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Please comment on the narrative technique of Midnight's Children.

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garimatanwar | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 6, 2010 at 7:45 PM via web

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Please comment on the narrative technique of Midnight's Children.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 7, 2010 at 12:19 PM (Answer #1)

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On the narrative technique of the work, I would suggest that the role of Saleem as narrator is an important one because it is fraught with error and bias.  Saleem narrates the novels of both his own life and the life of the new nations of India and Pakistan, leading up to and following Partition.  The technique is subjectively driven, seeking to create an objective feel.  Yet, it is not objective, far from it.  The role of error and bias is a powerful one in the novel, as it drives home the idea that totality is impossible.  Subjective experiences that grow foggier with time is all that is there:

Saleem Sinai is not an oracle; he's only adopting a kind of oracular language. His story is not history, but it plays with historical shapes. Ironically, the book's success - its Booker Prize, etc. - initially distorted the way in which it was read. Many readers wanted it to be the history, even the guidebook, which it was never meant to be; others resented it for its incompleteness, pointing out, among other things, that I had failed to mention the glories of Urdu poetry, of the plight of the Harijans, or untouchables, or what some people think of as the new imperialism of the Hindi language in South India. These variously disappointed readers were judging the book not as a novel, but as some sort of inadequate reference book or encyclopaedia.

The technique of Saleem as being the only narrator, but being one that can be seen as unreliable fits perfectly with Rushdie's focus in the novel.  The issue of Partition and history, in general, is fraught with inconsistencies, half- truths, half- lies, and plain old gaps.  Rushdie's narrator is much the same, but he is our guide, our only guide, and we have to take what he says, how he narrates, as not dogma or absolute, but rather the attempt to give us a feel of what that time must have been like.  The role of error is large in the narrative technique because it also empowers the author to make the claim that anyone who professes to possess totalizing answers is acting in bad faith.  Notice when Saleem, a Muslim, boasts about his knowledge of Hindu Vedic texts, and screws up a fact regarding Ganesh and the composition of, what Saleem says, is the Ramayana.  This is deliberate because it is a way of undercutting the narrator's own sense of authority, and empowering us, the reader, to understand that history is, at best, a collection of fuzzy impressions used to make something that once was whole, partial and never to be in its original state.  This bodes a great deal of similarity to the post-Partition Indian Subcontinent.

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