The Satanic Verses | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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The Satanic Verses | Part 1, Chapter 3 : The Angel Gibreel | Summary

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Summary

Saladin Chamcha crosses his fingers for good luck as Flight 420 takes off. He wears an expression of "alert contempt" and developed a voice, the narrator says, to match his face. But lately both the voice and the face have begun to deteriorate. Thinking about the changes in his voice causes Saladin (born Salahuddin Chamchawala) to recall his early years in Bombay. He'd once found a wallet with British money in it lying in the street. As he had reached inside to pull out the money, his father, Changez Chamchawala, had demanded the wallet. Saladin began to dream of leaving his homeland. He felt certain he was destined to go to London, which he secretly named ellowen deeowen.

He got his wish when his father decided to send him to school in England. Five years later, Saladin returned home, but his attitude toward India was contemptuous, angering his father. After his mother, Nasreen Chamchawala, died suddenly, choking on a fish bone, Saladin returned to England for college. His father remarried—a woman named, coincidentally, Nasreen—and this increased tensions between father and son. Saladin decided to stay in London after graduation, became an actor, and corresponded less and less with his increasingly religious father.

At the end of the 1960s, Saladin met Pamela Lovelace, and they married. But their marriage was marred by her tragic past—her parents had committed suicide when she was a young woman—and by their inability to have a child. Saladin pursued a career as an actor. While back in India as part of an acting job, Saladin began an affair with Zeeny Vakil. A writer deeply invested in Indian culture and identity, she tried to reintroduce him to his native culture. One night, when they were out after a show with their friends, Bhupen Gandhi and George Miranda, Bhupen started a political argument in a crowded bar, and Saladin became overwhelmed. He realized he was not truly Indian any more: "This isn't home. It makes me giddy because it feels like home and is not." He decided to go back to England, even though he knew that one of his acting jobs there (as a masked alien) was taking heavy criticism for its immigration-related themes.

But before leaving India, he visited his father. At his father's house, Saladin saw the housekeeper Vallabhbhai's wife Kasturba wearing his mother's old clothing, and realized his father was having an affair with her. Saladin was taken aback and outraged, and soon after the uncomfortable visit, he boarded Flight 420 to return to London.

Analysis

This chapter turns to the background of the other main character, Saladin Chamcha. Saladin's life story introduces the theme of immigrant identity, since he relocates from India to England, and then has an extended stay in Bombay in which he grapples with his sense of belonging. The plane ride that first takes Saladin from India to England when he is a teen is described as moving from "Indianness to Englishness, an immeasurable distance." His first days at school reveal his absolute determination to set aside his Indian identity and embrace an English one.

His conversations with Mimi Mamoulian, a Jewish voice actor and colleague, often center on experiencing racial discrimination in the acting industry. And indeed, the television show he was working on in England is being criticized for its engagement of racial themes. His relationship with Zeeny Vakil is based on her interest in winning Saladin back to embracing his Indian identity. She insists that it is impossible to deny one's original culture, while Saladin has worked his entire life to do just that. So Saladin represents the reinvention of self that immigrants engage in when they move from one culture to another. He changes his name, his voice, his facial expressions, his food preferences, and a host of other details that combine to create his new identity. When he briefly relapses into his old Bombay accent after a nightmare, he insists "Damn you, India ... I escaped your clutches long ago, you won't get your hooks into me again." Saladin's transformation from Indian to Englishman demonstrates how the theme of immigrant identity intersects with the theme of metamorphosis and rebirth. The motif of voices (here, Saladin's several voices) supports both of these themes. Immigrants, like actors, are reincarnated by their own creative actions. They make for themselves new voices.

The theme of belief and unbelief is developed by Saladin's back story, though not in the sensationalized way it is part of Gibreel's story. Saladin is culturally Muslim, but he has no real religious faith. His secular worldview puts him at odds with his father, who grows more religious after the death of Saladin's mother. But he is not entirely free of his Muslim roots. For example, he decides not to have a relationship with Mimi because she is Jewish. These contradictions flesh out Saladin's character, but they also point to a greater truth that Rushdie constantly returns to—people can and do hold paradoxical views at the same time. They are both angelic and demonic.

The motif of parents and children appears in several details in the chapter. Saladin loses his mother and is estranged from his father. His wife, Pamela, is an orphan, having lost both parents to suicide. Saladin and Pamela are trying to conceive a child, but have not had any success. All of these examples reveal a lack of parent-child relationships, just as Gibreel's life was marred by the losses of his mother and father. Saladin is caught in between Indian and English culture. His loss of parent relationships shows that he's severed ties to India. And his failure to produce a child with Pamela, an Englishwoman, is a failure to fully integrate into the new culture.

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