Critical Overview

Salman Rushdie is frequently studied within the context of postcolonial theory. Unlike most postcolonial writers, however, Rushdie emphasizes a “transnational, cross-lingual process of pollination” in literature as a result of colonialism rather than a response of protest from the former colonized country. As a result, say some scholars, Rushdie does not so much criticize the process of colonialism as critique nationalism itself.

The Satanic Verses gained extensive attention because its publication provoked riots in Islamic countries, bomb threats against its publishers, and a death sentence for the author. An extended allegory that in part makes use of Islamic mythology, the novel has directed critics to other ways Rushdie uses Islam in his work and what people can learn about Islamic culture through the ways he writes about it.

Magical realism is another lens through which critics read Rushdie’s fiction, where characters seem to slide seamlessly from one reality to another, as if this is absolutely natural. According to critics, this convergence of the real with fantasy provides a way to understand the surreal events of our time. Rushdie uses this as a means to deconstruct the binary of East and West as well as binaries of time. It enables him to view the postcolonial experience as something other than conflict, something, as it were, “surreal.” For instance, in The Satanic Verses, strange and impossible events occur: an orphan girl subsists on a diet of butterflies; two men fall from an airplane and miraculously survive, with one sprouting an angelic halo and the other sprouting a tail and horns.