in the Land of Chup, this character once notes that “the Shadow leads, and it is the Person or Self or Substance that follows” (p.132). Assigning this phrase to Mudra, Rushdie tries to explain the evil side of the imaginary land. It might be suggested that the notion of Shadow and that of the Self are initially aimed at symbolizing the two sides of one coin – the human nature.

Thus, the latter might be interpreted as the independence and the autonomy of a person. The former, in its turn, can stand for the impact that the culture and the society produce. It seems that Rushdie attempts to illustrate that even though these sides tend to conflict one with another, this discrepancy composes the natural beauty of life.

Love Plotlines

One of the principal plotlines of the novel is a love story. The author characterizes love as “an affair of the heart” (p.43). Meanwhile, it should be noted that the author’s interpretation of love is different from that elucidated in a typical romance. Hence, his love stories lack any nerve or anguish. Instead, they offer loyalty and explicit belief as to the core basis of true love. Broadly speaking, two love stories should be distinguished.

First and foremost, it is the love between a parent and a child – Haroun and his father. Secondly, it is the touching and adorable love between a husband and his wife. All the other love stories that appear in the course of narration look less convincing and lack some depth. Thus, it is not an accident that the happy element at the end of the novel is the mother’s come back. It signifies that the author considers love to be the key inspiration and consolation.

Comparing the style of Haroun and the Sea of Stories to that of The Adventures of Amir Hamza, it can be noted that Rushdie’s manner of narration is less pathetic and more critical. On the one hand, the author sticks to the old story-telling tradition of the Islamic culture. On the other hand, it sometimes seems that he is rather ironic about some elements of the traditional culture. Hence, for instance, the author writes that “straight answers were beyond the powers of Rashid Khalifa, who would never take a short cut if there was a longer, twistier road available” (p.100).

This phrase is an evident irony addressed to the elaborate manner of the story-telling that the dastan genre implies. In the meantime, it should be pointed out that the author’s making fun of traditions does not contain any evil connotations. On the contrary, Rushdie shows deep respect for his cultural background and the Eastern culture of a narrative. The only aim of his humorous remarks resides in making the reading process more enjoyable for its main targeted audience – children.


As a result, it might be concluded that Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a unique novel – it throws light on the serious questions in a playful manner. This unconventional approach makes the book suitable for both children and their parents. Whereas the former can enjoy the exciting adventures, the latter receive extra food for reflection.

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