The Characters (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Saleem Sinai, like author Salman Rushdie, is a Muslim Indian born in Bombay in 1947. As guilt-ridden protagonist and not particularly reliable narrator, he is the novel’s most fully realized character. In addition to his birth heritage of an enormous, blocked-up nose and map-stained, bulbous-templed moon face, his bandy-legged body bears witness to his stormy life: partly bald, deafened in one ear, a mutilated finger, and castrated. Most of all, he is the intelligence through which India’s cultural and political history is transmuted into human history. All is stamped by Saleem’s eccentric personality.
Saleem is larger than life, as are other characters who display a literally mythic aspect. The ancient boatman, Tai, sets family history in motion by ferrying the narrator’s ostensible grandfather, Dr. Aziz, to his first patient, Naseem, whom he marries to found the clan. The loquacious, cantankerous Tai claims to have witnessed the birth of the mountains, the armies of Alexander the Great, and an aged wandering Christ (Isa). It is he who first sounds the motif of the Aziz family nose as the point where the outside world meets the world inside. It is Tai who teaches the future doctor, Aadam Aziz, to see the fine cracks in the ice beneath the lake’s surface, cracks which come to symbolize the fatal flaws in India’s fate, in Saleem’s family, and in Saleem himself. Profane, drunken, filthy, Tai is the mythic demiurge who launches the story....
(The entire section is 447 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Saleem Sinai, the narrator, nicknamed Snotnose, Sniffer, Stainface, and Baldy, a thirty-year-old Muslim Indian. He was born at midnight on India’s independence day, August 15, 1947. Saleem sees his personal history and the history of the other thousand children born in the first hour of independence as intimately connected to the future of all of India. He is the apparent son of a wealthy Muslim merchant in Bombay, but it was later discovered that he was switched at birth with Shiva, another of midnight’s children. Saleem believes that by using the power of his enormous but sensitive nose, he will become the leader of the magically talented midnight’s children, who can change the world. After going through many trying and fantastic experiences, which occasion the deaths of most of his family and contemporaries, Saleem composes his memoirs in anticipation of his own end.
Shiva, Saleem’s rival and the other infant exchanged at birth, named after the Hindu god of procreation and destruction. Also one of midnight’s children, Shiva personifies power and violence. His knees are his magical characteristic, knees that can squeeze the life out of any person. After Saleem discovers his own background, he fears that Shiva will discover his and attempt to replace Saleem and punish him for the deception. Shiva, an organizer of a youthful street gang in Bombay when young, joins the military and succeeds ruthlessly, becoming India’s most famous war hero. He ultimately exposes his fellow midnight’s children, all of whom are subsequently sterilized by the Indian government. Shiva already has fathered many illegitimate children, however, including one by Parvati, whom Saleem accepts as his son.
Parvati-the-witch, who was born only seven seconds after midnight and is another of midnight’s children. Her abilities are in conjuring and sorcery. She is in love with Saleem, but he resists her because of his desires for Jamila, his...
(The entire section is 834 words.)