Sunday, March 26, 2006

 

Unmerry Go Around

For me, Midnights Children represents one very large unhappy merry go around. It is merry because Saleem is able to tell his story, to leave his mark on the readers as I am sure Salman Rushdie sits in his writing chair content because of the massive headache he gives students. Yet as merry as Saleem must be by being able to share his story, his life is just one tragedy after another. Instead of ponies and horsies on his merry go around, there are catastrophic political events and horrific, although oddly well connected personal events. Nevertheless what caught my attention the most was the way that Rushdie decided to write Saleem’s story.

In our third book of this semester, we are once again confronted with a style that is different from Howards End and A House for Mr. Biswas. Although in a way Midnights children is like A House for Mr. Biswas because the storyline makes a circle. Throughout the entire book, Rushdie writes in circular story lines that connect the present characters with characters from the past. Towards the end when Saleem seems to be wrapping up his life story that is draining him, he says “There have been thirty – two years, in this story, during which I remained unborn; soon, I may complete thirty-one years of my own” (464). This split down the middle with India’s Independence and Saleem’s birth splits his novel in two halves with connections between the two that make it seem like a circle. Adding the two halves together makes sixty-three years when a circle would be sixty-four years. He doesn’t complete the circle because he leaves room for the future by saying, “one jar must remain empty”(532) because “the future cannot be preserved in a jar” (532). Yet this isn’t the only circular form in the book.

The last few chapters of the book connects characters in Saleem’s present life to the stories that he told of his past. He akins the Reverend Mother to Jamila by saying, “There is another Reverend Mother now, as Jamila Singer, who once, as the Brass Monkey, flirted with Christianity, finds safety shelter peace in the midst of the hidden order of santa Ignacia” (453). He compares Picture Singh to “the possibility of his becoming a second Hummingbird” (513) and while comparing Durga, the washer woman to his grandmother Saleem also compares Picture to his grandfather by saying, “at last she reminded me of Reverend Mother in her later years, when she expanded and my grandfather shrank” (513). Then he puts himself in his circular writing form by returning to Bombay, “Saleem returned to the city of his birth to stand illuminated in a cellar while Bombayites tittered at him from the dark” (524).

One of the most eye catching circles Saleem tells us if of his own birth and the birth of his son. On the very first page he describes his own eventful birth by saying “on the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came” (3) then while describing his son’s birth he copies exactly the form and the style by saying “On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms. Oh spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at Emergency, he emerged” (482). This full circle between his birth and his son’s birth akins Saleem’s own life to his son’s. In a way he predicts that his son who is also “handcuffed to history” (482) will probably live a miserable and traumatic life while India finds political stability because “his destinies [is] indissolubly chained to those of his country” (482). But however circular Saleem makes it to be, he also differentiates his son from himself exactly like how he leaves a year empty while telling his story that spans sixty-three years. Saleem describes Aadam’s generation by saying, “Aadam was a member of a second generation of magical children who would grow up far tougher than the first, not looking for their fate in prophecy or the stars, but forging it in the implacable furnaces of their wills” (515).

With that quote in mind, Rushdie’s ending to Midnights Children leaves me feeling distraught because it is so “unnervingly abstract”. While the novel is still digesting in my brain, I can’t help but think that the ending is depressing even though Saleem seems to paint a picture that the second generation of the Midnights Children will have it better.

Friday, March 24, 2006

 

One Jar Must Remain Empty

The end of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is complex. It is not purely troubling or hopeful; Rushdie leaves us with a cautious mix. In order to extract a resolution one must consider two important elements in which the ending hinges upon: the fall of the Midnight’s Children and the birth of Parvati and Shiva’s child.
India’s leader Indira Ghandi had her men torture Saleem for the names of the Midnight’s Children who are then rounded up. Jealous of their ties with India and its history she has them sterilized and partially lobotomized, negating their powers. This event signifies the end of their era. Their sterilization is quite disheartening. It’s as if Saleem’s impotence had been magnified. The reader’s only consolation is the fact that Shiva had impregnated women across the country including Parvati, the witch.
The birth of Aadam is a sort of a bow on the gift of the novel tying it all together and renewing cycles in the characters’ lives. Shiva, jerk that he is of course does not wish to (and probably shouldn’t be able to) raise the child. Saleem decides to take the task thus repeating (or reversing) the switch-at-birth. Aadam Sinai’s birth coincides with the beginning of the State of Emergency in India, during Indira Ghandi’s reign. Being a “next generation Midnight’s Child” it is implied Aadam will be tied to the future just as Saleem was tied to history.
With little hope for himself, Saleem in the end knows his life is essentially over. But considering his child the reader can still hope for the the “empty jar that is the future.”

 

Oh, Inescapable Connection...

This novel is full of ideas about connection and disconnection. One of the purposes of the story as a whole is to connect the lives of Saleem’s family members more thoroughly to himself and to India’s history. Often the messages of the author may seem contradicting and it is difficult to understand, at the end, what the “moral” actually is but, I think that Rushdie, through Saleem, believes that connection, which involves love and “sticking-together” among other things, is nearly impossible at the national or global level and is most viable among individuals.

Several times throughout the novel, Saleem says, “to understand me, you’ll have to swallow a world” (441). A person has an identity through their connection to the past, the present, and the future, through his relationships to other people. If one has an identity, then he is inescapably connected to others. This also means that there is “No Escape” from who or what one is(440). While this at times seems rather foreboding, disconnection is not preferable. For instance, the period of time after Saleem is hit with the silver spittoon and becomes “empty and free” is pathetic (392). He has no personal identity, he is a dog for the army, he is numb to all sensations except smell, and he barely thinks for himself. Utter lack of connection is hardly a human existence. Also, Saleem comments that Naseem Aziz became “the first victim of that spirit of detached fatigue which made the end the only possible solution” (376). The same is becoming true of Saleem near the end of the novel.

The child Saleem of the MCC represents the more idealistic themes of connection. Shiva, the antithesis of Saleem, asserts that “things and their makers rule the world” (293). In response, Saleem says, “But people are not things; if we can come together, if we love each other, if we show that this, this people-together, this conference, this children-sticking-together-through-thick-and-thin, can be that third way…” This is a more uncorrupted view of life, before it is “murdered” by the poison of adults and the Widow’s knife, in a sense, before “worldly” taint (294, 293). And so, as happens to Saleem, hope is destroyed and fatalism becomes more prevalent in the narrative. Shiva, representing his philosophy, rises to heroic heights in India, while Saleem sinks lower and lower. Shiva’s way is never portrayed as the “right” way, in fact it is more villainized, but it does seem to be the way that politics works in practice. India is partitioned, Muslims kill Muslims, walls of words divide a country; all of these manifestations of disconnection occur, and they are basically bad, but the question seems to become whether or not they are inescapable.

Near the end, Saleem says, “[…] reality is nagging at me. Love does not conquer all […] rip tear crunch will not be defeated by a mere ceremony; and optimism is a disease” (511). With a broad scope, like Saleem has had throughout the novel, this can seem true. While in captivity, Saleem says that he is “coming to the conclusion that privacy, the small individual lives of men, are preferable to all this inflated macrocosmic activity” (500). I don’t think this is a statement for isolationism. Ideal connection is almost impossible at such a level. When Indira Gandhi, the Widow, wants to become India, wants to be worshipped by her people, she is seeking to connect with all the people of India, but her motives and means are fundamentally wrong. It does not arise out of Saleem’s “third principle”, but out of politics and greed. Individuals are lost. It is Indira and the mass of people that make up India, not Indira and individuals with faces and names.

The end is quite unsettling, but there is some hope too. The final passage leaves a disturbing image. It is that of “the crowd, the dense crowd, the crowd without boundaries, growing until it fills the world […] I am alone in the vastness of the numbers […] rip tear crunch reaches its climax” (532). Among the “annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes,” identity may be lost and a person loses his wholeness. But, before this prediction of his future, Saleem leaves his “pickles of history” behind for the world to one day taste (531). These “are, despite everything, acts of love.” I think that this last attempt at broader connection may be an indication that there is still some hope for a future change to the destructive forces, but it must begin among individuals rather than masses.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

 

"Condemned by a perforated sheet to a life of fragments"

In terms of connection, the ending of Midnight’s Children brings the novel full circle. The themes of fragmentation and connection run throughout the novel, which begins with the life of Aadam Aziz, Saleem Sinai’s grandfather, and ends with the early life of his son, Aadam Sinai. While the two Aadams represent connection- a bringing together of the past, the present, and the future- they also represent fragmentation: while they are both members of Saleem’s family, neither of the two Aadams is actually blood related to Saleem. They are the blood grandfather and son, respectively, of Shiva. Saleem and Shiva are inextricably connected and simultaneously disconnected: They were born at the exact same moment, sharing not only a birthday but the honor of being the true “Midnight’s Children,” and, being separated at birth, they each grow up living the other’s life with the other’s family; their births were foretold to Amina as a baby having “two heads, but you shall only see one” (96). However, there is a strong disconnection: the two are basically opposites, with Saleem connecting all of the Midnight’s Children and Shiva fragmenting them- physically and figuratively.
Fragmentation or “perforation” is a key idea in the formation of Saleem’s life and family history: Aadam Aziz fell in love with his wife, Naseem, by seeing only parts of her body at a time through a perforated sheet; and Amina Sinai deals with her disappointment with her new husband Ahmed (compared to her first husband, Nadir) by learning to love him one part at a time: “She fell under the spell of the perforated sheet of her own parents, because she resolved to fall in love with her husband bit by bit” (72). Saleem describes himself as “perforating” and breaking apart throughout the narration; he blames the perforated sheet, which “condemned me to see my own life…in fragments…” (119). In this way, Saleem’s life mirrors that of India, which at the time was going through Partition, a perforation of its own. The novel ends accordingly, with Saleem imagining his being ripped to pieces by a crowd of familiar faces, becoming “only a broken creature spilling pieces of itself into the street, because I have been so-many too-many persons…” (533). Although the novel ends on a note of fragmentation, it is not necessarily negative: He sees all the people in his life who have connected the fragments, like his parents, his grandparents, his son, even Shiva. He lived a fragmented life, but it was a life full of connection due to the fragmentation.

 

Mixed Feelings

Rushdie's ending to Midnight's Children is a difficult one to characterize, however, I would characterize the ending of Midnight’s Children as a mixture of depressing, hopeful, and incomplete with the emphasis on depressing. I use the characterization of depressing because of the very last paragraph of the book: “Yes, they will trample me underfoot, the numbers marching one two three, four hundred million five hundred six, reducing me to specks of voiceless dust, just as, in all good time, they will trample my son who is not my son, and his son who will not be his, and his who will not be his, until the thousand and first generation, until a thousand and one midnights have bestowed their terrible gifts and a thousand and one children have died, because it is the privilege and the curse of midnight’s children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or die in peace.”
This paragraph emphasizes the story’s rebellion against the traditional Novel’s “happy ending.” The novel leaves the reader on a note of depression, with the images of trampled life and suffering and dying children, opposed to the traditional ending of new life.
The paragraph also discusses the idea that their children are not actually their children, emphasizing the lack of connections within relationships. This may deal with the novels idea that India and Pakistan are separate, but should be connected. That despite the countries’ differences it would have been better for everyone if they had remained one country because they are still related whether they like it or not, so the separation is only leading to destruction. The fragmentation used through Saleem’s narration of the story was another clue to the need for the countries to become whole again in order for life to be better, and without the unification it is not possible to have a truly happy ending.
This need for unification is also what leaves the story with an incomplete ending. There cannot be a traditional complete ending without the two countries becoming one and at peace, because until that happens there will not be a place for everyone. A more complete sense of identification for the narrator and his family is what would complete the ending, but without a unification of the countries this is really not possible since his family relates to both sides, religiously with Pakistan and with India in regards to their business/livelihood.
The slightly traditional aspect of the novel is the glimmer of hope the author leaves the reader with, “But no, he has not finished, there is strain on his face, and finally my son, who will have to be a magician to cope with the world I’m leaving him, completes his awesome first word: …cadabba.” The speechless child speaking his first word gives the reader the possibility to hope for a change in the characters’ lives. The child is now speaking, maybe he can make a difference, after all he is a midnight’s child, with special powers. And the word that he spoke “abracadabra” is after all a magician’s phrase, so maybe the child will have the skills that his father has said are needed to survive.

 

A Privilege and a Curse

Saleem Sinai ends his 500 page novel on an almost-hopeful note. He cannot quite bring himself to end it with the traditional "and we all lived happily ever after,” yet it seems as though Saleem wishes to leave the reader with some feeling of optimism. Not the “disease of optimism,” from which both he and his grandfather suffered, but something more realistic.
Midnight’s Children certainly is not a comforting novel, but neither is it wholly pessimistic. It is cyclical in nature, varying back and forth between the two. Saleem begins the last two paragraphs with a somewhat hopeful note – his marriage to Padma. They travel to Kashmir together, but get lost in a crowd. Saleem is separated from her and is “alone in the vastness of the numbers.” But he is encouraged when he sees “familiar faces in the crowd,” those of his grandfather, his mother, and his sister. These familiar faces become ominous however, when “they throng around [him] pushing shoving crushing,” and Saleem realizes that they will ultimately trample his son also.
Saleem ends his narration with the revelation that it is “the privilege and the curse of midnight’s children to be both master and victims of their times . . . and to be unable to live or die in peace” (532-533). It seems as though this is how Saleem characterizes his life and experiences, as well as those of all humanity. Life is a series of ups and downs; a privilege, and yet at the same time, a curse. Saleem’s success is in laying it bare before the reader: this is how life is.
Ultimately, Saleem suggests that the answer to coping with this revelation rests with his son, on whom he has placed the burden of the future. Aadam Sinai will have to resort to illusion, or “be a magician,” to properly cope with this kind of world, a world without peace, in which Saleem has left him (528).

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

 

Midnight's Children

An ending wraps up the story the novel tells but also gestures toward the future. It can be comforting or apocalyptic, finite or unnervingly abstract (or all of the above). How would you characterize the ending of Midnight's Children? Does it even end? Rushdie's narrator, Saleem, is increasingly self-conscious of his need to end his story and of the problematic implications of doing so. If we have asked of our previous novels, "what is the moral of this story?" can we ask here "what is the moral of its stories?"
In order to help you pin this down, feel free to take one of the issues we focused on in class (paradox, connection, gender, reality/history, hope, violence, and form) as a way in to analyzing Rushdie's achievement (or lack thereof) OR take one of the following passages as a place to begin your consideration of where Midnight's Children ends up.
"And we all lived happily ... at any rate, even without the traditional last-sentence fiction of fairy-tales, my story does indeed end in fantasy" (372-3).
"but in finding it had become the first victim of that spirit of detached fatigue which made the end the only possible solution. (Tick, tock.)" (376).
"Scraps of memory: this is not how a climax should be written. A climax should surge towards its Himalayan peak; but I am left with shreds, and must jerk towards my crisis like a puppet with broken strings. This is not what I had planned; but perhaps the story you finish is never the one you begin" (491).
"Children, something is being born here, in this dark time of our captivity; let Widows do their worst; unity is invincibility! Children: we've won!" (502).
"But no, he has not finished, there is strain on his face, and finally my son, who will have to be a magician to cope with the world I'm leaving him, completes his awesome first word: '...cadabba'" (528).
"The process of revision should be constant and endless; don't think I'm satisfied with what I've done!" (530).
And, of course, feel free to analyze the actual final paragraph of the novel on page 533.

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