What is the role of the epic structure in Midnight's Children?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I tend to think that Rushdie's work is a direct response or challenge to the traditional epic structure.  The epic structure is one in which the clarity of the protagonist is evident.  It is one in which there is an absolute understanding of the narrative, narration is complete, and there is a clear definition as to what constitutes right and wrong.  I tend to think that Rushdie's work challenges this.  The narrator is unreliable, does not embody the clarity of the traditional hero in an epic work, and the structure is one in which details are omitted or added, events are disjointed, and a lack of clarity becomes the norm.  For Rushdie, the modern setting seems to be one in which the individual endures an epic of merely being in the world.  The epic structure is not something external, but rather exists in the individual consciousness.  Saleem's narrative is epic simply because he survives it.  His mere act of survival is where the epic structure exists and through this, as opposed to something larger and more overarching, there is a structure to the epic nature of the work.  The work challenges the conception of what an epic structure could be because the conditions in which Saleem and the other Midnight's Children live is one that is far from the traditional contours of what epics are defined as.  For this reason, their mere survival becomes epic, and represents the structure by which an "epic" is defined in Rushdie's conception.