Thursday, March 23, 2006

 

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).

Comments:
Anna makes a really good point about the cyclical nature of Midnights Children. Unlike the novels that we read in the Realism class last semester, this novel does not depict a character that goes on a linear pilgrimage. This post colonial novel is "remodeling the masters house" by not following the traditional form of the novel. However, at the conclusion, I'm left wondering if other readers are satisfied with the cyclical nature of the ending. I am left feeling more than a little lost, and I cannot seem to identify with Saleem and his circular journey. Just as the historical references are complicated for me to understand, I am having a hard time categorizing this novel's ending as optimistic or pessimistic. Perhaps, just as history is continually unfolding and changing, this ending can be seen in new and different ways as time goes on.
 
I also think that Anna makes a good point in saying that Saleem's son, Aadam, provides hope for the future. The cyclical nature of the novel, like Lisa said, is both a "remodeling of the masters house" and a source of ambiguity as to whether the ending is optimistic or not. But the character of Aadam is a return to form and a source of optimism- children have been traditionally used to end a novel on a bright note, as we have talked about in class, and seen in Howard's End and A House for Mr. Biswas. I also think that the image of Saleem being lost in the crowd is appropriate for the dense nature of the entire novel, and perhaps for the larger point Rushdie may be getting at- that even individual existence is too complicated a thing to get a clear grasp of, let alone a whole nation's birth. As Saleem is overwhelmed in the crowd, we are reminded of how overwhelming history can be.
 
I think Anna's point is a good one. Midnight's Children shows us how up and down life can be, and that the good and and the bad in our lives always seems to be connected. The suffering is essential to the happiness. Midnight's Children seems to have a familiar "only connect" ending that is similar to Howard's End. The next generation in the novels are seen as a hopeful promise. The children, who are the connections between the disconnections, are looked at as a way to merge the fragments of life, so that through time an individual, a family, and a country can mend and connect with those around them.
 
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Admittedly, Saleem's son Aadam does provide a small speck of hope and a sense of the future at the end of Midnight's Children. Yet the fact that he must "resort to illusion," as Anna says, can also be seen as a privilege and a curse. Illusion lets someone deal with personal crises, as shown when Saleem imagines that Shiva was killed by an angry former lover. It allows someone to control his own life story by dictating how he wishes to view it. Yet illusion is also dangerous, as it basically is the act of tricking oneself or others into seeing something that doesn't exist. The fact that Aadam Sinai must resort to illusion seems like a troubling yet realistic ending. Unlike the Victorian novel, in which the omniscient narrator relates the story perfectly, Rushdie's novel illustrates how flawed the act of storytelling is; humans often lie to themselves and others to cope with harsh reality.
 
Last semester in my senior seminar with Dr. Arroyo our focus was ethnic American literature which in some ways dealt with a lot of the same issues our novels talk about this semester. One of the things we talked about was how remembering the past can be good and bad depending on the situation. We talked about the question of how much assimilation is too much assimilation and how forgetting where you come from isn't always the answer to fitting in. In Midnight's Children, Saleem seems to be battling his obsession with Indian history. He is so crazed about getting it down in his book just right that he starts to confuse his personal history with the history of his country. Saleem is stuck between moving forward and looking backwards. By the end of the novel I think Saleem wants us to see that his obsession never served him well, but he wants to share his story to keep others from making his same mistakes.
 
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