How important is the theme of identity to an interpretation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children?
Identity is extremely important in interpreting Rushdie's Midnight's Children.
One reason why identity is so important is because Midnight's Children explores a national and psychological construction of self. Rushdie's work is set amidst the backdrop of Partition. This was the moment when the Indian subcontinent was divided into multiple nations. Essentially, India was "born at the stroke of midnight" on August 15, 1947. Saleem is born at this moment, as well. Being one of "Midnight's Children," the story of India's identity is the story of his own. As Saleem grows up, so, too, does India. This dual exploration of identity makes it important to any interpretation of Rushdie's work.
Another reason why identity is critical to understanding Midnight's Children is because Rushdie shows it to be complex. Rushdie does not embrace a simplistic view of identity formation. Rather, it is intricate, bifurcating, and often balances competing notions of the good. Rushdie is able to explore this in both his main character and in the Indian nation, and shows identity to be far from clear. This can be seen in how Saleem is not the most reliable of narrators, seeking to change history to benefit his own agenda. At the same time, Rushdie depicts political leaders like Indira Gandhi seeking to do the same thing by imposing measures such as the Emergency in order to suppress dissent. In both cases, the desire to control message and memory are essential elements to both personal and political identity, confirming why it is an important theme in understanding Rushdie's work.