Midnight's Children

by Salman Rushdie

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Comment on the narrative technique of Midnight's Children.

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Narrated in first person in the voice of Saleem Sinai, Midnight's Children continuously alternates between the past and the present. Rushdie has employed this narrative technique to enable the narrator to move through time with ease. While we find Sinai's grandfather Adam Aziz performing Namaz in the valley of Kashmir at one point, the next page brings us to the present, in which Sinai is seated at his writing desk with Padma by his side.

Another technique which makes the narration rich is how the narrator holds creates suspense. There are various episodic revelations which fill the reader with awe and wonder. With revelations like the blindness of Ghani the landowner, Mumtaz's sexless married life with Nadir Shah, and the reality behind Methwold's middle-parted hair, the narrator doesn't fail to surprise the reader every now and then.

Also, the narrator has such a strong hold on his narration that he leaves no room for any disbelief or questioning on the part of the reader. The reader believes everything that the narrator says to be true unless the narrator himself proves it false (for instance, by changing the truth of his entire family lineage), and the reader believes this too. Such is the conviction in his narration.

The narration of all events, significant or not, revolves around Saleem. Hence, Midnight's Children is a narrative by a writer sitting at his writing desk, penning down all that he recollects or recounts, coating facts with magical words and spells like "abracadabra." While narrating the "magical" history of his birth, Saleem takes us through the "real" history of India. Thus, this novel is a fictitious account of many non-fictitious events, placing this narration in the genre of magic realism.

Hence, Saleem is a brilliant narrator and a master of the art of storytelling.

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The narrative technique of the story is in first person. It is told from Saleem's point of view, and we understand the history of Indian independence, Partition, and all that follows through his eyes. Yet, it is within this that the greatness of the themes and story itself lies. Saleem is an unreliable narrator. He makes many errors in trying to be the sole font of knowledge and solitary light that guides the reader through the darkness that is called "history." The narrative technique of first-person narration fraught with errors is a deliberate attempt on Rushdie's part to bring to light the idea of subjectivity having limits but being the only guide one has. Rushdie has written that the work itself should not be seen as history, but rather be seen as art, as an example of how individuals have only their own subjectivity to guide them. This is evidenced in Rushdie's embrace of Saleem as the sole narrator. Although he makes obvious and subtle mistakes, we, as the readers, can only rely on him to help provide understanding through the emotional and political complexities of the time. We are thus left with a powerful stylistic and thematic statement on how human freedom is futile at many points, but it is all that one has in the modern setting.

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Comment on the narrative technique of Midnight’s Children.

Through Saleem Sinai, Rushdie is able to provide an excellent narrator who is able to convey the extreme level of challenge in trying to provide a coherent narrative to the modern Indian nation.  Part of this can be reflected in the opening lines, where the narrator cannot even possess the narrative coherency to effectively describe his own birth.  In the process, Saleem becomes the manner by which the reader understands about the birth of nations in the Indian subcontinent, the changing notion of political and social identity, and the mutability of what is at one point accepted and the new world order which replaces it.  Saleem's narration and growth mirrors a sense of the incomplete and the insecure, the very essence of the world and persona of Saleem, in general.

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How would you characterize the narrative mode of Midnight's Children?

Salman Rushdie’s seminal Man Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight’s Children is written as a first-person memoir from the perspective of Saleem Sinai, a man born at the exact moment that India became independent of British imperial rule. Rushdie upsets the conventions of typical memoirs by presenting readers with a distinctly unreliable narrator and incorporating elements of magical realism throughout Midnight’s Children. Indeed, Saleem acknowledges his way of incorporating details into his narrative:

“Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence: but I seem to have found from somewhere the trick of filling in the gaps in my knowledge, so that everything is in my head, down to the last detail... everything, and not just the few clues one stumbles across” (14-15).

Rushdie uses Saleem’s inconsistent narrative style to disorient readers who are accustomed to trusting narrators. Saleem is unable to provide a wholly trustworthy account of his own life, let alone the historical events that inform his Indian heritage.

Thus, Rushdie writes Midnight’s Children through a first-person perspective, but includes unusual elements such as an unreliable narrator and elements of magical realism in an effort to have readers question the validity of the text.

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Please comment on the narrative technique of Midnight's Children.

On the narrative technique of the work, I would suggest that the role of Saleem as narrator is an important one because it is fraught with error and bias.  Saleem narrates the novels of both his own life and the life of the new nations of India and Pakistan, leading up to and following Partition.  The technique is subjectively driven, seeking to create an objective feel.  Yet, it is not objective, far from it.  The role of error and bias is a powerful one in the novel, as it drives home the idea that totality is impossible.  Subjective experiences that grow foggier with time is all that is there:

Saleem Sinai is not an oracle; he's only adopting a kind of oracular language. His story is not history, but it plays with historical shapes. Ironically, the book's success - its Booker Prize, etc. - initially distorted the way in which it was read. Many readers wanted it to be the history, even the guidebook, which it was never meant to be; others resented it for its incompleteness, pointing out, among other things, that I had failed to mention the glories of Urdu poetry, of the plight of the Harijans, or untouchables, or what some people think of as the new imperialism of the Hindi language in South India. These variously disappointed readers were judging the book not as a novel, but as some sort of inadequate reference book or encyclopaedia.

The technique of Saleem as being the only narrator, but being one that can be seen as unreliable fits perfectly with Rushdie's focus in the novel.  The issue of Partition and history, in general, is fraught with inconsistencies, half- truths, half- lies, and plain old gaps.  Rushdie's narrator is much the same, but he is our guide, our only guide, and we have to take what he says, how he narrates, as not dogma or absolute, but rather the attempt to give us a feel of what that time must have been like.  The role of error is large in the narrative technique because it also empowers the author to make the claim that anyone who professes to possess totalizing answers is acting in bad faith.  Notice when Saleem, a Muslim, boasts about his knowledge of Hindu Vedic texts, and screws up a fact regarding Ganesh and the composition of, what Saleem says, is the Ramayana.  This is deliberate because it is a way of undercutting the narrator's own sense of authority, and empowering us, the reader, to understand that history is, at best, a collection of fuzzy impressions used to make something that once was whole, partial and never to be in its original state.  This bodes a great deal of similarity to the post-Partition Indian Subcontinent.

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