Salman Rushdie is one of the most famous authors of the modern era. In the tradition of Gabriel Marquez, Rushdie sweeps the reader up in his novel, Midnights Children, like the book by Marquez that obviously had a great deal of influence on Rushdie, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Midnights Children is a postmodern look at the modern fairytale that Salman Rushdie weaves for those who wish to pick up the book.
This paper will include a brief description of postmodernism followed by a look at Salman Rushdie. Most scholars agree that this novel fits into the category of Postmodernist fiction, but how so? What specific elements of postmodernism do this book contain that makes it a postmodern book? In this paper, I will look at various elements of postmodernism including the contrast of information and knowledge, the idea that the novel parallels history, decolonization, feminism/post feminism, dispersion philosophy, ontology, and the role of chance, and the idea of fantasy in Salman Rushdie's novel.
Postmodernism is a word that critics and the general population like to throw around whether they understand what the word means or not. Postmodernism emerged in academic literature during the mid-1980's. Postmodernism is hard to define because it appears in a wide variety of areas, like art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion, and technology. Furthermore, postmodernism cannot be described as a temporal phenomenon, it is hard to put a date on postmodernism, like one might date the baroque period.
In order tom understand postmodernism in literature, it might be helpful to look at the movement from which postmodernism grew, that is, modernism. The main characteristics of a modern literature are:
An emphasis on impressionism and subjectivity in writing, an emphasis on how perception takes place rather than what is perceived, such as stream-of conscious writing.
Movement away from objectivity provided by omniscient third person narrators and clear-cut moral positions.
Blurring the distinction between genres. Poetry is more like documentary and prose is more poetic.
An emphasis on fragmented forms, discontinuous narratives and random-seeming collages of different materials.
A tendency toward reflexivity, or self-consciousness.
Rejection of formal aesthetics.
Rejection of the high/low distinction in popular culture.
Postmodernism follows most of these same ideas. But there are important differences.
Modernism presents a fragmented view of human subjectivity and history.
Modernism presents that fragmentation as tragic. On the other hand, postmodernism does not present the idea of fragmentation as something that is tragic, but celebrates the fragmented nature of existence. In other words, Postmodernism is more lighthearted than modernism, tends not to take itself as seriously as modernism does.
According to Frederic Jameson, modernism and postmodernism are cultural formations, which accompany particular stages of capitalism. Jameson outlines three primary phases of capitalism that dictate particular cultural practices, including the kind of art and literature that are produced. The first is market capitalism. This is the type of capitalism that prevailed in Western Europe, England, and the United States, and all their colonies, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first phase is associated with a particular kind of aesthetic, which we now call realism. The second phase occurred in from the late nineteenth century until the mid twentieth century, ending about World War II. This second phase is referred to as the era of monopoly capitalism and is associated with electric and internal combustion motors, and with the period referred to as modernism. Now, we are in the third stage, multinational/consumer capitalism. The emphasis now is on marketing, selling, and consuming, not on production. This era is associated with nuclear and electronic technologies, and is correlated in time to postmodernism.
Jameson's characterization of postmodernism in terms of production, economic models and technology is more closely associated with history and sociology than it is with literature or the arts. Jameson defines postmodernism in terms of an entire era of civilization, much more aligned with a definition like "the bronze age," than the baroque.
So what are we supposed to think of Midnight's Children in terms of a postmodern framework? It would be helpful to know a little about the author in order to answer such questions as, how did an Indian writer come to be associated with a movement that is so closely linked to the Western World, like Australia, Canada, the United States, Western Europe and England?
Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay, India on June 19, 1947 to a middle class Muslim family. In 1968 he graduated with honors from King's college at Cambridge. He worked for a year as an actor in his early twenties and for ten tears worked as a freelance advertising copywriter. In 1975 his first work, Grimus, was published. He married his first wife the next year.
Midnight's Children was published in 1981. For this book, he won the Booker McConnell Prize for fiction, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and a literary award from English Speaking Union. In 1983, Shame, Rushdie's second work, was published.
Rushdie's work has gotten him into quite a bit of trouble with Islamic leaders. Salman Rushdie was condemned to death by the former Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini on Valentine's Day, 1989, after Satanic Verses was released. At first defended by other Islamic writers, his peers, like Naguib Mahfouz said that Rushdie did not have the right to insult anything, especially a prophet or anything considered holy. Khomeini's fatwa against Rushdie was described by the Nobel writer V.S. Naipaul as" an extreme form of literary criticism.
Since the release of Satanic Verses, which was banned in India and South Africa and was burned on the streets of Bradford, Yorkshire. Rushdie was forced into hiding when Ayatollah Komeini issued the fatwa against him and his publisher. An aide to Khomeini offered a million-dollar reward for his death. In 1993, Rushdie's Norweigian publisher was wounded in an attack outside of his house. In 1997, the bounty on Rushdie's head was doubled and the highest Iranian state prosecutor reaffirmed the fatwa in 1998. During this time, violent protests in India, Pakistan and Egypt killed several people. Since the religious decree, Rushdie has been in hiding, but he continues to write and publish books, the latest one being Fury, which was published in 2001.
Midnight's Children is a comic allegory of India's history that revolves around the lives of the narrator, Saleem Sinai and the 1000 children born after the Declaration of Independence. All the children in the book have some magical powers, for example, Saleem has a large nose that gives him the ability to see "into the hearts and minds of men." Saleem's rival is Shiva, who possesses the power of war. Saleem, dying in a pickle factory near Bombay, tells his tragic story with attention to the comical aspects. Midnight's Children caused a ruckus in India because of its unfavorable portrayal of Indira Ghandi and her son, Sanjay. Sanjay was involved in a controversial sterilization campaign. The title, Midnight's Children, is derived from Nehru's speech delivered at midnight, as India gained Independence from England.
The book can best be described as a modern fantasy. The narrator is real, lives in the real world, but like all fantasy, the book requires that the reader suspend all disbelief. As already mentioned, the narrator tells his story. Born on the stroke of midnight on the day that India declared its independence from Britain, the tale is a series of flashbacks from the modern era. The story starts with Saleem's grandfather, Aadem Aziz, and his life in Kashmir in the first part of the twentieth century. From that point, Saleem Sinai tells us the whole story of his family, from Aadem to Saleem's mother, and down to Saleem himself and his sister. The reader follows Saleem as he grows up in a post-independence Bombay. Saleem is the leader if the Midnight Children, who, as mentioned already, all have special powers. The strength of their powers is stronger the closer that the child was born to midnight. Because Saleem was born at exactly midnight, his powers are the strongest. The story of Saleem's family and the story of the Midnight Children unfold in parallel. The fates of the Midnight Children are closely intertwined with the fate of the India. Another contrast is that half of Saleem's family ends up in Pakistan, and thus gives the novel the view from both sides of the conflict.
Several elements of postmodernism have already been touched upon, that is, the idea of history and the idea of the fairytale. The first element that I will look at is the element of the fairytale in this novel.
The idea of fantasy is one of the characteristics of postmodern literature. This is not a fantasy like Grimm's fairytales. This is the type of fantasy that is so believable, it is almost rooted in the magic of childhood, the magic that was there because it was so easy to believe in. Like Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude, this is a place to where magic has returned,…