The Satanic Verses | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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The Satanic Verses | Part 1, Chapter 4 : The Angel Gibreel | Summary

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Summary

On Flight 420, Saladin notices that a woman on the plane looks a great deal like the woman from one of his dreams—a nightmare—about a female suicide bomber with a Canadian accent. After a short nap, he sees "the vanished superstar, the living legend, Gibreel Farishta himself" walking down the aisle.

An American man in the seat next to Saladin starts up a conversation, and introduces himself as Eugene Dumsday, who had been traveling in India to warn people of the devilish teachings of Charles Darwin. After an awkward conversation, Saladin dozes. He wakes to find four hijackers—three men and a woman—have taken over the flight. The hijackers force the plane to land. The female hijacker, Tavleen (who has a Canadian accent just like the woman in Saladin's dream) lifts up her clothing to reveal a large number of explosives strapped to her naked body. For 111 days, fifty of the passengers are held hostage in the plane, although Dumsday is released after he accidentally bites his own tongue off.

Gibreel ends up sitting next to Saladin after Dumsday leaves. Gibreel tells Saladin that he is afraid to fall asleep, because he began having strange dreams after he ate pork. In the dreams he is the archangel Gibreel. Gibreel also tells Saladin that he is on the plane to follow after a woman—Alleluia Cone.

On day 111, Tavleen kills one of the hostages—Jalandri—and shortly after this the plane takes off. When the plane is in the air, however, a fight breaks out, chaos ensues, and Tavleen detonates her explosives.

Analysis

The motif of dreams, visions, and premonitions, and its associated theme of belief and unbelief, propels this chapter forward. Saladin first has a dream of a female suicide bomber with a Canadian accent. This proves to have been a premonition. Gibreel mentions that he has been having strange dreams since he ate pork, which is significant given that the next section will be one of those dreams, and it concerns the pork-avoiding religion that Gibreel has just given up. The Canadian terrorist, Tavleen, is shown to be as much of a "true believer" as Dumsday is. Gibreel, the dreamer, is also the doubter.

The theme of metamorphosis and rebirth is linked in this chapter to evolutionary theory. Darwin's ideas are the topic of Dumsday's outrage and the reason for his travels to India. Ironically, Darwin's ideas about natural selection are about a kind of metamorphosis, but Dumsday thinks they are responsible for another kind of transformation: changing American youth into depressed drug abusers and sex fiends. Gibreel also mentions evolutionary theory as he tells Saladin about his preoccupation with reincarnation, which includes ideas based on a mishmash of rebirth, resurrection, reincarnation, and metamorphosis stories from mythology and religion and "including of course the progress of human beings through successive cycles of life, now as cockroaches, now as kings ... ."

Metamorphosis also has natural ties to Gibreel's and Saladin's profession as actors in the television and movie industries. Indeed, this episode of the plane hijackers has a number of dramatic elements that would be at home in a movie or television show. Tavleen shows a flair for the dramatic as she reveals her explosives, while the other three hijackers "want to behave the way they have seen hijackers behaving in the movies and on TV." Dumsday bites his own tongue off; hostages are held while news trucks and law enforcement gathers; chaos breaks out on the plane while in flight. Is this a real hijacking, or a movie about a hijacking? Where is the line between reality and acting? These questions continue to bubble up as the novel meanders through its several plots.

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