Study Guide

Midnight's Children

by Salman Rushdie

Midnight's Children Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Midnight’s Children is Saleem’s memoir, written during his thirtieth year. The shattered, impotent, prematurely aged resident manager of a Bombay pickling factory, he writes with his plump, illiterate mistress Padma as his only audience. Born precisely at midnight on August 15,1947, the moment of the creation of the independent countries of India and Pakistan, Saleem is dubbed “The Child of Midnight” by an exuberant press. His fortunes and those of one thousand other midnight children are mystically linked with the fate of India during the following thirty years. Saleem is a strange child: His huge, perpetually snotty nose resembles the Indian subcontinent, while his birthmark-stained ear and opposite cheek suggest East and West Pakistan. His complex family history also mirrors the troubled history of the area. Early in the century, the family patriarch, Dr. Aziz, who hails from Muslim Kashmir, the disputed region between predominantly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, moves to India, where his granddaughter marries a well-to-do Muhammadan businessman, Ahmed Sinai. Saleem’s birth in Bombay is preceded by an unintelligible prophecy:

  There will be a son . . . who will never be older than his motherland—neither older nor younger.... There will be two heads—but you shall see only one—there will be knees and a nose, a nose and knees.... Newspaper praises him, two mothers raise him! . . . Spittoons will brain him . . . wizards reclaim him! Soldiers will try him—tyrants will fry him.... He will have sons without having sons! He will be old before he is old! And he will die. . . before he is dead.

All these predictions come true. The narrator is not, in fact, the child of the Muslim Sinais, but rather of a Hindu street singer’s wife. The infants are switched in the maternity home by a nurse, Mary Pereira, who gives a knobby-kneed beggar child to the rich Muslim family and the well-born child to the Hindu street entertainer, who names him Shiva.

As the years pass, Saleem learns that his great, antenna-like...

(The entire section is 865 words.)

Midnight's Children Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the early spring of 1915 in Kashmir, Dr. Aadam Aziz meets his future wife, Naseem, through a perforated sheet. After their marriage in 1919, they travel to Amritsar just in time to witness Mahatma Gandhi’s hartal on April 7 and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on April 13. They then move to Agra, where they have five children: Alia, Mumtaz, Hanif, Mustapha, and Emerald. In 1942, the second annual assembly of the Free Islam Convocation led by Mian Abdullah (the Hummingbird) is held in Agra; Mian Abdullah is assassinated. His secretary, Nadir Khan, flees and hides in the Aziz household. In 1943, Nadir Khan becomes Mumtaz’s first husband. In 1945, Major Zulfikar (who subsequently marries Mumtaz’s youngest sister, Emerald) attempts to arrest Nadir Khan. Before fleeing, Nadir Khan divorces Mumtaz, allowing her to marry Ahmed Sinai the following year. She changes her name to Amina Sinai. The Sinais move to Delhi, where Amina receives a prophecy about Saleem, and then to Bombay (Mumbai) in 1947, where they purchase a piece of William Methwold’s estate. The estate is handed over to them exactly at midnight on August 15—the date of India’s independence from the British. They live there with the Catracks, Ibrahims, Dubashes, Dr. Narlikar (a gynecologist who delivers Saleem), and the Sabarmatis.

Also at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, two children are born, one to a poor couple, Wee Willie Winkie and Vanita, and the other to Ahmed and Amina Sinai. The father of Vanita’s son is actually William Methwold, who had an affair with Vanita. A nurse at the hospital, Mary Pereira, intentionally switches the two babies in an act of socialist resistance; the biological son of Methwold and Vanita grows up as Saleem Sinai, while the biological son of Ahmed and Amina grows up as Shiva. Pereira later becomes Saleem’s nanny.

A little over a year later, on September 1, 1948, Saleem’s sister, the Brass Monkey, is born. In the summer of 1956, Saleem learns about his mother’s first love, Nadir Khan (who is now called Qasim Khan and is a member of the Communist Party of India), while hidden in a washing chest. He thus discovers that he has the ability to hear voices in his head. These voices include the thoughts both of the people immediately around him and of those from other parts of India. In 1957, as a result of a bicycle accident, Saleem manages to use his miraculous ability to convene the voices of all the children born during the first hour of India’s independence from the British. These children all have miraculous powers. Saleem names these children (including himself) the Midnight Children’s Conference (M.C.C.). Through the M.C.C., Saleem reconnects with Shiva, who has become a gangster, and meets Parvati, another child of midnight.

Saleem, who already possesses a big nose, is mutilated twice in 1958. A schoolteacher, Emil Zagallo, mutilates his hair, leaving him with a monk’s tonsure, and a group of school bullies chases him and slams his finger in a door. While in the hospital after the second mutilation, Saleem discovers via a blood test that he is not the biological son of his parents. Consequently, his...

(The entire section is 1289 words.)

Midnight's Children Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The central conceit of Midnight’s Children is that 1,001 children were born during the first hour of India’s independence, that all of them were born with magical powers, and that the extent of the powers that they were given decreased as the hour unfolded. Two boys were born at the exact stroke of midnight, and they had the greatest powers of all. One of them, Saleem, is the novel’s narrator; the other, Shiva, is his alter ego and nemesis. Saleem is the illegitimate child of a poor family; Shiva, the legitimate son of the wealthy Sinai family. Secretly switched at birth by a nursemaid in love with a man who opposed the caste system, they grow up with each other’s names, living each other’s lives.

“I had been mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of my country,” Saleem says at the beginning of his tale. A self-consciously postmodern Scheherazade, Saleem relates the story of his ancestors and his life to his housekeeper, Patma, over thirty-one Indian nights. In the process, he shares his version of sixty-four years of Indian history: the years under the British, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, the religious and language riots following partition, the conflict between secular nationalism and religious fundamentalism, the wars between India and Pakistan, the birth of Bangladesh, the rise and fall of Sanjay Gandhi, and Indira Gandhi’s “emergency.” All these events and more tumble onto the...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Midnight's Children Summary

Book One

Midnight's Children is the first-person narrative of Saleem Sinai, an obscure thirty-year-old...

(The entire section is 1265 words.)