Confronting America's Inanimate Presence (III): Shame

Margaret Hander'00 English 27, 1997

Coca Cola as the essence of America also runs through Shame. It is the "Fizzy, tooth-rotting drink," which metaphorically explodes with "shame" when someone hurts or destroys "shamelessly." "What happens to all that unfelt shame? What of the unquaffed cups of pop? . . . the fluid of shame spills, spreading in a frothy lake across the floor"(125). Coke comes back again as the enjoyed, refreshing drink at the Polo match. "He ran off and returned bearing paper plates heaped with samosas or jalebis, with cups of fizzing cola balanced along his forearms" (169). Rushdie often uses an object first one way and then another, assigns it not one meaning but two contradicting ones.

Of the two, Rushdie overwhelmingly links America to shamelessness. Isky's ghost shrieks, "Nobody can topple me, . . . not the fat cats, not the Americans, not even you" (193). Remember that Omar, the novel's "fat" character, personifies shamelessness. Americans also show their shameless hypocrisy and self-interest in the political arena: "The incompatibility doctrine [that of God and Socialism] made Raza very popular with the Americans, who were of the same opinion, even thought the God concerned was different" (262). In this same vein, Rani sews Americans statesmen onto one of her shawls as figures in silent corrupt conspiracy (204). The Americans may dominate the globe, implies Rushdie, but they have achieved domination through a ruthless lack of morality.

Rushdie takes literary revenge for the spell that this powerful and often obtuse nation seems to hold over the world. His rapscallion dictator, Iskander, tortures the American ambassadors. Last on a list of tragically comic figures comes, "The American Ambassador," which leads into,

Ambassadors: he got through nine of them in his six years. . . in the case of the United States, . . . he . . . addressed their legate in florid French. . . The Jack Anderson column in America carried a leaked document in which the U.S. delegate to Iskander's court had apparently confessed that he had long felt a strong sexual attraction towards Secretary Kissinger. That was the end of that Ambassador. He blocked their drains and censored their incoming mail, depriving the English of their subscription copies of horse-racing journals, the Russians of Playboy and the Americans of everything else . . . he could trifle with the emissaries of the might, look at me, he was saying, you can't catch me. Immortal, invulnerable Harappa. He gave the people pride (192-5).

This victory, though neither rational nor practical, boosts the spirit and warrants a triumphant belly laugh.

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