A Thematic Overview constitutes Chapter III of the thesis on Salman Rushdie. A long chapter, the same will be covered over several posts. The first one follows. To go back to the earlier posts in the series, click on the links in between the paragraphs.
In this preparatory chapter, I will make an effort to elaborate on the substance of the research statement. I have strived to ascertain the correlation between history and fiction. I would like to map out the developmental changes that have occurred over the decades in the use of history by storytellers. Different concepts like New Historicism, historiographic metafiction or metafictional historiography, etc. may be discussed at some length. Not just a unifying device, history is a theme with Rushdie. This essay analyses Midnight’s Children’s structure based on the micro-macro symbiosis, which is the intertwining of Saleem Sinai’s personal story with the larger history of India. Saleem forms the ‘micro-macro symbiosis” in operation.
Salman Rushdie is one of the pioneer novelists of modern times. His literary produce is central to a range of contemporary cultural and literary debates. Critical approaches to his novelistic outpours cut across a range of theoretical methodologies. These include postmodernist debates on the construction of history and identity as well as postcolonial concerns with race, hybridity and political power. His literature has also been studied with cultural concerns relating to representation, performativity and documentation. His methodologies have also been put to the analytical theories of textual strategies such as intertextuality, cinematic montage and narrative authority. To put succinctly, his novels include the microcosm of the individual as well as the macrocosm of the nation’s histories.
This essay of mine reflects the diversity noted above and discusses all the theoretical strands needed for the exploration of Rushdie’s works and to comprehend his aims and concerns. I, in this paper, focus on history and individual as the cornerstones of the works of Salman Rushdie. History is made by select individuals and an individual has his story. The interrelationship between the two is the core region of this study. History represents ‘objective’ fact and the novel represents subjective ‘fiction.’ Nonetheless, etymologically, history and story are different but still the same. In French, German and Italian languages, history retains an element of fiction in it. The earliest histories contained a tone of fictionality. Fact and myth appear to be two sides of the same coin. The word ‘history’ itself contains the word ‘story’. To quote a universally recognized authority,
History, like the drama and the novel, grew out of mythology, a primitive form of apprehension and expression in which – as in fairy tales listened to by children or in dreams dreamt by sophisticated adults – the line between fact and fiction is left undrawn. [i]
There are two ways of recreating or representing history: either through the actual historical events or by exploring the psyche of the history-makers. Shelby Foote makes an interesting statement:
The historian attempts this by communicating facts, whereas the novelist would communicate sensation. The one stresses action, the other reaction.[ii]
History is a multi-purpose tool in the hands of the novelists. He can do whatever he likes with the past. He can romanticize, sensationalize, interrogate, problematize critique, satirize, and even trivialize history.
In India also, there has been an old tradition of the merger of kavya (literary writing) and itihasa (history) into each other. All the major Indian languages have a long-standing convention of using history as a source for creating literary work. Indian expatriate writers like Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, Kamala Markandya, Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Amitav Ghosh and Arvind Adiga are taken in the West to represent India. Mulk Raj Anand virtually bends his novels to the needs of history. His novels largely derive the purpose and shape from history. Nayantara Sahgal deftly combines personal and public history. Rushdie shows growing vexation with India. This is in contrast to the yearning and nostalgia of Raja Rao towards India.
Post-colonial writers make history the master narrator. It is a political act energized by parodic inversions of the dominant ideology. Midnight’s Children, Shame, The Moor’s Last Sigh, and The Great Indian Novel (Shashi Tharoor) go beyond essentialist simplifications and grapple with the plurality and complexities of Indian social life. They subvert the imperialist record of Indian history by problematising the assumptions of Western traditions of fiction and historiography. They re-write history. Raja Rao re-writes a sthalapurana in Kanthapura and Shashi Tharoor the Mahabharata in The Great Indian Novel.
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In the course of the work, I will appraise the portrayal of history in the post-modernistic and post-colonial novels. It is the socio-political history that is essentially portrayed in the produce of Rushdie. However, politics and history are hardly ever overt in the narrative rather it is emblematic and allegorical as in the case of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. In Nineteen Eighty-Four or William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the novelist willfully places the sphere of action in an imaginary locale, highlighting some metaphysical or political point. According to modern deconstructionists, these novels demonstrate a wave of escapism. The colonial and post-colonial histories form the backdrop. The interesting angle is that the fictional life of the narrator is entwined and entangled with the history of the nations in concern as well as the author’s own life history.
Thus, his novels almost fuse the private and public areas. It is ‘chutneyfication’ of not only language but also of history. The Great Traditions and the Little Traditions merge. Cultural myths and religion blend. This study also focuses on the geographical fact of migration. Literary allusions and the innovative usage of national languages are the natural thrusts in this research work. Rushdie’s real life is as important as his literary life. He has emerged as a symbol of freedom of speech and expression. The fatwa and the aftermath are very well the parts of the contemporary history of the world. In addition, in this real-life ‘fiction’ the individual is Salman Rushdie. The interplay of the two is the hub of the paper.
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The dissertation applies the critical frameworks of magic realism. Historiographic metafiction, intertextuality, indeterminacy, deconstruction, hybridity, fragmentation, and parody are liberally touched upon. I have deliberately chosen three of his novels, viz. Midnight’s Children, Shame and The Satanic Verses to constitute the core of the study. The plot summaries of these novels are meant to enrich and enliven the study. Many of his other novels, viz. Grimus, The Moor’s Last Sigh, and The Ground Beneath Her Feet have also been gone through. Indeed, certain novels of other contemporary authors, viz. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Amitav Ghose have also been commented upon. All this has obviously made the paper lengthy but not burdensome and disparate to a keen reader.
[i] Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Abridged Edition, Oxford University Press, London, 1960, page 44.