Literature Study GuidesMidnights ChildrenBook 2 Alpha And Omega Summary

Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 2, Alpha and Omega | Summary

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Summary

Saleem Sinai sets the story of Evelyn Lilith Burns that he promised to Padma in the context of the aftermath of the general election. The fate of Bombay had been undecided, and competing groups rioted in favor of their causes. The weather, as usual in Saleem's account, cooperated, turning unseasonably violent, and an explosion at the reservoir on Christmas Day added to the disarray. Most alarmingly, a serial murderer preyed on prostitutes and left a uniquely peculiar calling card. The women were found strangled and the bruises on their necks wholly consistent with marks left by "preternaturally powerful knees."

Saleem accommodates to Padma's complaints over his digression by returning to the story of Evie Burns. It begins in the Methwold Estate where private water tanks installed in the wealthy homes attracted an army of stray cats during a period of drought. Evie arrived at the estate with her Daisy air gun and offered, for a fee, to eliminate the cats. She did this with dispatch until Jamila Singer, the Brass Monkey, came on the scene. A bitter fight developed, and the two girls were only separated when the estate gardener used a hose on them. A few weeks later, Evie's father sent her back to America. Saleem claims he received a letter from Evie six months after her departure in which she bragged about her restraint. She had knifed an old lady, she informed Saleem: "Your sister she just got lucky."

Saleem concludes that the fight between the girls was, in fact, over him. Evie was angry for Saleem's invasion of her head, and his sister, no doubt, had acted out of sibling loyalty: an act of war that was an act of love. Saleem goes on to put the bloody battle in context. He recalls the "bloody riots" and bloody murders that were part of the postelection protests. He thinks about the "rushes of blood" to Amina's cheeks when she meets with Nadir Khan (now called Qasim Khan), and the 12 million red votes (for communists). And he recalls the return of the hilltop children's friendship once Evie had been vanquished.

Returning to his thoughts about the early history of the association of the midnight children, Saleem confesses that he disliked Shiva, the only member who could shut Saleem out from any thoughts that he didn't wish to share. Saleem found Shiva's talk rough and his ideas crude. Worst of all, Saleem feared that Shiva was guilty of terrible crimes.

By 1958 Saleem reports he had become mentally adept in service to the conference. He could not only receive transmissions, but he could entertain the children's transmissions and thus hold a forum in which all could participate. As practice would have it, 581 children assembled for the hour between midnight and 1 a.m. in the "parliament" of his brain. Saleem had come to prefer the night world of the conference to the personally and politically troubled world of his waking life. Shiva and he were paired by the exact hour of their births and Shiva's insistence that they lead the conference together. Parvati-the-witch, another midnight's child, took Saleem's side, arguing that as organizer and host, he was the rightful leader.

The conference attendees began to speculate on their power. Various opinions about the purpose of the conference and the nature of public roles—mostly in service to the government or to mankind in general—ranged from altruism, filial duty, capitalism, and religion, to the invasion of Pakistan. Saleem recognized in most of the recitals ideological purpose, the optimism of youth. Yet his convictions, in hindsight, added a dark note. "Not a single one of us suggested that the purpose of Midnight's Children might be annihilation"—in other words, that they "would have no meaning until [they] were destroyed."

He did see in the diversity of voice the multiplicity that was India. He also noted, however, that there were exceptional individuals, among whom he counted himself, Shiva, and Parvati-the-witch.

The balance of the chapter returns to the bloody themes, the civil riots foreshadowing the riotous classroom behavior at the cathedral, that culminate in Saleem's injury at the cathedral school dance. Saleem had been the victim of a sadistic teacher who humiliated him, lifting the boy by his hair and pulling out a plug. Later at the dance, which Saleem attended despite his injuries, he was pursued by bullies and briefly saved by the Brass Monkey's classmates, a group of European girls led by the beautiful, 14-year-old blonde Masha Miovic. Saleem was safe and luxuriating in the feminine attention for only as long as the bullies could bear. Chased into a classroom and outnumbered, Saleem made it to the door in an attempt to flee. His tormentors foiled his escape, slamming his hand into the classroom door. The door severed the tip of one finger. Fat Perce and Glandy Keith, two of the perpetrators and the last to flee, saw the damage they caused. Saleem recalls in detail the fountain of blood rushing from his finger.

Having been taken to the hospital and in need of a blood transfusion, Saleem learned that his blood type has nothing to do with his parents'. Ahmed Sinai blamed Amina Sinai. And Saleem found himself in a state of affairs that was "nothing short of revolutionary"; he was "forever" not who he was. He was in a world in which "parents can cease to be parents, and love can turn to hate."

Analysis

In this chapter, in which Saleem explores the potential for good in the Midnight Children's Conference, the prospects for order or balance based in human effort and cooperation are questioned. The narrative of justice served in Evie Burns's banishment would seem to be a wish fulfillment, a dream in which evil is punished, reputations are restored, family loyalties and love recognized, and all, ultimately, is right with the brave new world of children of the Methwold Estate.

On the other hand, Saleem's abuse at the hands of the teacher and his classmates, his abuse in a public setting that is supposed to be a place of camaraderie and safety, rejects the notion of getting what one deserves or the possibility of a public drive for justice and fair play. Saleem, in fact, turns to Shiva's style of violence to defend himself, a choice of violence that must necessarily backfire. The injury in which his fingertip is severed points to a sort of compulsive mindless violence as the psychology of the riotous crowd. Finally, the reader loses hope for a happy ending when blood ties are severed. Saleem ends the chapter, alone, seated on a hospital bed, his finger bandaged and throbbing. He is listening to Tony Brent singing a medley reminiscent of one song by Wee Willie Winkie in his days as an entertainer at the Methwold Estate. The song Saleem hears is the close to Wee Willie's medley: "Good Night, Ladies."

Saleem has lost his father's love and is left with the situational irony (in which what happens is the opposite of what is expected to happen) of the song, "Good Night, Ladies," ironic closure perhaps to his appearance at the cathedral dance. Moreover, he associated the tune with Wee Willie's song in his entertainment at the estate. Wee Willie, of course, is the cuckolded husband of Vanita, and in fact, the father and head of the family that Saleem had been spared. Willie, who believed himself to be Shiva's natural father, was, in fact, duped by his wife and her lover, William Methwold. Willie was not part of the cult of fatherhood; he is neither Shiva's father nor Saleem's. If midnight's children are the saviors of the new state, then Shiva—in Hindu mythology, the destroyer—has a clear life imperative and identity. Born at the stroke of the hour of Independence, he is India as bastard child and hybrid: born from a covenant between a married Muslim woman and an Englishman, not a member of the raj but an opportunistic capitalist.

The optimism that fueled partition ended for India in a decade of conflicts born from selfish self-interests: competing ethnicities, religions, and politics. Illiteracy and rejection of modernization also played their roles. In 1958 preelection and postelection riots meant bloodshed in the streets. A communist mayor was elected in Bombay. Disputes around the disposition of the waters of the Indus River caused complaint and infighting, and misused funds in the nationalized life insurance program caused the resignation of the minister of finance. Things were so bad that Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru threatened to resign (but recanted five days later).

Saleem also has nightmares in black and green, a foreshadowing of the emergence of the Widow in his life.

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