As Historigraphical Metafiction and National Allegory (I) A. The Use of Public History Plot

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Postmodernism and Postcolonialism
Midnight’s Children

as Historigraphical Metafiction and National Allegory


A. The Use of Public History

Plot: 1947  the 1974-1977 "Emergency"

[present] Saleem’s narration of his life story to Padma -- more than thirty years after his birth and that of independent India, when Saleem waits for his death in the corner of a Bombay pickle factory where he is employed.

[narrated past] Book I: Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919 
Book II: Independence and Partition in 1947  Nehru's first five-year plan in 1956  Ayub Khan's coup in Pakistan in 1958  the India-China war of 1962, the India-Pakistan war of 1965, the creation of Bangladesh in 1971

Book One

The Perforated Sheet—Saleem’s self-introduction; Aziz in 1915 “a hole in him” and his nose; Aziz and Boatman Tai in the past and the present; Aziz’s visit of Ghani and his daughter, Naseem, juxtaposed with his discussion with his mother

Mercurochrome – digressions to talk to or about Padma (pp. 21; 31; 36); love in fragments marriage; Tai’s refusal to wash himself; a digression to Saleem’s playing with the sheet at the age of 9; Amritsar

Hit-the-Spittoon – digressions on his fragmentation, on a photo 46-47; the fight between Naseem and Aadam continues; the disease of optimism; hit the spittoon (45);

Under the Carpet – Naseem’s three daughters: Emerald, Alia and Mumtaz. Mumtaz’s double life (63); Naseem’s silence; the marital relation between Mumtaz and Nadir revealed; hit the spittoon (68); Emerald’s and Mumtaz (Amina)’s marriages.

A Public Announcement – digression on Dr. Baliggar, on his digression and Padma’s response; Dehli – Amina’s love in fragments; Lifafa Das 85; the announcement p. 86

Many-headed Monsters –Ahmed and Amina go to the Red Fort respectively for blackmail and prophecy; clues to Saleem’s actual identity 98; prophecy p. 99; a summary p. 103; Ahmed’s decision of going to Bombay

Methwold – the last Englishman transferring his power 110- -13;

Tick, Tock -- the transition of power; swapping two babies 135; Padma’s response 136;

Book Two

The Fisherman's Pointing Finger –Saleem at the center of the universe 148, receiving multiple influence; the freeze of Ahmed’s assets (because he’s a Muslem).

Snakes and Ladders – age 1; first illness (as if unable to take too much) p. 174; Brass Monkey born; the end of the freeze.

Accident in a Washing-chest – age 9; lack of purpose; the mother receives and falls under the spell of telephone calls; the black mango p. 190; Saleem becomes a radio receiver 193-

All-India Radio – language marchers 1956; another summary p. 204

Love in Bombay – Evie Burns p. 216 –

My Tenth Birthday -- 1001 children discovered.  the forming of MCC

At the Pioneer Café – the mother’s meeting Nadir Khan p. 256 – “Once upon a time,” mother's blush at the mentioning of the Communist Party of India.

Alpha and Omege -- Monkey and Evie's fight; the first mutilation of Saleem 275 - ; second: finger.  Saleem’s identity suspected.

The Kolynos Kid; another summary p. 285; Saleem goes live with aunt Pia.

Commander Sabarmati's Baton –the midnight’s children as a mirror of the nation’s fragmentation pp. 306-307; Lila Sabarmati and Homi Catrack pp. 310-311; Saleem’s revenge; the selling of Methowold estate and the end of Saleem’s childhood.

Revelations – the death of Aziz and Nehru  “all my fault” p. 334;

Movements performed by pepperpots – emigrates to Pakistan; Brass Monkey becomes Jamila Singer

Drainage and the Desert – Saleem loses his telepathy

Jamila Singer

How Saleem Achieved Purity

Book Three

The Buddha –becomes oblivious and a dissident hunter

In the Sundarbans

Sam and the Tiger – 12/15/1971 -- Saleem joins the magicians and then gradually remembers his name;

The Shadow of the Mosque – the magicians’ ghetto

A Wedding – marries Parvati; major Shiva; the birth of Aadam Sinai p. 500

Midnight –Emergency rule

Abracadabra – the son; the ending or a new beginning?

(Time line: family history and national history—parallels and connections

India's history

family history

the world war ended


Aziz + Naseem

1915---1919 massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh in {Amritsar}.

Gradfather's nose

S's skin a crack

optimism disease, Humming bird

1942 Mian Abudullah--1945 8/9 revelation and arrest p. 68


mother's false marriage

1946 6

Mumtaz (Amina)+ Ahmed

1947 – Muslim vs. Hindus
transition of power -- British imperialism

Lafafa Das attacked; the warehouse burned;
{Bombay} W. Methwold 109; residents changed p.113

1947 8/15—Independence

birth of midnight’s children

1956 --the linguistic reorganization of states language marchers in Maharashtra confusion 1956: 5 yr plan, election's coming, language marchers

the Washing Chest Accident

confusion in S's head 203-04

businessmen turn white

father turn white 212

the Circus ring accident p 223

S triggers of the violence that leads to state partition 229

1957 election, in which the Communist party won a large number of seats

S follows his mother to P Café

the manslaughter of Homi Catrack by Commander Sabarmati [Nanavati]

Cyrus Dubash made into a religious-cult leader

the blood of the rioters

Monkey and Evie's fight; mother's blush

Sabamarti affair

mother's affair at the café


the Midnight Children's Conference 1957-58

hopes to pull together again in 1962.

MC attacked Saleem

The Chinese attacked Indians

The Sinais move permanently to Pakistan early in Feb. 1963.

1965--Indo-Pakistani war

Shiva's explosion into S's life

India's arrival at a Nuclear age

1975 6/25, Indira Gandhi’s Emergency Rule

1976--two of Sanjay Gandhi's projects: clearance of Delhi slums and pavements, and mass vasectomy camps to reduce population growth.

1977--election in which Indira Gandhi's Congress is defeated

1975 6/25 the birth of Aadam Sinai

1976 420 children in captivity

1977 1/18 ectomy

B. Metafictional Narrative Styles:

I. Intertexts:

  1. 印度史詩摩訶婆羅多《Mahabharata》-- One of the musicians takes the role of ragi - a ritualised audience representative - urging the story forwards with interjected questions and supportive vocal approval.” (source: Traditional Storytelling ) e.g. “I . . . swallower of lives. And to know me. . . you will have to swallow the lot as well” (p. 4)

  2. Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Gabriel García Marquéz's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Günter Grass's The Tin Drum

II. The narrator and narrative methods:

1) Digressive, foreboding and summarizing (p. 3; p. 7; Tick-Tock 123-24; ).

2) Self-Reflexive Comments on his own writings (“Mercurochrome” p. 21; ‘leap forwards from Mercurochrome and land in 1942.’ P. 39.; A Public Announcement p. 72 chapter titles; the growth of a foetus//writing -- p. 119 ).

3) A mixture of tones: humorous (p. 8), poetic (e.g. p. 3-4 description of the valley in Kashmir), crude and with ribald jokes (e.g. snot p. 8; Tai’s description of Christ p. 11)

4) Mixing the personal and the historical/political

5) Recurrent motifs which take on metaphoric meanings -- e.g. hole in the nose p. 6-p.13, perforated sheet, p. 13 - snot nose, black mango


“I was born in the city of Bombay . . . once upon a time. No, that won't do, there's no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar's Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters too. Well then: at night. No, it's important to be more. . . . On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India's arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. [. . . ] I, Saleem Sinai, later variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Buddha and even Piece-of-the-Moon. Had come heavily embroiled in Fate—at the best of times a dangerous sort of involvement. And I couldn’t even wipe my own nose at the time."” (The Perforated Sheet p. 3 emphasis added)

III. Truth & Perspectivism:
Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems--but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible. Suppose yourself in a large cinema, sitting at first in the back row, and gradually moving up, row by row, until your nose is almost pressed against the screen. Gradually the stars' faces dissolve into dancing grain; tiny details assume grotesque proportions; the illusion dissolves--or rather, it becomes clear that the illusion itself is reality. (All India Radio 197)
"'Memory's truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else's version more than his own.'" (“At the Pioneer’s Cafe, 253) 
“I made another error—that the election of 1957 took place before, and not after, my tenth birthday.” (265)
IV. Magic Realism as a Conjunction of Postmodernism and Postcolonialism

Linda Hutcheon -- 'The formal technique of "magic realism (with its characteristic mixing of the fantastic and the realist) has been singled out by many critics as one of the points of conjunction of post-modernism and post-colonialism' (“Circling” 131).

MC and Magic Realism (the mixture and coexistence of the fantastic and the realistic; a literary style to Latin America and Third World countries)

Definitions – 1. As Slemon notes, 'the real social relations of post-colonial cultures appear, through the mediation of the text's language of narration, in the post-colonial magic realist work' (12).

2. 'Magic realist texts,' Slemon continues, 'tend to display a preoccupation with images of borders and centres, and to work towards destabilizing their fixity' [13 Slemon, Stephen. "Magic Realism as Post-Colonial Discourse". Canadian Literature 116 (1988): 9 - 24.] (source: ).

1,001 children born within one hour of the midnight of India’s independence from Great Britain on August 15, 1947.  magical gifts; "The closer to midnight our birth-times were, the greater our gifts."
“Rushdie is frequently seen as a student of Latin American magical realism, but he reasonably resists that comparison on precisely these metropolitan grounds. “The essence of [García Márquez's] vision of the world is that of a village boy,” Rushdie explains, “... [whereas] I think of myself as someone who has spent almost his entire life in gigantic cities. ... They define me.”’

e.g. Saleem – smell and telepathy; Shiva – bulbous knees

C. MC as a historiographical metafiction

-- a. the unreliable narrator -- “Imaginative truth is simultaneously honourable and suspect. ... This is why I made my narrator, Saleem, suspect in his narration; his mistakes are the mistakes of a fallible memory” (“Errata”in Imaginary Homelands, p. 10).

-- “the chutnification of history” – (“Hit the Spittoon”38) chapters // the twenty-six pickle jars he methodically adds to the shelf beside his desk.

-- In-between the postmodern and the postcolonial:

“The French, these days, would have us believe that this world, which they call ‘the text,’ is quite unconnected to the ‘real’ world. [. . . ] I believe ... that the imagined world is, must be, connected to the observable one” (Imaginary Homelands, p. 118).

D. National Allegory (I): the Characters//the Nation

I. first generation Aadam & Naseem – fragmented identities

a. Aziz’s hole – p. 29 leaving Kashmir

b. Aziz and Naseem's perforated sheet

c. Naseem’s mal-adjustment to the changes in her world (e.g. headache at the end of WWI p. 24) the mercurochrome episode (pp. 34-35); in Agra, she lives in ‘an ironclad citadel of traditions and certainties’ (41). Her use of ‘whatitsname.’

d. Aziz’s views of purdah: "move a little, I mean, like a woman" (“M” 32); "drags all his wife's purdah-veils from her suitcase ... and sets fire to them" (33 –vs. his response to his mother p. 15) , “. . . leaves her literally without a place, "for all her presence and bulk ... adrift in the universe" (41).
II. Amina & Ahmed Sinai (Nadir Khan)

--Ahmed and Amina's love in fragments p.75

III. Saleem, Shiva, Parvati and The Brass Monkey

Saleem Sinai -- the illegitimate son of a Hindu street singer(Wee Willie Winkie)'s wife, Vanita, and a departing British colonist, William Methwold (pp. 110-113; 132)

Shiva – born by a Muslim couple, Amina and Ahmed.

Parvati -- the incarnation of Durga, a destroyer goddess and a mother goddess

The Brass Monkey  Jamila Singer, "Pakistan's Angel," the "Nation's Voice,"
IV. Aadam Aziz, Ganesh – Shiva and Parvati’s elephant-headed child, typically thought of as a god of good fortune.
C. Minor characters and their Cultural Identities

Boatman Tai –

-- Opposed to change: 1. "Nobody could remember when Tai had been young. He had been plying this same boat, standing in the same hunched position, across the Dal and Nageen Lakes... forever" (14); 2. knows his world; 3. start to stink (Mercurochrome p. 25); skin disease (29); death in 1947 p. 36.
Mary --

"The rich shall be poor, and the poor shall be rich."

* Communists -- Nadir Khan, Parvati and the Magicians’ ghetto

* Artist figures and metaphors of art --

  • Uncle Hanif -- “realist” filmmaker, busy making an interminable documentary on the workings of a pickle factory

  • Lifafa Das -- the peepshow man, who displays his vast collection of picture postcards, crying, “See the whole word, come see everything!” (p. 83-84)

  • The friend of Nadir Khan and his oversize paintings,

  • the Rani of Cooch Naheen (“the Queen of Absolutely Nothing”) and her spittoon of, where the juices of all castes and classes mix without prejudice;

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