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How does Salman Rushdie rewrite or reclaim History in Midnight's Children?

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rani16 | Elementary School Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:30 PM via web

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How does Salman Rushdie rewrite or reclaim History in Midnight's Children?

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 21, 2013 at 1:50 PM (Answer #1)

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One way in which Rushdie rewrites history is through Saleem as the narrator.  Since so much of the past that Saleem relays is unclear, Saleem himself rewrites history.  There are many instances in which what Saleem writes and conveys to the reader is actually incorrect, something that Rushdie himself concedes right off the bat:  "It is by now obvious, I hope, that Saleem Sinai is an unreliable narrator, and that Midnight's Children is far from being an authoritative guide to history of post-independence India."  

It is in this light where Rushdie is first to suggest that through Saleem, he is rewriting history because it needs to be rewritten.  Rushdie suggests that the period of Independence and Partition has been almost whitewashed through "authoritative" claims of history.  The desire to establish a history that is "objective" has removed human voice from it.  Similar to Indira Gandhi's "Emergency" in which the past was sought to be wiped out and eliminated, Rushdie believes that the rewriting of history through Saleem is a form of empowerment against forces that seek to silence voices.  For Rushdie and Saleem, the rewriting history is a way to inject personal voice and narrative experience into the domain of history and, thus, what it means to be human:  

That he should instantly perpetrate a howler about the myth... [was] I thought, a way of deflating that narratorial pomposity; but it was also - along with Saleem's other blunder about the date of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination - a way of telling the reader to maintain a healthy distrust. History is always ambiguous. Facts are hard to establish, and capable of being given many meanings. Reality is built on our prejudices, misconceptions and ignorance as well as on our perceptiveness and knowledge. The reading of Saleem's unreliable narration might be, I believed a useful analogy for the way in which we all, every day, attempt to 'read' the world. 

This is where Rushdie rewrites history. Through Saleem's rewriting of history, Rushdie wishes to suggest that there can be no universal and totalizing claims to human history and those who wish to assert so might be doing so to advocate a self- serving agenda.  This is where Rushdie, through Saleem, reclaims history.  The ability to "read the world" in our own way, a manner that is authentic and beyond the control of external forces, is where history is reclaimed in Midnight's Children.

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