Midnight's Children Essay

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  • Topic: Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children, The Best of the Booker
  • Pages : 6 (2493 words )
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  • Published : April 21, 2005
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Midnight's Children essay

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 everything‹to 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 belief‹and 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...
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