Literature Study GuidesMidnights ChildrenBook 2 Snakes And Ladders Summary

Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 2, Snakes and Ladders | Summary



The bad omens that occurred in the months following independence were believed to be divine objections to partition and to Jawaharlal Nehru's proclamation of a secular state. Manifestations included reports of bleeding flowers, escaped snakes, and the sighting of blue-hued, godlike figures (Krishna or Jesus). Ahmed Sinai had taken to his bed once the freeze set in, and Amina Sinai rented the rooms on the top floor of their villa to Dr. Schaapsteker, owner of a snake farm where "snake venom's medicinal functions were studied."

Amina summoned her parents to Bombay and learned that her sisters had moved to Pakistan, where Emerald Aziz's husband, General Zulfikar, had become a powerful leader.

Naseem Ghani, now known as Reverend Mother, took over the kitchen, and Amina, freed from domestic duties, became once again the daughter of the household. Amina succumbed to the emotions of other people's food, particularly her mother's, which was laced with intransigence, stubbornness, and determination. Although Mary Pereira's fantastic chutneys were soothing, Amina was filled with the energy of her mother's cooking.

Pregnant with Saleem Sinai's sister, Amina gathered her dowry money and the jeweled spittoon from an old trunk and invested her funds in bets at the racetrack. Picking her winners idiosyncratically, mostly by judging the demeanor of the jockeys, Amina won large sums. She turned the money over to Ismail Ibrahim to bribe officials and thaw Ahmed's frozen assets.

As a child, Saleem believed he had magical properties that helped predict the winners for his mother. Nine-year-old Saleem's favorite board game, Snakes and Ladders, taught him about life's persistent ups and downs. What he also learned was that the game lacked a "crucial dimension, that of ambiguity."

The ups and downs of the family include Amina's triumph at the racetrack, her brother Hanif Aziz's short-lived triumph in filming the "indirect kiss," the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and the feud between the guilt-ridden Christian, Mary Pereira, and the family's faithful, aging bearer, Musa. All's well that ends well in this chapter of snakes and ladders: after a bout with typhoid, Saleem's life is saved by a dose of cobra venom; the court releases Ahmed's assets; Jamila, the Brass Monkeya name that addresses the color of her hairis born; and Saleem at age one learns to walk. Saleem's sister learns early on that she must make a great deal of noise to get any attention in a household dedicated to her brother.


Saleem continues to invent narratives that support the facts of his early life. Using the survival of Scheherazade and her 1,001 stories as his model, he maintains his position at the center of the family and takes credit where he can for any good fortune the family experiences. He comes to see life as a game of Snakes and Ladders (a popular children's board game, commonly called Chutes and Ladders in the United States). The chapter operates on the optimistic principles of dualities, extreme situations of good and evil, and fortune and misfortune, which end in the most positive of circumstances. The optimism of the chapter is balanced, sadly, by irreversible misfortune: the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. And although Saleem pays lip service to the importance of ambiguity alongside his binarist model of existence, the chapter operates out of a series of binarist dilemmas. Probably, the coexistence of Hindu and Muslim rather than the conflicts that generated partition would be the sort of ambiguity or tolerance of significant oppositions that hold promise in Saleem's future.

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