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Shvoong Home>Books>Novels & Novellas>Midnight's children:magic realism Review

Midnight's children:magic realism

Book Review   by:nayanika sarkar     Original Author: Salman Rushdie
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An essential feature of the 20th century Indian novelist is his involvement and concern with the idea of nation.Leopold Bloom gropes toward a definition of nation in 'Ulysses' :"A nation is the same people living in the same place...or also living in different places"but post-colonial conceptions of national identity necessarily differ-Indians are different people living in the same place.Many post-colonial novelists have discovered that magic realism promotes national identity because it represents the empirical reality of the historical past and present while also expressing longings that transcend the flux of events.Realism can make nations appear surprisingly similar,while the unrealistic aspects of magic realism can make them distinctive by expressing desire in original ways.And Rushdie in 'Midnight's Children'uses magic realism as a comprehensive form.Rushdie's mingling of the fantastic and ordinary seems distinctively Indian as the characters involved in contemporary political and social upheavels also possess the power of mythic heroes.The first sentence of the novel illustrates his technique:Saleem,the first person narrator says,"I was born in the city of Bombay...once upon a time".The first statement echoes the social realism of the 19th century Bildungsroman and the second uses the conventional English formula of fairy tales to signal that fantasy is also ahead.Saleem needs both models to accomplish his goal of finding a meaningful identity in a chaotic and violent world.He is infected by the 'Indian disease' of wanting to encapsulate the whole of reality.The quest for the whole takes him beyond either realism or fantasy alone.Myths enter history,as history becomes mythic.The oxymoron 'magic realism' fits Rushdie's vision of the "unchanging twoness of things,the duality of up against down,good against evil".Identity - national and personal is Rushdie's subject.Saleem and the new-state of India are symbolic counterparts.Both are born at midnight on August 15th 1947 along with one thousand other children born in the first hour of the life of the new state.They turn out to have miraculous powers,and Saleem is the most remarkable, gaining and then losing the ability to connect their minds telepathically.After his loss of one power he gains another, for his gigantic and remarkable nose becomes capable of scent-distinction far beyond normal,including the ability to smell emotions and intentions.From these root ideas blossom a fantasy so bizzare and complex that summary is impossible.The novel is a continuous and subtle investigation of the relations between order,reality and fantasy.Saleem,the protagonist,constantly relates his life to India's.His birth, growth, development and destruction are India's and,importantly,his central character-trait has been a failure to realise what direction things are taking.
As a retrospective narrator he can now see all the connections,and his narrative binds India's catastrophic stumblings into a pattern,reducing the modern world's most spectacular and grotesque chaos to order through fantasy.Literality,metaphor and comic image co-exist in the novel just as they do in the master-image of India as quarrelling gifted children who cannot cooperate and are finally castrated and deprived of their marvellous talents during Indira Gandhi's Emergency of 1976,when free India became a repressive state.In the novel,the characters seem to wander through the pages of history,colliding with vital moments in the development of India seemingly by accident.Thus Saleem's grandfather is on his knees after a mighty sneeze when Brigadier Dyers' fifty machine-gunners open-fire in the Amritsar Massacre of 1919;it is Saleem's father who buys one of Methwold's villas; Saleem is born at the moment India is;and almost all of the major events of his life, leading finally to the destruction of the children of midnight and India at the moment of the declaration of Emergency,are coincidental to tvelopments in the new country.Saleem and India must deal with genealogical confusion as they struggle to construct their identities.Saleem's heritage does not fit the categories that the current political situation allows.His grandfather considers himself Kashmiri, Muslim and Indian,but after 1947 fighting between India and Pakistan over Kashmir destabilizes this combination for Muslims.The 'crack' in the body politic corresponds to all the 'cracks' in Saleem,as he feels himself going to pieces.This conversion of metaphors into events is another type of magic in the novel.When Saleem informs his family of his special gift of hearing voices,his father hits him in the ear.His 'stupid cracks' are literalised into physical cracks. Rushdie slides up and down the metaphorical axis of substitution.Empirical referents evoke non-empirical referents and viceversa.Thus magic realism is a way of showing 'reality' more truly with the aid of the various magics of metaphor.And for Rushdie magic realism is the appropriate mode,for it provides the stereoscopic vision with which he can see things plainly enough to "invent the earth beneath his feet".
Published: May 24, 2006   
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  1. Answer   Question  :    Can you discuss the elements of magic realism in details? View All
  1. Answer   Question  :    Analyse the use of history in Midnight's Children. View All
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