The Moor's Last Sigh Themes


The emphasis placed on the political component of Rushdie's writing, due to the intense scrutiny of his controversial ideas resulting from the protests that culminated in the issuance of the fatwa, has tended to distract attention from other, equally important elements. As Rushdie himself observed, while he regarded Midnight's Children and Shame as "in some ways quite directly political," he thought The Satanic Verses "was the least political novel I had ever written." He explained that the "engine" of the novel was "not public affairs but other kinds of more personal and political affairs." Similarly, in discussing The Moor's Last Sigh, he responded to an interviewer's suggestion that the central theme of the novel is love by agreeing: "Yes, love. The love of nation, love of parents, love of child, erotic love, romantic love."

This is something of an abstraction, but it is a revealing indication of how Rushdie approached the main themes of the book: The tangle of emotional responses to a country as a kind of home; the clash of positive and negative feelings engendered by a difficult relationship with a heterogeneous family, particularly the problems of dealing with a powerful, controlling father; the ways in which a creative imagination—here expressed through an exhibition of the myriad delights of language and the revelatory capacity of painting—can provide both insight and consolation as the loss of home leads to perpetual migration; and as Rushdie's response to the interviewer indicates, the force of love in the course of human affairs, perhaps the most primal energy source in the cosmos as Rushdie sees it.

The Moor's Last Sigh is written in the tradition of the great nineteenth-century novels that combined the fate of a family with the flow of a nation's history. Rushdie makes this explicit by including a diagram of the Da Gama/Zogoiby Family Tree before the Contents page, and then, as Coetzee points out, beginning the novel with the "dynastic prelude" that establishes the character( s), direction(s), source of income and general attitude(s) of Moraes's forebears. The plurality of this family history is crucial because there is a clash of ideas and positions from the start. The narrative begins in Cochin (now Kerala) as this is the place where the West (Europe) and the East (the Indian Subcontinent) first interacted, and it is the location of the spice trade which led to the relative affluence of the Da Gama line. Rushdie equates pepper with passion (especially in the rush of love the overcomes Abraham Zogoiby and Aurora Da Gama), and draws a distinction between the origins of both love and material success in the realm of a natural resource, and their corruption in the realms of commerce and politics, areas that are debased by their removal from the natural world. Moraes's family is torn by more than the gulf between an agricultural economy and the techno-financial manipulations of the modern world, however. Differences in temperament, demeanor, and desire stem from a more personal, internal matrix of motives that supersede the changes in the social milieu but remain linked to it. The understandable rivalry of separate families forced together by a marriage is compounded by the inner conflicts assailing the main characters.

Camoens Da Gama flirts with communism, supports Jawaharlal Nehru's program for an independent India, yet makes a journey to hear Ghandi speak, writing in his journal, "I had seen India's beauty in that crowd." Moraes also admires Nehru's critique of colonialism, but a comic motif that runs throughout the novel involves a pet dog named Jawaharlal. Indira Ghandi, who is rarely shown in any positive way (she sued Rushdie about her depiction in Midnight's Children), appears as the negative shadow of Aurora's affirmative...

(The entire section is 1564 words.)