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The Satanic Verses | Motifs

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Dreams, Visions, and Premonitions

Dreams, visions, and premonitions appear throughout the text. Two of the three story lines are part of the dream life of Gibreel Farishta, making dreams an important structural component of the novel. In addition, the dreams and visions support various themes of the novel. For example, Gibreel's dreams help to develop the theme of belief and unbelief, because they are described in very concrete terms and often cross over or seem to influence reality. After Saladin Chamcha is arrested, leaving Gibreel alone with Rosa Diamond, the old woman's stories conjure visions that seem to come to life. And Gibreel's nightmarish visions as he walks London's streets create a supernatural version of events that exists alongside the "real" story of the police crackdown and riots. But do all the events of the story have some natural explanation? It is often unclear, allowing the reader to come down on either the side of belief in the supernatural or on the side of unbelief.

Other characters have dreams, visions, and premonitions, too. Alleluia Cone sees the ghosts of mountain climbers on Everest and around London, and in the dream sequences Mahound and Ayesha both have visions of the angel Gibreel. Like Gibreel's visions, these visions also engage the theme of belief and unbelief. Saladin has a dream about a man with glass skin, and later climbs out of the sea with "his body cased in a fine skin of ice, smooth as glass" (Part 3, Chapter 1). Even later, he finds himself in a hospital with a woman whose skin has turned to glass (Part 3, Chapter 3). The glass-skin dream and its related images develop the theme of metamorphosis and rebirth, as the characters emerge from, or want to emerge from, the glass membrane. And Saladin's recurring dream of teaching his son to ride a bicycle develops the idea of parents and children.

Literal and Metaphoric Role-Playing

One of the most important devices for developing the theme of metamorphosis and rebirth (and to a lesser extent the themes of immigrants and belief and unbelief) is creating characters who are actors or who play roles in some way. Both of the main characters, Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta, are actors known for their versatility. They are experts at transforming into different characters. On top of his voice-acting ability, Saladin has also put his acting to use as an immigrant to England. He creates voice, facial expressions, and mannerisms that allow him to integrate into British society. Other characters, such as Pamela Lovelace, are thrust into roles that they feel do not suit them.

This shows that the theme of metamorphosis and rebirth is closely tied to the theme of immigrants, who transform in a kind of rebirth when they settle in a new culture. These role-playing metamorphoses intersect with the theme of belief and unbelief when the actors begin to take on traits of their characters. For example, the twelve prostitutes at The Curtain brothel begin to role-play the twelve wives of Mahound, and they soon begin to display similar personalities as the true wives. In addition, their relationships reflect those of their "characters": "the alliances in the brothel came to mirror the political cliques at the Yathrib mosque."

Parents and Children

An emphasis on parents and children, and especially the loss of parents, supports the theme of immigrants. An astonishing number of characters are orphans, and the often-bizarre deaths of parents are part of nearly every main character's backstory. The loss or estrangement of parents is a loss of a character's ties to the past—to their own history. This connects to the way some immigrants may find that ties to their own cultural identity are weakened or severed as they make a new life in a new place. In addition, both Pamela and Allie want to conceive a child, and Pamela is successful, though not with Saladin. Saladin has a recurring dream in which he has a son. The inability to bring new life into the world resonates with the struggle immigrants may face as they try to create their own future selves in a new culture.

Voices

In the novel, voices are a small but important recurring motif. Voices are identifying and recognizable aspects of an individual and of a culture. English people have dialects and accents, as do Indians, and individuals within each culture also have voices that are unique. Pamela's voice identifies her as a specific kind of British woman. Both Jumpy Joshi's voice and Saladin's voice are recognizable to one another on the phone.

But voices can be mimicked and changed. Saladin changes his voice as he assimilates into British culture, and he changes his voice often as part of his job. The voice of the archangel Gibreel is recognizable to Mahound, except perhaps when the devil uses Gibreel's voice to plant his own words in the recitation. And Saladin uses his gift for voice acting to erode the trust between Alleluia Cone and Gibreel. Like many aspects of the novel, voices represent a contradiction. They are authentic and familiar as well as being deceptive and unfamiliar. They can both lie and tell the truth.

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