1. Comment on the author’s style and characterization. Are the characters believable or paper cutouts? Comic or tragic or both? Are their dilemmas universal to human nature or particular to their situation?
– Rushdie’s narrator, Saleem Sinai, is the Hindu child raised by wealthy Muslims. Near the beginning of the novel, he informs us that he is falling apart–literally:
I mean quite simply that I have begun to crack all over like an old jug–that my poor body, singular, unlovely, buffeted by too much history, subjected to drainage above and drainage below, mutilated by doors, brained by spittoons, has started coming apart at the seams. In short, I am literally disintegrating, slowly for the moment, although there are signs of an acceleration.
– In light of this unfortunate physical degeneration, Saleem has decided to write his life story, and, incidentally, that of India’s, before he crumbles into “(approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, and necessarily oblivious, dust.”
– It seems that within one hour of midnight on India’s independence day, 1,001 children were born. All of those children were endowed with special powers: some can travel through time, for example; one can change gender.
– Saleem’s gift is telepathy, and it is via this power that he discovers the truth of his birth: that he is, in fact, the product of the illicit coupling of an Indian mother and an English father, and has usurped another’s place. His gift also reveals the identities of all the other children and the fact that it is in his power to gather them for a “midnight parliament” to save the nation. To do so, however, would lay him open to that other child, christened Shiva, who has grown up to be a brutish killer. Saleem’s dilemma plays out against the backdrop of the first years of independence: the partition of India and Pakistan, the ascendancy of “The Widow” Indira Gandhi, war, and, eventually, the imposition of martial law.
2. What is the most important theme of the work?
– Spittoons appear through out Midnight’s Children. The motif of the spittoon allows the narrative to circle back on itself without losing its forward momentum; by reintroducing it in different contexts, Rushdie builds meaning into the image and provides the reader with a reference point and familiar angle of insight into the meaning of his tale. One particular spittoon, and extraordinary silver spittoon inlaid with lapis lazuli, appears at the beginning of the story at the house of the Rani of Cooch Naheen, and follows the course of the narrative almost until the end, where it is eventually buried under the rubble of civic reconstruction by a bulldozer. Rushdie’s character Saleem comments on the significance of the spittoon at several junctures in the novel, though spittoons and betel-nut chewing (the Indian version of BeechNut chewing) take on wider and vaguer significance in other sections. The silver spittoon becomes a link to reality for Saleem. The following quotation occurs when Parvati-the-Witch has dematerialized Saleem:
“What I held on to in that ghostly time-and-space: a silver spittoon. Which, transformed like myself by Parvati-whispered words, was nevertheless a reminder of the outside . . . clutching finely-wrought silver, which glittered even in that nameless dark, I survived. Despite head-to-toe numbness, I was saved, perhaps, by the glints of my precious souvenir.” (p. 456)
The following quotation occurs near the end of the book, at the event of the spittoon’s loss:
I lost something else that day, besides my freedom: bulldozers swallowed a silver spittoon. Deprived of the last object connecting me to my more tangible, historically verifiable past, I was taken to Benares to face the consequences of my inner, midnight-given life. (p. 515)
These two quotations illustrate that the spittoon represents the same thing for Saleem that it does for the reader. It is a point of return, a lovely but mundane (after all, it is for spitting in!) reminder of reality in a world that threatens to overwhelm with the sheer volume and variety of its voices and experiences. Saleem is subjected to the voices of the thousand and one Midnight’s Children, that threaten to drown out his sense of himself as an individual human, as well as to the