On the surface, Midnight’s Children recounts, directly and symbolically, the birth of India as a modern nation, shrugging off the last vestiges of colonialism in a mad burst of independence. But India is not one story, one people. The billowing of beliefs, languages, ethnic loyalties that occurred after the stroke of midnight on August 15th, 1947, is reflected in the experience of Rushdie’s main character, a boy named Saleem Sinai who is born at the same moment as the independent India. Rushdie weaves magic and history in a racing, mad narrative that addresses issues of identity, communalism and the imaginary homeland we all carry within ourselves.
Our study of the text will include background information on the history of India as well as various belief systems and how these are manifested in modern India. The group will do reflective writing on how place and culture define self as well as our journeys away from and into our inheritance.
Rushdie explores the nature of history and its intimate relation, memory in Midnight’s Children. Rushdie is interested in how history is a story told- and as a story is shaped by the teller. He explains how he plays with these ideas in the charcter of Saleem in his essay, ‘Errata’: or, Unreliable Narration in Midnight’s Children:
“When I began the novel (as I’ve written elsewhere) my purpose was somewhat Proustian. Time and migration had placed a double filter between me and my subject, and I hoped that if I could only imagine vividly enough it might be possible to see beyond those filters, to write as if the years had not passed, as if I had never left India for the West. But as I worked I found that what interested me was the process of filtration itself. So my subject changed, was no longer a search for lost time, had become the way in which we remake the past to suit our present purposes, using memory as our tool. Saleem’s greatest desire is for what he calls meaning, and near the end of his broken life he sets out to write himself, in the hope that by doing so he may achieve the significance that the events of his adulthood have drained from him. He is no dispassionate, disinterested chronicler. He wants so to shape his material that the reader will be forced to concede his central role. He is cutting up history to suit himself, just as he did when he cut up newspapers to compose his earlier text, the anonymous note to Commander Sabarmati. The small errors in the text can be read as clues, as indications that Saleem is capable of distortions both great and small. he is an interested party in the events he narrates…History is always ambiguous. Facts are hard to establish, and capable of being given many meanings. Reality is built on our prejudices, misconceptions and ignorance as well as on our perceptiveness and knowledge. The reading of Saleem’s unreliable narration might be, I believed a useful analogy for the way in which we all, every day, attempt to ‘read’ the world.” (1983)
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