Fragmentation in Rushdie's Midnight's Children

Ty Hollett, English 393, DePauw University

In Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie emphasizes pieces and fragments -- both fragmented characters and objects -- which symbolize a fragmented India. The perforated sheet serves as the first major form of fragmentation the reader encounters. Through this sheet, Aadam is introduced to and falls in love with Naseem. Rushdie writes,

My grandfather had fallen in love, and had come to think of the perforated sheet as something sacred and magical, because through it had seen which filled up the hole inside which had been created when he had been hit on the nose by a tussock and insulted by the boatman Tai. [p. 23]

The multiple levels of fragmentation here, when teased out further, begin to reveal larger forms of fragmentation. The previous passage hints at the multiple forms of a disjointed India. First, we have the love that grows between Saleem's parents as a result of this perforated sheet. Aadam is only allowed to see Naseem in pieces. Only after months of taking care of her is her entire body revealed to him. This experience, in turn, results in a fragmented love between the two. Fragmented love is then, in turn, passed down in the family. Aadam and Naseem's daughter, Mumtaz "began to train herself to love [Ahmed]. To do this she divided him, mentally, into every single one of his component parts, physically, as well as behaviorally, compartmentalizing him into lips and verbal tics and prejudices" (p.73). Rushdie emphasizes the fragments within the family. The family that Saleem is born into is not one built of true love but a love forced and pieced together.

Only by careful introspection can Saleem acknowledge that he too is fragmented. He explains that "the ghostly essence of the perforated sheet, which doomed my mother to learn to love a man in segments, and which condemned me to see my own life -- its meaning, its structures -- in fragments also; so that by the time I understood it, it was far too late" (p. 119). By being born at the stroke of midnight on the day of India's independence, Saleem's life is broken into two parts: that of the old India and that of the new. He will forever be doomed to live life split down the middle, a life with a supporting "structure" that is unstable.

Rushdie also mentions the "hole inside" Aadam, "which had been created when he had been hit on the nose by a tussock" (p. 23). This hole represents the religious void within Aadam. After hitting his nose while praying, "he resolved never again to kiss earth for any god or man" (p.4). Aadam may very well be a symbol of the religious segmentation, which leads to hostility, in India.

This religious hostility appears in the treatment of Lafifa Das, the peepshow peddler. Lafifa's encounter with the little girl who wants to go "firth" reveals, to the already slightly hysterical town, that he is a Hindu. Das has been forced to hide his religion from the community. His unmasking makes evident the religious intolerance created by fragmentation. When she is told to wait her turn, the little girl cries out, "You've got a nerve coming into thith muhalla! I know you: my father knows you: everyone knows you're a Hindu" (p.82). Because of his religion, Lafifa is then called a "Mother raper" and "violator of [their] daughters." This incident demonstrates that India was already fragmented into muhallas, even before its greater fragmentation into two countries -- India and Pakistan.

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Last modified 10 december 2003