Outsider Characters in Shame and Waterland

Adam Stolorow and Irene Tung, English 27, Postcolonial Studies, Brown University, Autumn 1997

In Waterland and again in Shame we encounter a mentally retarded character (insert "potatohead" or "idiot" as Swift and Rushdie prefer. . .) who plays a crucial role in the narrative. What comparisons can we draw between Dick Crick and Sufiya Zinobia? I'm interested in examining these characters from the view of "the idiot as innocent." Rushdie's narrator explains: "I did it to her, I think, to make her pure. Couldn't think of another way of creating purity in the land of the Pure. . . and idiots are, by definition, innocent" (123).

How do Dick and Sufiya Zinobia work against this characterization? Especially in the case of Dick, the "innocent" who is guilty of murder. . . Is the "idiot" as a literary figure supposed to present his emotions on the surface, through his actions and words? What do these characters hide? [Adam Stolorow]

Rushdie populates Shame with a host of unsavory, unsympathetic characters. Barring a few minor figures, the characters that start out good, either go crazy, like Bilquis, or turn to pure evil, like Sufiya Zinobia, Hyder and Harappa. Omar Khayyam, the (anti-)hero, is the closest there is to a character that the reader can sympathize with, and even he is constructed in way that makes it hard for the reader to identify--as a fat, passive, pedophilic, dirty old man. Although I wouldn't go so far as to call it an optimistic novel, Rushdie's most recent work, The Moor's Last Sigh at least contains a few more redeemable figures. What are Rushdie's motives in his characterization? Does it function to alienate the reader from the text, (probably not, given his extremely effective storytelling techniques and internal narration) What is the effect of this technique on the reader's perceptions of Pakistan and Pakistani people? [Irene Tung]

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