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Midnight’s Children

Salman Rushdie

Study Questions & Suggested Essay Topics

Key Facts

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Study Questions

1. What role does religious imagery play in the novel?

India, given its long and complicated history, has been influenced by almost every major religion, from Buddhism and Islam to Catholicism and Hinduism. Throughout the novel, Rushdie incorporates elements from each religion, often borrowing images and names from specific religious narratives. His characters themselves represent a wide range of religious faiths. Saleem grows up in a Muslim family, while Shiva is Hindu. Saleem’s ayah, Mary, is a devout Catholic. In addition to religious allusions, Saleem frequently compares himself and his narrative to religious texts. At times, he compares himself to Mohammed, Moses, Ganesh, and the Buddha. His magical birth recalls the prophesized birth of Jesus Christ, and two of his parental figures, Mary Pereira and Joseph D’Costa, share names with Jesus’ parents. Through his frequent religious comparisons, Saleem makes an argument on behalf of his story. He is asking the reader to have faith in his version of history, despite its flaws, shortcomings, and inaccuracies.

In addition to exalting his narrative, Saleem’s frequent references to religious imagery also become an argument for religious tolerance and acceptance. There are a number of religions in India, none better or worse than any other. By making every religion a part of his narrative, Rushdie declares that India, like Saleem, is a composite of all these faiths. Each one has played a distinct role in shaping the country, just as each has shaped Saleem. They are intertwined and inextricable from one another.

2. What is the significance of Saleem’s adoption of Parvati-the-witch’s son?

Aadam Sinai will be raised by someone who is not his biological father, just as Saleem was. Despite the absence of a biological connection, links remain between past and present. Saleem has the nose and eyes of his grandfather, Aadam Aziz, and Saleem’s son, with his enormous ears, will bear the name of his great-grandfather. History will come full circle, and the family legacy and name will continue into the next generation.

After revealing the truth of his birth, Saleem says he remained his parent’s son, and nothing could change that. Legitimacy, in other words, is not a matter of biological fact, but of belief. Saleem, despite the missing biological connection, could not be any more, or less, his parents’ son. Aadam Aziz is his grandfather, and that is where his story begins, because that is the history he has inherited. The same will of course be true for his son. Aadam Sinai, like Saleem before him, will inherit a past and a name that will belong to him because time and history have sanctified it. Truth, like the family itself, is created. Each is determined as much by faith as by fact.

In addition, the tension between knees and nose, destruction and creation, is brought to a symbolic conclusion by Saleem’s decision to raise the son of his enemy. Saleem’s adoption of Shiva’s son is an act of unity and love, one that has the ability to unmake all of the damage of the past and create a new future. Aadam isn’t blessed with enormous knees or an enormous nose, but something utterly new, ears, thereby further signaling the conclusion of the rivalry and tension between knees and nose.

3. How does Rushdie’s narrative style reflect the novel’s intentions?

Rushdie employs a number of different literary techniques and styles in the telling of Saleem’s story. The novel is at once funny, dark, ironic, allegorical, and historical. The language ranges from colloquial slang to the eloquently lyrical. Sentences stretch for over a page, while one word after another is linked by a hyphen. Saleem even employs a whole new set of literary terms that he has invented to help explain his novel. He stretches and breaks grammatical rules in the creation of a new type of sentence. In addition, there is an obvious relationship between Rushdie’s prose and the cinema, an important part of Bombay culture. Saleem often describes his life in cinematic terms, and on more than one occasion, his perspective mirrors that of a camera hovering above the landscape.

By employing so many different techniques and style, Rushdie attempts to write a novel as large and grand as its subject matter, India. The old literary techniques and styles are insufficient and incapable of capturing the newly independent country with its massive population, enormous landscape, multiple religions and various languages, not to mention a history that stretches back to the very dawn of civilization. It is also only fitting that a postcolonial novel written in English attempts to forge a new literary tradition and voice that is uniquely Indian, and that in its very character, espouses the plurality of voices that make up the country.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. How reliable a narrator is Saleem?

2. What is the role of fate in this novel?

3. Is Shiva a sympathetic character?

4. What is the significance of impotence throughout the novel?

5. Is Saleem’s crumbling death inevitable?

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