Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The theme of Midnight’s Children is clear. Born at the hour of the creation of India and Pakistan from colonial British India, the children are the masters and victims of their time. Born to be destroyed by the weight of history, their lives reflect the destiny of their society. Cardinal political events in India’s modern history are directly echoed in momentous happenings in their lives, while the cultural history of past millennia forms the backdrop of the action. History and myth painfully merge. Speaking for all the children, Saleem cries out, “Why, alone of all the more-than-five-hundred-million, should I have to bear the burden of history?”
The midnight-born Saleem, Shiva, and Parvati embody the major forces of Indian cultural and political history: the Muslim-reared Saleem, actually the son of a Hindu street singer’s seduced wife and a departing British colonial Sahib (a descendant of a founder of the British East India Company); Shiva, the son of a wealthy Muslim Kashmir merchant family, who becomes a penniless Hindu street urchin and a lecherous man of violence; and Parvati, a Hindu street magician. They are modern India, reflecting its cultural richness and diversity and, no less, the forces that tear it apart.
Thirty-year-old Saleem divides his memoir into thirty chapters, each named for an important artifact or event which becomes a motif, a touchstone, throughout the long narrative. Each chapter is framed by a...
(The entire section is 447 words.)
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Saleem Sinai, the protagonist of Midnight's Children, examines the thirty years of his life covered by this novel (and the thirty-six years that preceded it) in order to understand who he is. Throughout the story, he is torn by conflicting evidence that his is either a special, magical existence or quite an ordinary one. He is born to common parents, so poor that he finds out at one point that the man who is his natural father would have broken the legs of the boy he thought was his son, in order to make him a more effective beggar. For the first ten years of his life, though, neither Saleem nor his family knows of his humble roots, and so he is raised as the son in an educated and wealthy family. Because he was born at midnight on the day of Indian independence, he grows up knowing that his birth was marked with honors, by a newspaper article and a letter from the prime minister. He comes to find that he has supernatural powers, which he uses to communicate with the other children born on the same day he was, finding that they are all gifted, but not as gifted as he is, except for Shiva, the child with whom he was switched at birth. He sees himself in them, especially in Shiva. He understands his powers through their powers, and he lacks the personal attributes which Shiva, whom he understands to be his opposite, has, particularly aggression.
Saleem's later years are humbling, which helps him understand the life...
(The entire section is 1144 words.)