Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Quotes

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1.

I must work fast, faster than Scheherazade, if I am to end up meaning ... something.


Saleem Sinai, Book 1, The Perforated Sheet

Saleem Sinai alludes to the task of Scheherazade, who had to tell stories for 1,001 nights in order to save her life. He is doing his version, believing he will die soon and needing to leave a historical record memorializing the violent birth pangs and destructive squabbles of an emerging nation and the accompanying injuries that parallel conflicts of race and class that lead him to an early grave.

2.

And my grandfather ... was ... unable to worship a God in whose existence he could not wholly disbelieve.


Saleem Sinai, Book 1, The Perforated Sheet

Attempting to submit himself in prayer, Aadam Aziz bangs his nose. His blood and tears become rubies and diamonds. Supported by his mother's work in the jewel trade, he gives up religion without entirely giving up his belief in God. He is "trapped between belief and disbelief"—as is the reader when the tropes of magic realism turn bodily fluids to gems, and the family is saved by commerce, blood, sweat, and tears turned gemlike, rather than by religious practice.

3.

In that bag made of dead pigs one of those machines that foreign doctors use to smell with?


Tai, Book 1, The Perforated Sheet

The conflict between tradition and modernization is demonstrated as Tai objects not just to Dr. Aziz's stethoscope but to the doctor's bag made of pigskin. For the Muslim, pigs are unclean and forbidden for consumption. Tai would prefer that the doctor follow his prominent and discerning nose rather than rely on foreign instruments.

4.

Reverend Mother doled out curries and meatballs of intransigence ... fish salans of stubbornness and the birianis of determination.


Saleem Sinai, Book 2, Snakes and Ladders

Naseem Ghani, also called Reverend Mother, arrives in Bombay and takes over the kitchen. Amina Sinai has rented out part of the villa in order to make ends meet since Ahmed Sinai has taken to his bed. The narrative operates through magic realism, descriptions of impossible events that metaphorically convey the complications of the situation. Here, the cooking of Amina's mother provides emotional and material support during a time of family troubles.

5.

Snakes and Ladders captures ... the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb, a snake is waiting.


Saleem Sinai, Book 2, Snakes and Ladders

In the "unchanging twoness of things [lie] all conceivable oppositions." Saleem's early wisdom is balanced when he crucially notes that the game lacks another eternal notion: ambiguity (uncertainty). This text, in which opposing dualities create the tension, works toward the resolution in ambiguity, an entertainment of two opposing forces at one time, without need to resolve them.

6.

I feel cracks widening down the length of my body; because suddenly I am alone.


Saleem Sinai, Book 2, Accident in a Washing-chest

Padma has disappeared, and Saleem, alone and without the listener who is necessary to his tale, recalls an earlier separation, the "crack" in his being when his sexuality was born. This occurs when he witnesses firsthand his mother's sexual frustration through slats in the washing chest. His descent from the washing chest echoes original separation. Padma is his necessary ear, a symbolic replacement for the hearing he lost when slapped by his father who had learned of Saleem's perceived voyeurism (sexual gratification through observation).

7.

How, in what terms, may the career of a single individual be said to impinge on the fate of a nation?


Saleem Sinai, Book 2, The Kolynos Kid

Saleem's stated quest is historical subjectivity. He poses the question as a matter of human identity existing in the tension between genealogy and history. How does one reconcile the admiration and the hostility that the postcolonial subject finds in his or her personal divisions, the "cracks" and "fissures" resulting from occupation by a threatening and gifted other? Must the colonized emulate the colonizer for better and for worse?

8.

The unavoidable connection between the infant state's ... rushing towards ... adulthood and my own early, explosive ... growth.


Saleem Sinai, Book 2, The Kolynos Kid

Here is the formula for Saleem's understanding of the connection between public affairs and personal life, of genealogy and history as equal contributors to the life of an individual and to the historical record. His ambition is to write a memoir as history depends upon a series of correspondences between his affairs and historical occurrences.

9.

Do not permit the endless duality of masses-and-classes, capital-and-labor, them-and-us to come between us! We ... must be a third principle.


Saleem Sinai, Book 2, Commander Sabarmati's Baton

Saleem recognizes the growing self-interest among the midnight children and asks them to dedicate themselves to social change, to understanding how history has conspired to catapult them into the familiar dilemmas faced by their parents. He exhorts them to become forces in recreating a new politics, a new social order, a new Five Year Plan.

10.

In autobiography ... what actually happened is less important that what the author can ... persuade his audience to believe.


Saleem Sinai, Book 2, Revelations

Saleem admits that as his writing speed suffers from his decay, "the risk of unreliability grows." He is able to continue, remaining on track because of Padma's physical presence and her engagement with his narrative. In this instance Saleem sustains Padma's acceptance of the story of Cyrus-the-great, regardless of truth.

11.

And the dust, entering our nostrils ... broke down our reserve, eroded the barriers which permit families to survive.


Saleem Sinai, Book 2, Revelations

The dust that marks the demolition of an era and the end of the Methwold Estate also initiates the breakdown of barriers and the self-serving lies that hide painful truths. This chapter marks the end of such lies for the Aziz heirs as well as for India, as the last elements of the raj lifestyle are erased. They are already dead, and, as dust particles, they are homogeneous and unreadable.

12.

I listened to her faultless voice ... filled with the purity of wings and the pain of exile.


Saleem Sinai, Book 2, Movements Performed by Pepperpots

Saleem hears his sister's faultlessly beautiful voice. The lyric voice of the text resonates with what history has wrought. In this passage, art takes a place beside history, reminding readers that the languages of reality are distinct and art offers a concise version of the real. Beauty has redemptive quality here.

13.

As a people, we are obsessed with correspondences. Similarities ... make us clap our hands delightedly.


Saleem Sinai, Book 2, Drainage and the Desert

Saleem attributes his obsessive seeking after correspondences to a national habit. In this chapter, which closes his coming-of-age saga, he demonstrates his attachment to history. To look back on his narrative of correspondences as the way in which he makes sense of the world is to understand nationality in terms of cultural practice. Saleem leaves India but carries with him his preference for correspondences, his nationality.

14.

I invented ... the science of nasal ethics ... I learned the olfactory incompatibility of Islam and socialism.


Saleem Sinai, Book 2, Jamila Singer

Saleem's growing consciousness of an ethical world, begun in poverty in Karachi and the strict attitude of the local version of Islam, becomes an occasion for making fun of and rejecting religion.

15.

To tell the truth, I lied about Shiva's death. My first out-and-out lie.


Saleem Sinai, Book 3, Abracadabra

The unreliable narrator may be taken as just that at this point in the story. What he calls the truth here, he contradicts in the same sentence. It may, in fact, be the case that this is the first out-and-out lie, but the bold-faced lie is but a single species. The novel is dominated by rationalizations and inaccuracies that enable Saleem to complete his story on his terms. While lying may not come easily to Saleem, it is equally true that the story, a fiction built on snatches of historical fact, has not come easily to him either. His pledge to mean something, moreover, has been fulfilled. History has been served in this collection of historical facts and abracadabra, or magician's words. Saleem conjures a false magic and a charming logic to lend truth to the rebirth of India out of the horrors of the Emergency.

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