Awarded the Booker Prize in 1981, Midnight’s Children is Salman Rushdie’s most highly regarded work of fiction. Rushdie was born on June 19, 1947, and his birth occurred simultaneously with a particularly meaningful moment in Indian history. After almost one hundred years of colonial rule, the British occupation of India was coming to an end. Almost exactly three months after Rushdie’s birth, India gained its long-awaited independence at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947. Just as Rushdie was born during a revolutionary time period in Indian history, Saleem Sinai, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, is born at midnight, August 15, 1947, at the exact moment India achieved its independence from British rule. Now nearing his thirty-first birthday, Saleem believes that his body is beginning to crack and fall apart. Fearing his impending death, he grows anxious to tell his life story. Throughout the novel, Saleem, in the process of his search for self-definition, attempts to solve the puzzles of his own identity. From the moment that he is born, his life is inextricably linked to the progress of Indian as a nation, and Rushdie explores the dichotomy between the single and the many in order to define the identity of his characters. Furthermore, the physical and emotional fragmentation that Saleem experiences hinders his ability to determine his true identity. Saleem’s continuous efforts to make meaning of his life illustrate the imperfections that make him human, a characteristic that Rushdie highlights throughout the novel. Rushdie’s work, which is considered postmodern Indian literature, is inspired by both ancient and contemporary Indian culture; however, his writing style, character development, tone, and themes differ vastly from those of ancient Indian literary works such as The Recognition of Shakuntala.
From a very young age, Saleem yearns to understand the relationship between personal life and the political, national, and religious events of the time. “Saleem Sinai, yoked by his birth to India’s fate, becomes the living embodiment of his nation, and finally its voice. His identity embodies the identity of his collective group and of his nation” (Karamcheti 81). Born at the dawn of Indian independence, Saleem manages to represent the entirety of India within his individual self. He is, he says, “mysteriously handcuffed to history, [his] destinies indissolubly chained to those of [his] country” (Rushdie 3). The idea that a single person could represent a diverse nation like India highlights one of the novel’s fundamental themes: the relationship between the single and the many. The tension between Saleem’s individual life and the collective life of the nation suggests that public and private will always influence one another; however, it remains unclear whether they can be fully associated with each other. Throughout the novel, Saleem struggles to contain all of India within himself – to equate his personal story with events of his country. Saleem firmly believes that he “shall eventually crumble into (approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, and necessarily oblivious dust” (Rushdie 36). At the time of the novel’s publication, India’s population was about 630 million. By claiming that he will crumble into 630 million pieces, Saleem suggests that when his body falls apart, he will release all of India and its people. With the notion that, in his individual body, Saleem contains a physical representation of every single “anonymous” Indian citizen, Rushdie symbolically uses Saleem to embody modern India. His bodily disintegration facilitates the formation of his identity in his mind as he conceives of himself as a physical embodiment of India’s history.
Throughout the novel, the private life of Saleem Sinai coincides with the public life of India. India’s defeat in the war metaphorically drains the country of its confidence and optimism, just as...
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