Mar 25 2016

Readers & Writers in “Midnight’s Children”

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Readers & Writers in “Midnight’s Children”

“No audience is without its idiosyncrasies of belief.”

––Midnight’s Children, “Under the Carpet”

There were lots of things I didn’t understand about Midnight’s Children, but fairly early on, I started to see a four-way “game” emerge between me the reader, Rushdie the writer, the book’s narrator Saleem Sinai who is also a writer, and his wife Padma as another reader.

I’ve never read anything by Rushdie before, but I’ve seen some interviews. He comes off as very charming, handsome, witty, has a crisp Oxford accent, and is apparently quite the lady’s man.

Certainly there is some of Rushdie the writer in his character of the narrator-writer Saleem Sinai. And as a reader I certainly felt some impatience, early on, with the story, as does Saleem’s wife Padma Mangroli:

While I, at my desk, feel the sting of Padma’s impatience. (I wish, at times, for a more discerning audience, someone who would understand the need for rhythm, pacing, the subtle introduction of minor chords which will later rise, swell, seize the melody.) (“Methwold” 112)

And in a later passage we learn from Saleem:

I am, in fact, entirely content with the uncomplaining thews of Padma Mangroli, who is, unaccountably, more interested in me than my tales. (“Revelations” 310)

So Padma is more interested in the writer than his writings, and I think that Rushdie, as a writer and a celebrity, has experienced that often enough: people would rather meet him than read his work. After all:

In autobiography, as in all literature, what actually happened is less important than what the author can manage to persuade his audience to believe. (“Revelations” 310)

Also, in terms of this story’s setting, India and Pakistan were then (and still are) very patriarchal places. I would almost argue that in Midnights Children the narrator treats the reader as he would a wife in that part of the world: I the reader am subordinate to Rushdie the writer (I can’t change the way he wrote the story or edit what he wrote about); and Padma remains the subordinate intimate of Saleem. She is also his caretaker, as readers are the caretakers of writers.

Overall, Rushdie’s style seems heavily influenced by Conrad and Faulkner, his vast vocabulary by Joyce. Rushdie the writer and his narrator Saleem the writer seem much more comfortable in their profession than the narrator-writer in Roth’s American Pastoral, who grumbles:

Writing turns you into somebody who’s always wrong. The illusion that you may get it right someday is the perversity that draws you on. What else could? As pathological phenomena go, it doesn’t completely wreck your life. (“Chapter 3” 63)

Rushdie and Saleem are, furthermore, way more confident in their abilities to put pen to paper than both the narrator-writer in Roth’s American Pastoral as well as in Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair:

It’s a discouraging thing, sir. The more you succeed the more glad they are to see the last of you. (II, viii, 68)

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NOTES

Greene Graham. The End of the Affair. 1951. NY: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. 1977.

Roth, Philip. American Pastoral. NY: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1997. Vintage International Edition. 1998.

Rushdie, Salman. Midnights Children. NY: Knopf. 1981. NY: Random House Paperbacks. 2006.