Discuss the theme of the idea or discovery of self in The Enchantress of Florence.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In what Rushdie has called his "most researched book," the theme about what constitutes self can be seen in several instances.  One such example is in Rushdie's characterization of Akbar himself.  Akbar is shown to be one who constantly seeks to gain greater insight into himself, his presuppositions, and the world around him.  His founding of the Tent of the New Worship is one such example.  It shows how Akbar seeks to better understand truth and self.  The reconfiguration of Akbar's language from "we" to "I" is another such example. At the same time, Akbar's interest in the foreign traveller as well as how his own identity might lie beyond what is in his established genealogy shows how Akbar's sense of self is important to his development.  In these instances, Akbar yearns to understand more of what the self is and its discovery and exploration play vital parts in his characterization.

The theme of self's discovery is also evident in the novel's conclusion.  Akbar recognizes that he must suffer for his misunderstanding of Niccolo.  Akbar understands that the punishment of watching his city erode and leaving behind only the peasants is the price he must face for his misjudgment.  There is not a questioning of this condition, as much as an understanding about the nature of the world and the individual's place in it.  Akbar recognizes his mistake, and understands its consequence.  This is another example of how the notion of self is a critical theme in Akbar's characterization. It gives structure the novel and shows how self- introspection and reflection is a part of being for both royalty and common individuals.  The same themes that individuals struggle with on a daily and hourly basis is experienced by those who sit at the zenith of power.


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