Salman Rushdie Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Because of their shared love of puns and allusions, Salman Rushdie often compares himself to James Joyce, a predecessor Rushdie also resembles in the fate of his reputation. Their humorous, vertiginous, multicultural mixture of erudition and popular culture might never have reached large audiences if they had not had works condemned for blasphemy and pornography, respectively. Rushdie’s texts are more erotic than Joyce’s and Joyce’s more blasphemous than Rushdie’s, so their public images are largely a misunderstanding. Both are best seen as postcolonial authors, Joyce condemning the web of British oppression that stagnated Ireland while Rushdie has satirized vestiges of it in India, Pakistan, and émigré communities.

A significant difference, however, divides the importance short stories have played in the careers of each. Joyce learned his craft through writing his collection of stories, Dubliners (1914), which marked a major advance for the genre; the interconnecting stories focus on a single locale. Rushdie’s works of short fiction (the casual fruits of the middle period of his career), although skillful in their dazzling ironic twists and word play, signal only a refinement, not a major change in the genre. Instead, each functions largely within some past tradition (such as those of Tom Stoppard or Donald Barthelme). With the exception of “Vina Divina” (an extension of one of his novels), they do not have an original voice that would give them the importance of his larger works. The latter, however, have a rambling, episodic movement that makes them sometimes resemble short-story collections (such as Harmoun and the Sea of Stories); thus, in a sense, he has followed the lead of Dubliners by eroding further the distinction between short-story collection and novel.

“Good Advice Is Rarer than Rubies”

The title conflates Middle Eastern sayings about the preciousness of wisdom, which the biblical book Proverbs likens to a woman as desirable as rubies. Consequently, this title seems to predict a story about useful information or feminine beauty. It concerns both, but in an ironic manner, it is meant to make a political statement. Its protagonist is an advice wallah (specialist), cheating “Tuesday” women who come nervously on that day for visas from India to Britain, as if their salvation depended on escaping their homeland. Because of one woman’s beauty, however, instead of giving his usually perfidious counsel, the wallah offers a forged passport. She refuses lest she confirm the British in their assumption that all Indians are liars (a dishonesty forced on them by English oppression). When he sees her smile upon exiting the embassy, he assumes that her beauty has also triumphed over the “Sahibs”—what he calls the British because they are still to him the lords and masters of the land. Nonetheless, she has received no visa; therefore, she will avoid marrying a man old enough to be her father. Without disobeying her parents (who arranged the match), she avoids being pulled into their and the wallah’s folly. A slave to the colonial past, he deludes both others and himself with such obsolete notions as the desirability of immigrating to racist Britain, because he has found nothing in modern India to love. Miss...

(The entire section is 1367 words.)