Friday, March 24, 2006

 

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.

Comments:
This post spoke to the main aspects of Midnight's Children that bothered me the most. Saleem is idealistic in what I thought the most mature and hopeful way. When arguing with Shiva over the purpose of the MCC being connection I thought Saleem was headed down the right path (292). However, when Saleem is in captivity he seems to go back on all of these ideals in favor of disconnection(500). This seems totally against any positive theme of the novel resting on connection, but as Lauren points out, there is more to it than that. The Widow seeks connection in a deceiving manner showing there are not always pure intentions in mind when connection is sought. It also seems in a world with the great disconnect of one country into two that connection cannot be formed without individuals becoming masses that favor one country or the other. The ending emphasis on individuals is appropriate due to the continuing separation of India and Pakistan.
 
I certainly agree with Laura that Saleem’s search for identity and his ultimate discovery of his identity inevitably connects him to people and events which, although may seem to be isolated from each other, are, in fact, mysteriously interconnected. Born at the time when India has broken away from the shackles of British rule and is embarking on a journey to find its postcolonial identity, Saleem Sinai also feels the inextricable urge to discover his own identity in the face of adverse political, cultural, and religious oppositions. Similar to India who must overcome the dire obstacles that lie ahead, which encompass the religious conflict with Pakistan and the territorial feud with China, Saleem must come to terms with the problems that face his life, namely, the tragic reality of his birth which is exposed to his parents after eleven years, and the grudging competition for leadership over the MCC with the conniving Shiva. But Saleem does succeed to some extent in finding selfhood through the struggles of his misadventurous life. Born with the power to read minds, Saleem stumbles upon the opportunity to contact other midnight’s children with whom he can share his world views and aspirations, and in whom he can find a sense of belonging and identity. Possessing such an incredible power bestowed unto him by that most auspicious moment of his birth, Saleem can establish worthwhile connections with people whom he otherwise would never have known. Hence, according to Laura who points out that “if one has an identity, he is inescapably connected to others,” Saleem certainly demonstrates exceptional ability to form relationships with people, such as the midnight’s children.
 
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