Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Midnight’s Children, a popular and critical success, brought its young author England’s coveted Booker Prize. Salman Rushdie exemplifies an important trend in contemporary writing. The collapse of the British colonial empire after World War II left behind a curious legacy in Third World countries: a class of intellectuals whose native cultural heritage was Asian (or African) but whose education was British. These writers have brought a fresh angle of vision to English-language literature—in both theme and style. Their works combine a native empathy and an alien skepticism for the disparate aspects of their dual cultural heritage. Ambivalent about both traditions, they are doubly aware of the impact of history on life. Their central theme is the identity and fate of their countries and their own position between indigenous cultural traditions (sometimes themselves dual, as with India’s Hindus and Muslims), on the one hand, and English cultural traditions, on the other.

The nineteenth and twentieth century novel has generally concerned itself with the private lives of its characters, with the occasional rumblings of history in the wings. Midnight’s Children, with its massive interweaving of private lives and public events and of the mythic and the historical, is part of an international literary development in which both elements are equally illuminated. Each is seen in the light of the other: history as myth, myth as history.