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The Struggle of Rushdie’s Marginal Man

By Maarten Dijkhuizen


Salman Rushdie's novels often focus on the struggles of the marginal man trying to find his place in society, which happens in many different ways and is often traceable to his own life and personal experience. Prime examples are the novels Midnight’s Children, The Satanic Verses and Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The concept of identity links these novels together in a kind of chronological narrative of the migrant author. Midnight’s Children focuses on the development of identity in the tumultuous period in India’s history after the Partition. The Satanic Verses describes the challenges the migrant identity faces in new and different cultural surroundings, while Haroun and the Sea of Stories gives a fantastical solution to the “serious and problematic use of other worlds” (Morton, 85). Although the first two novels need not necessarily be connected directly to Rushdie’s personal experience, Haroun and the Sea of Stories presents the reader with another element of an identity crisis. The controversy over the passages referring to the Qur’an in The Satanic Verses led to a Fatwa being proclaimed over Rushdie and thus put him into hiding. Coincidently, or perhaps not, Haroun and the Sea of Stories focuses greatly on the silencing of the storyteller, thus forming another link between the identity of the author and his novel. \ud This thesis will provide an analysis of Rushdie’s use of magical realism to characterize the struggle of identity of the marginal man in these three novels. The analysis of Midnight’s Children will show how, in the difficult period after the Partition of India, the protagonist Saleem Sinai struggles to create, adapt and maintain his apparently pre-determined identity in the face of an ever-changing nation filled to the brim with diversity. A look at The Satanic Verses will show how the marginal identity of the migrants Saladin and Gibreel struggles to find a place in a new world, and is literally mutated by the pre-conceived notions that are automatically applied to the migrant identity by the new nation. Haroun and the Sea of Stories will show how Rushdie has taken a different path towards writing after the fatwa, placing his authorial identity under the scrutiny of the reader in order to question his responsibility in the face of censorship. At the same time Rushdie is laying down moralistic guidelines as to the path of the creation and understanding of a personal identity through the fantastical adventure of Haroun to the world where stories come from. These analyses will show that although Rushdie uses different styles and perspectives to illustrate the struggle of those who are marginalised, the recurring theme constantly revolves around the concept of the identity of the marginal man. Whether in a nation that is constantly changing, or surrounded by difference, the marginal man must find a place where he can be himself but also be accepted. Rushdie’s consistent use of magical realism provides a path for the seemingly impossible to become probable even though eventual acceptance may seem to be only a distant hope

Topics: Letteren, Salman Rushdie, Identity, Marginal Man
Year: 2008
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