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.

Comments:
First of all, I love your metaphor of "an unhappy merry go round". I think that they way you explain it is brilliant and I agree with your interpretation. He is happy he can get his story out there, but his story is just tragedy after tragedy. So it is definetly a mixture of the good and the bad (the snakes and the ladders). I also agree with your circular aspect idea of the book which seems to show up in our other novels as well. And just like our other novels, there is the clear connection and in this case you recognize it well, as Saleem's present and future being connected to his past, to name at least one. You're right about the ending, that Saleem tries to make us belive that all is good but really his future is probably just as tragic as his past, same with his son. I just think the whole family must have had a curse put on them!
 
I was going to say that Midnight's Children was like an unhappy merry go round because by the time I was done reading it I felt dizzy and just wanted to go home, but actually I think that is a really good way to think about the book's structure as a whole.

The ending really makes me think about Stevens' thoughts at the end of Remains of the Day. Is Saleem merely in denial, or has he made some peace with this life (and story), and at least accepted it for what it was? Is Saleem's future going to be as tragic as his past? If this is true, it makes me wonder what Rushide's commentary on India is. If Saleem's journey mirrors India's, what does that mean for the future of that nation?
 
I also found Midnight's Children dizzying to read but also as a merry-go-round can often be, both fun and exciting. Saleem's writing was both refreshing and simultaneously dizzying. Perhaps a merry-go-round is a little tame to express the confusion that Rushdie brings to the reader, but also, that is the perhaps point. Memory becomes jumbled and twisted and circular throughout life. Memories are molded to fit how we would like to remember them. Saleem's memories were perfect examples of how the storyteller morphs and affects the memory he or she is telling. Saleem's memories were contorted, edited, and generally circular leaving them inevitably incomplete. The observation that the merry-go-round does not quite completely resolve itself is an interesting one. Going with this merry-go-round metaphor, imagine if a real merry-go-round, which relies on a circular track, just did not complete it's full turn on the last trip around (i.e. Rushdie's incomplete novel spun off track, never completely resolving)?
 
I see and obviously agree with book being a sort of circle. I did however have great difficulty with the time shifts that take place frequently throughout the novel. In some way I am sure the author did this on purpose and even after class discussions, Im still confused. The ending being what it was I though really depends on perspective. Some might say good or bad, Saleem obviously feels positive so I will leave it at that. I did not really like the novel, finding it very difficult to stay in. It just did not grip me in a way that made it enjoyable. It was long, confusing, and I still have an impossible time getting the names straight.
 
I, too, love Trini's metaphor of Midnight's Children as an unhappy merry go round. Like Saleem experienced headaches in this novel, I experienced headaches while reading this novel. While the novel was circular and conclusive (because Saleem was very aware of the need to wrap things up in the end), this novel does not end traditionally: happily. By the end, the reader has 500+ depressing pages of a fragmented story of trying to reunite India and Pakistan, attempts to connect past, present and future, and anecdotes skipping through time and back, only to discover that all of Saleem's trouble to narrate was perhaps not worthwhile. I agree with Trini that there is a glimpse of hope for the future, for Aadam, but as we discussed in class, the book doesn’t stop there. Rushdie goes on to conclude the novel in the final paragraph with images of suffering, discontent, and death. But because I am a fan of happier-ending novels like Howards End and even A House for Mr. Biswas, I’ll turn from that last page of Midnight’s Children to two pages earlier where Rushdie writes, “that they [the pickles of history] are, despite everything, acts of love” (531). I prefer this bittersweet close to the sadder ending Rushdie picks. I prefer the message that these conflicts between Pakistan and India are, deep down, acts of love, acts to reconnect.
 
Wow Trini, creative and insightful. Your metaphor alone deserves an A+. The novel gave me a headache as well, but I wouldn't go as far as to say it was a bad read. I was glad that Saleem felt the need to wrap up his story at the end. Although the ending was "unnervingly abstract," it was a relief to finally get as much closure as possible to the cyclical stories. I would say that this is the most unhappy ending of all of the endings so far. The fleck of hope is the second generation of Midnight's Children; however, there is no guarantee about the future. The conclusion of the last line of the novel says it all for me: "to be unable to live or die in peace" (533). There are no winners here people! With my limited political views, I believe this speaks largely on the division of India. Finally, Chris, I feel your pain with the names (maybe spelling won't count).
 
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