Surrogate Authorial Figures in Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Mark McDannald, Washington and Lee University

In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie occupies the thoughts and actions of characters that serve as his surrogate within the narrative. His persona appears most clearly in Rashid, the Shah of Blah, a father and storyteller who loses his ability to create. This mirrors Rushdie¹s own troubles in writing after the Ayatollah placed the price on his head. But, as Rushdie exists somewhat concretely as Rashid, different aspects of his personality, such as egotism, self mockery, and fear, appear in other characters.

Prince Bolo stands as allegorical of Rushdie's egotistical motivations. Throughout the book the Guppees debate whether they should first attempt to save the Princess or the Ocean. In this case, the Ocean represents the plight to prevent the spread of censorship, the desire of an entire people, and the Princess represents the desires of one man to look out for his won lot. Bolo remarks, "To war, to war! For Batcheat, only Batcheat!"(105), and only later adds, "Yes, yes...The Ocean also; naturally, of course, very well"(105). Bolo's first thoughts are for himself and his own situation, which happens to coincide with the wishes of the others. He would rather secure his own future and then ensure safety to the Ocean. Here Rusdie intimates his own desires to put an end to his situation and thrreat first, and then work upon censorship as a whole. The author, however, always presents Bolo in a somewhat silly light, showing that, though he dreads his own lot and may strive to secure his own life, he realizes that his situation really takes a backseat to the larger problem. And, just as Rushdie promotes the mutation of old stories under the authorship of new writers, he seems to realize that he may sometimes overstep his bounds. He demonstrates this most clearly in the Pages' outfits, which bear stories. Bolo has changed some of the stories to read, "Bolo and the Wonderful LampŠBolo and the Forty ThievesŠBolo the SailorŠBolo and JulietŠBolo in Wonderland"(99). Again, Rushdie presents Bolo¹s antics in a silly light, showing that things can be taken too far. Through Bolo, Rushdie seems to acknowledge his own limitations and desires to do things solely for his own benefit.

Rushdie also places his persona in Princess Batcheat. As the only Gup captured by the Chupwalas, Batcheat stands as the example made by the side of censorship, much as Rushdie felt himself. Rashid describes the Princess as, "a young woman with long, long hair, wearing a circlet of gold, and singing, please excuse, the ugliest sounding song I have ever heard. In addition, her teeth, her nose..."(102). When paired with a theme from Rushdie's somewhat autobiographical Midnight's Children (1980), this passage becomes a bit more relevant to Rushdie himself. In that book he writes, "And already I can see the repetitions beginningŠand we haven¹t even got to the noses yet!"(7), hinting at a recurrent theme of large noses in his family. Coupling these two passages, and noting the frequent mention of Princess Batcheat's nose, Rushdie places a definite characteristic of his own into Batcheat. Simultaneously, he places a terrible voice in Batcheat, and in himself. The author also denotes the Princess as a character perhaps unfitting to be saved. Thus, Rushdie uses Princess Batcheat as a means of ribbibg himself, his creative voiece, and his predicament. Though he shares the rescue-oriented sentiments of Prince Bolo, Rushdie recognizes his possibly unimportant existence as an in the censorship battle as an individual.

Rushdie also includes himself in Haroun, who exists primarily as a representation of Rushdie¹s own real-life son, Zafar. His persona emerges in Haroun, though, as a serious voice of fear and genuine concern, not about individual desires but about the censorship debate as a whole. Haroun shares Rashid¹s, and Rushdie's, creative block as demostrated by his inability to concentrate for more than eleven minutes at a time, linking father to son. In addition, Butt the Hoopoe says to Haroun, "Don¹t sound too pleasedŠWho knows what's in store for us, up ahead?"(147), to which Haroun replies, "Well, thands very much...Another happy notion from you"(147). This dialogue displays the sense of uncertainty that Haroun, and Rushdie, hold for the future. After the Chupwalas capture Haroun, he comments, "So we're prisoners already...Some hero I turned out to be"(142). Here Haroun shows his frustration and anger because he has been unable to save the Ocean. This seems to reflect a similar frustration in Rushdie, not for himself but for the larger struggle against censorship of which he is but a small part. Ultimately, with his one wish and all of the concentration he can muster, Haroun, "wish[es] this Moon, Kahani, to turn, so that it¹s no longer half in light and half in darkness"(170). Haroun wishes for the sun to shine equally on both halves of the moon, on both sides of the dilemma. Similarly, it seems Rushdie ultimately wishes for both sides of the censorship crisis to view each other with equal lighting, to abandon the differences between them and cease the destructive bickering, murder, terrorism and other human rights violations. Thus, the Haroun character also stands allegorically for Rushdie in a humbling fashion which lessens the importance of the individual and heightens the importance of the larger problem.

In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie uses allegorical figures and structures to relay his beliefs, persona, and reasoning to his reader. Through the Kahani Moon, the Ocean, and specifically the Old Zone, Rushdie allegorically expresses his desires to alter the role of censorship in the literary world and consoles his own son. He highlights these by including bits and pieces of himself within the characters of the book, denoting himself as sometimes egotistical, sometimes willing to laugh at himself, and sometimes rather humble. Because of his inclusion of his own persona in Prince Bolo and Princess Batcheat, though, Rushdie effectively removes his own individuality from the larger question of censorship and leaves the novel as a plea, and a wish, to end the sort of censorship which now permeates his life.

[These materials have been adapted from a paper written by Mark McDannald for Professor Suzanne Keen's English 350, Postcolonial Literature, Washington and Lee University, 1997.]

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