I have finally arrived at Part 2 of the read-along discussions and can’t wait to write up my views on what I have experienced so far. As you may be aware, the read along has actually ended, but I will continue to post the next two discussion points as and when I come to them. If you are interested in this read-along and other people’s views about the book, then you can find this hosted over at Bibliojunkie by JoV.
Without much ado, I will go onto the questions.
Question 1: What did Methwold represent? Why did he specify that nothing be changed in his houses?
Methwold and his estate didn’t strike me as important at first, but it was only when he finally left the Sinai family and the country altogether, that I realised how crucial he was as a character. In the story, Rushdie makes a big to-do about how Methwold’s great-great grandfather was the pioneer of modern Bombay, and how he had a hand in making it the bustling city that it is now. This puts a lot of emphasis on the notion of ‘hereditary origins’ at a time when India is slowly changing hands and returning back to its’ native people. This also goes nicely with highlighting Saleem’s extensive back story. When Saleem recalls the rapidly changing geography of the region and the colonial influences that suffused throughout Bombay; it made me think about how history sometimes leaves marks in places that are often impossible to get rid of. And sure enough Rushdie went further with this notion by downsizing it to Methwold and his estate.
The estate is an almost chess-sized version of the ‘real’ battle between the Indian population and it’s invaders. The natives are represented by the Sinai’s and the other families who come to live on the estate. The British colonists are embodied by a single man; Methwold (apt because he quite literally inherits the role!), and the estate comes to symbolise an India that has been split up, isolated into ‘pockets’ of foreignness and given an identity and history alien to itself (major parallel here with Saleem, as he was switched at birth and therefore lead a life that was theoretically not his own.) The game of conqueror and conquered is played out through
psychological methods. Methwold’s odd request that nothing be changed in the houses is his way of getting his new tenants to get used to the British way of life. The cocktail hour remains as one of the lasting effects of this psychological warfare of a colonist determined to inoculate the ways of Britannia, even when he is in the last steps of the so-called ‘handover’ of power.
In Saleem’s case, Methwold has two separate meanings. Firstly, he is undeniably his biological father. Secondly, he is also a mirror that refracts and reflects what Methwold is doing to the Sinai’s back onto Methwold himself. As Methwold (colonist and conqueror) leaves behind the last bitter seeds of his revenge as he attempts to bastardise the cultural beliefs and traditions of the native population; Methwold leaves behind a son who is quite literally a bastard (unbeknownst to him) which grows up in the intense atmosphere of Indian customs. Rushdie adds a touch of poetic justice to the whole situation, as he ironically depicts Methwold’s line continuing in the form of Saleem, but without a trace of the English heritage that runs through his veins. For me, this reminds me of the symbol of the Ouroboros; the snake that bites its own tail. Methwold is snake-like as he feeds his unassuming venom into the future inhabitants of the estate. But it is his own son who destroys what is most dear to him; a sense of Britishness. Saleem, with all his knowledge of the past and his ability to see into other people’s minds embraces his ‘cuckoo-child’ existence. Taken from his real parents and planted into the arms of another, Saleem accepts his adoptive Kashmiri relatives with complete ease and in turn bites the tail of Methwold as an act of divine revenge.
Therefore, the estate is almost certainly a battle ground for ethnic identity, a scaled-down version of the games played on India and her people.
Question 2: At the very heart of Midnight’s Children is an act of deception: Mary Pereira switches the birth-tags of the infants Saleem and Shiva. The ancestors of whom Saleem tells us at length are not his biological relations; and yet he continues to speak of them as his forebears. What effect does this have on you, the reader? How easy is it to absorb such a paradox?
The paradox for me came as a bit of a shock. Switching babies at birth is quite an old literary device and regardless of how many times I’ve heard it being used in stories; this time it did give me quite a jolt! In fact I went back and read the page two times to make sure I understood what was going on but it’s quite a powerful twist to the tale. I suppose what Rushdie is telling us through the character of Saleem is that it is not our blood that dictates our future or indeed our ethnicity. The ‘nurture’ part of our upbringing, whether it be with our biological parents or not, plays a big part in how we identify ourselves. Saleem being a ‘midnight’s child’ has powers that enable him to look into the past through other people’s memories. He talks of how events outside him, even before his conception, heralded his coming. He seems to believe that he is the ‘fated’ child of the Sinai’s, which promotes a much stronger sense of belonging.
End of questions! Wow, it has been a real roller-coaster ride for me reading this book. I have learned so much and it just keeps getting better and weirder. Can’t wait for part three discussions. I wonder what’ll happen next!