World Literature in English, 1998
Midnight's Children
by Salman Rushdie
last updated March 12, 1998
biography and background Rushdie's Short Stories Synopsis
For Course Discussion: 
Relevant Links: 
Culture and Religion: India & Pakistan Further Studies
 General issues:
  •  personal history & national history;
  • the diasporic writer's position: "In-Between", Insider/Outsider, "Sell-out"? 
  • : Kashmir Valley

    Salman Rushdie Photo: Kurt W. Sorensen
    fictions about India by Non-Indian writers:
  • Rudyard Kipling's classic novel of India during the Raj, Kim, (1901)
  • E. M. Forster's A Passage to India



    Salman Rushdie--
    1947 born in Bombay, son of a Cambridge-educated merchant of Muslim background;
    1964 moved with his family from Bombay to Pakistan
    1981 Midnight's Children published
    1989, Feb.  "fatwa" (death sentence) announced by Ayatollah Khomeini because of Rushdie's Satanic Verses

    General Introduction:
    "Allegorical novel by Salman Rushdie, published in 1981. It is a historical chronicle of modern India centering on the inextricably linked fates of two children born within the first hour of independence from Great Britain. Exactly at midnight on Aug. 15, 1947, two boys are born in a Bombay hospital, where they are switched by a nurse. Saleem
    Sinai, who will be raised by a well-to-do Muslim couple, is actually the illegitimate son of a low-caste Hindu woman
    and a departing British colonist. Shiva, the son of the Muslim couple, is given to a poor Hindu street performer
    whose unfaithful wife has died. Saleem represents modern India. When he is 30, he writes his memoir, Midnight's
    Children. Shiva is destined to be Saleem's enemy as well as India's most honored war hero. This multilayered novel
    places Saleem in every significant event that occurred on the Indian subcontinent in the 30 years after
    independence. Midnight's Children was awarded the Booker Prize for fiction in 1981. (The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature , 04/01/95)

    (Religious allusions:

  • the rivalry between Saleem and Shiva // that between Brahma and Shiva in one Hindu creation myth;
  • the myth: Brahma created the world when Shiva, who had been assigned the task, went into a thousand-year abstinence.  . . .  Shiva returns to destroy the world with fire, angered by Brahma's pre-emptive creation.  When he is finally appeased, he breaks off his linga (that is, castrate himself) and plants it.

    The myth is important to Midnight's Children not only because it suggests the aesthetic competitionbetween Rushdie's sources.  It imagines thecompetition between Shiva and Saleem to be one between 'the two valid forms of creation'.  Brahma, as we know, is the god who dreams the world.  Shiva, we learn, is the god who allows it to exist by declining to use his immeasurable power for destroying it.  (Brennan 113)

    The author, too, imagines India into existence. . .

  • the union of Padma and Shiva, and the subsequent bearing of their elephant-headed child Ganesh.



    "It is perhaps important to point out in this context that the novel has been read by its Indian audience as being a book unmistakably written by an author with a Muslim upbringing, conveying 'the sensibility of Islamic alienation from the rest of India' (Brennan 109)

    The chapters read in World Literature in English, Spring, 98
    "The Perforated Sheet"; "Tick, Tock"

    his language--
    a mixture of standard English with rich figurative language (e.g. p. 5; description of Kashmir valley) and "Babu English"--the half-literate English of the Indian Bazaars

    his narration--
    associative and accumulative,
    foretelling  -- e.g. his family nose 8-9

    A. The personal and the national: the relationships between Saleem, his family and the national history
    (See a table of parralels between personal and national history)
    Saleem as a swallower of lives; contains within him "630 million particles of oblivious dust" (37).
    B. the narrative method

  • beginning of an "autobiography"--where?
  • associative development--why?; digressions (or overplotting)  e.g. p. 10; 13
  • the use of Padma
  • C. Motifs:
  • hole--Aziz's nose and the perforated sheet; Pay attention to the uses of "holes" and their symbolic meanings;

  •  associated with blood and snot (rubies and diamonds)
  • nose --  the grandfather's
  • pickle
  • D. the play of the binaries:

    juxtapostion of the intellectual (chamcha) vs. the People: e.g. Aziz vs. boatman Tai; Saleem vs. Padma

    References and Relevant Links:
    Work Cited
    Brennan, Timothy.  Salman Rushdie and the Third World: Myth of the Nation.  NY: St. Martin's, 1989.

    Salman Rushdie Links:
  • Salman Rushdie: An Overview George Landow from Brown U.
  • Salman Rushdie site--introduces several good sites, with some relevant articles; Subir Grewal's, including
  • Glossary to accompany Salman Rushdie
  • Writing about Rushdie and his novels
  • Salman Rushdie -- A Chronology
  • On Midnight's Children
  • Midnight's Children & Salman Rushdie's Migrant Identity (Course notes by Kate Liu, Fu Jen Literary Criticism databank)
  • Pickles in Midnight's Children
  • Spit and Memory in Midnight's Children
  • For further studies:
  • Salman Rushdie's Female Characters (in The Moor's Last Sigh and Shame)
  • Trafficking Culture in Postcolonial Literature, Postcolonial Fiction and Salman Rushdie's Imaginary Homelands (1991)--an article from SPAN
  • 劉紀雯。〈國家/自我與人民的重疊與衝突:《午夜兒女》的敘述與文本策略〉。55-72。
  • His Works from Brown U.
  • On his novel Shame

  • Excerpt from The New Empire Within Britain

  • Views on banning The Satanic Verses  from The Times of India

  • On The Ground Beneath her Feet:
  • An interview with Rushdie from The Times of India
  • INDIA'S POST-RUSHDIE GENERATION: Young Writers Leave Magic Realism and

  •                            Look at Reality from New York Times