Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children employs strategies which engage in an exploration of History, Nationalism and Hybridity. This essay will examine three passages from the novel which demonstrate these issues. Furthermore, it will explore why each passage is a good demonstration of these issues, how these issues apply to India in the novel, and how the novel critiques these concepts.
The passage from pages 37-38 effectively demonstrates the concept of history, as it foregrounds elements important to this issue. Rushdie, challenges the conventional modes of history through his self reflective narrative structure. The passage is a good demonstration of its topic as it illustrates the problems of re-writing history. His mode of writing attempts to encourage the reader to reconsider the valid interpretation of his history. Saleem writes “please believe that I am falling apart” ,as he begins “to crack like an old jug”, illustrating a sense of fragmentation of his story. This parallels the narrative structure of the novel as being circular, discontinuous and digressive. This fragmentation appropriates the concept of history, which was developed by colonisers. History works for a particular class of ideology, and therefore it will be contaminated, oblique and subjective.
The fictionality’ of history is grounded in the simple assumption that life is shaped like a story. For Saleem, who is “buffeted by too much history”, it is his memory which creates his own history. “Memory, as well as fruit, is being saved from the corruption of the clocks”. This reflects back to concepts of time and place. Yet, for Rushdie, it is not based on the universal empty time that has been conceptualised by the colonisers. Notions of time and space are integrated into his own history.
The novel critiques concepts of history by challenging traditional conventions. Rushdie uses unreliable events to subvert official notions of history. For example, in his description of the Amrister Massacre he describes the troops that fire on the crowd as being white, when they were not. He does this perhaps to illustrate how much history is based on interpretation and ideology. It also illustrates how fact (written down as history), fails to take into account different notions of space and time. For example, in the passage on page 37, Saleem mentions the game of hit -the- spittoon, in which Nadir Khan “learnt from the old men in Agra”. For Saleem, this is history, and although it is just a story of his, it now has been documented and becomes history. This illustrates the problems faced by post-colonial writers in re-writing history. They become marginalised , as history was based on public events. Yet, Midnight’s Children draws on many historical events, which parallel that to India’s. Saleem Sinai provides us with an alternative version of India’s modern history from his point of view. For example, he was born on August 15 1947, on “the stroke of midnight”, at the precise instant of India’s Independence. The time of birth matters because it has made him “mysteriously handcuffed to history.” It is evident that the concept of history runs throughout the novel. Midnight’s Children offers an alternative history of India.
The passage detailing Methwold’s Estate on page 92 illustrates the issue of nationalism. It explores the historical, and national explanation of the founding of Bombay, “a dream of British Bombay fortified, defending India’s west against all comers”, which saw “Methwold’s vision a step closer to reality”. This passage shows the transfer of national assets to the elites. It is a classic model of the transfer of a nation from colonisers which tries to manipulate a nation.
This passage foregrounds the question of creating a national identity out of the legacy of an empire. Yet it is quite ironic as this transfer doesn’t really alter the dominant indigenous forms. Saleem describes an India that is “changing them”, adapting to “celebrating the cocktail hour”, and “indulging in their gardens”. It appears, that Rushdie is commenting on the authenticity of this desire to create a unified state. They have been robbed of their identities and made to change and live in an imagined unified community.
The novel critiques concepts of nationalism by challenging the legacy of the empire. For example, on page 189, Saleem says “but the boundaries of these states were not formed by rivers or mountainsLanguage divided us”. It becomes apparent that the function of Indian nationalism was to unite a shared purpose of political future and cultural identity. Yet in both Saleem and Rushdie’s eyes, they were divided by language. Rushdie critiques and places emphasis on the heterogenia of the people and comments on the idea that the nation is a fabrication that tries to pull them together. Their identity seemed to be united “instead by a wall of words.”
Rushdie also critiques the concept of Print Capitalism’, where printed matter tries to unify a group of people through the language. Novels and Newspapers helped to standardise language, proffering a sense of an (imaginary) homogeneous community that was a nation. Rushdie challenges this in the format of Midnight’s Children, which is structured in three volume form of the classic nineteenth realist text, highlighting his awareness of his literary predecessors.
Hybridity is an important cultural concept which operates through Midnight’s Children. Saleem is the ultimate hybrid, having many surrogate parents, his biological father is a departing colonist. The passage on page 211 clearly demonstrates Saleem’s hybrid identity. He relates hybridity to history by entailing the hetreogeneity of memory. “Memory’s truth because memory has its own special kind” . For Saleem, his memory provides a search for the truth, rather than many truths.
Saleem links his hybrid history to chutney’ which illustrates the sign of a mixed identity. “Green chutney on chilli-pakoras” , this imagery of chutney runs throughout the novel and assist Saleem’s story. He later, uses this image to sum up his hybridise culture, which parallels “the chutnification of history” and “pickling of time”. Rushdie comments on the colonised mimicking the coloniser. Two histories have emerged together, which is filled with contamination as mimicry becomes a problem as it disrupts the power. This reflects, what Rushdie calls like chutney’, a mixture of history, and nationalism that become so dense and enmeshed that they transform to create a new culture. Rushdie effectively tackles issues of post-colonial studies of history, nationalism and hybridity, and Midnight’s Children illustrates and challenges these concepts.