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Who is Salman Rushdie, A Man Caught Between Two Worlds
For a Muslim man who grew up in India, moved to England, and then went into hiding, Salman Rushdie has become an influential writer of the century (Liukkonen). His unique experiences throughout his life have shaped evocative plots in his works. Many of his stories demonstrate the hardships of obtaining societal approval, which was a long-term problem throughout his life. He entertains both eastern and western cultures by interconnecting the two cultures in creative and stylish pieces of fiction that depict migration, cultural hybridization, and transnational identity.
Salman Rushdie was first introduced to the eastern culture in his childhood. He was born on June 19, 1947, in Bombay, Maharashtra, India. His parents, Anis Ahmed and Negin Butt Rushdie, were of the liberal and prosperous middle-class (Ho). He was the only boy in the family and had three younger sisters. Rushdie was born into an Islamic family, but he was not brought up to have Islam as a primary focus in his life. Even though Islam was not present in his childhood, he was still very interested in religion because it was important to the Indian culture (Ahmad 1318).
His themes of the western culture originated because Rushdie grew up in a secular environment. His classmates at the Cathedral School in Bombay (established by the Anglo-Scottish Educational Society), were very diverse, ranging from American to Japanese nationalities. From 1961 to 1964, Rushdie attended one of England’s finest boys’ schools, Rugby. Unfortunately, his inconsiderate peers called him demeaning names such as “wog,” “snotnose,” and “sniffer” (Ahmad 1319). Because Rushdie received cruelty and racism in his early school years, he was motivated to put them as subjects in his future works. After Rugby, he went to King’s College at Cambridge from 1964 to 1968 to complete his studies (Ahmad 1319).
After his education, Salman Rushdie stayed in England and started to assimilate into western culture. In 1976, he married Clarissa Luard, a proper English woman. They had a son named Zafar in 1980, but the marriage ended in divorce seven years later. The next year, Rushdie married Marianne Wiggins, an American novelist, but life was too stressful during Rushdie’s hiding, so the marriage did not last. Elizabeth West was his third wife in 1997, and they had a son named Milan. But in 2000, after four decades in London, Rushdie left Elizabeth and his two children and moved to New York, explicitly, to Padma Lakshmi, his fourth and current wife since 2004 (Ahmad 1322). His love relationships definitely had an impact on Rushdie as well as his works. Another theme in his stories is searching and obtaining love. Since Rushdie’s life engendered many ideas due to his complex encounters, he was able to win steady fame.
Rushdie’s rise in his literary career was a gradual success. His first fictional story, “Over the Rainbow,” was written at the age of ten. From 1969 to 1980, Rushdie was living off unstable jobs varying from acting to advertising, but in 1980 his luck changed with the publication of Midnight’s Children (Ahmad 1319). In 1981, it won the Booker McConnell Prize for fiction, the most prestigious award in England, and in 1993, it won the Booker of Bookers’, the prize given to the work believed to be the best Booker recipient of the previous twenty-five years (Holcombe). Even though Midnight’s Children brought Rushdie literary attention, it was the Satanic Verses that brought him world-wide fame (Ahmad 1320).
The Satanic Verses was a very controversial novel that had many opponents because it was found to disregard the beliefs of the Islamic culture. “The Satanic Verses (1988) became famous for the enemies it made him” (Ahmad 1320). The fictional book outraged devout Muslims because of its disrespectful references to the religion, Islam. Ayatollah Khomeini, a Muslim religious leader, issued a fatwa against Rushdie in 1989. He and other extremists put forth millions of dollars to have Rushdie killed, and Rushdie was soon forced into hiding (“Salman Rushdie,” DISCovering Biography). After seven years Rushdie arose out of hiding and on September 25, 1998, the Iranian government lifted the fatwa, even though certain fundamentalist groups claimed that the fatwa could not be lifted. Rushdie was reported to say that the lifting of the fatwa felt like “another step back into the light” (“(Ahmed) Salman Rushdie”). After long years in hiding for writing a fictional book that gave an unintentional offense, Rushdie started to live a normal life once again. This incident affected his works because it demonstrated matters of rejection in society. In his times of “light” and “darkness”, Rushdie continued to write about similar premises that are presented in numerous works.
In Salman Rushdie’s collection of short stories, East, West, Rushdie explores the lives of people of eastern ethnicity and the conflicts they confront in the western environment (Ho). The collection of stories is divided into three sets: the East, the West, and the combination of both East and West. “Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies” deals with the happenings in the East, “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” deals with the happenings in the West, and “The Courter” deals with the cultural hybridization of both cultures (Ho). These stories are very similar in the characterization, symbolism, and theme.
“Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies” explores how people are content with living in an eastern environment. Miss Rehana, a beautiful Indian girl, was on her way to get a permit to go to Great Britain when Muhammad Ali, an expert advice giver, begs her to take his advice for free. He tells her how she should proceed when getting the permit. Muhammad Ali then tries to help her by suggesting that he can get a fake passport for her. Disgusted, Miss Rehana walks out on Muhammad Ali and goes to get her permit. When she comes out smiling, Muhammad Ali assumes that she obtained the permit. She says to him that she needed to get the permit because she had an arranged marriage to an old man who lives in England. But then she continued by saying that she did not get the permit, because she did not follow his advice. Yet she is still happy because she did not want to go to England and get married to the old man.
“Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies” regards the small-town people of India who have diverse characteristics. The main character is the young beautiful girl, Miss Rehana. This is not typical in Rushdie’s works because the protagonist of his stories is usually a male figure (Ahmad 1323). “Miss Rehana’s eyes were large and black and bright enough not to need the help of antimony, and when the advice expert Muhammad Ali saw them he felt himself becoming young again” (Rushdie 5). The men tend to fawn over her because of her attractiveness. One example of the superficiality of the men is portrayed when Muhammad Ali was willing to give free advice about receiving a permit in order to look at her for a longer period of time. Another characteristic found in the story is the reliability of people. At the end of the short story, Miss Rehana turned out to be an unreliable character, which is an attribute of Rushdie’s characters (Holcombe). When she returned after applying for a permit with a smile, Muhammad Ali and the readers think that she obtained the permit, but in reality she did not. Miss Rehana would rather go against societal pressures to get married than live an unhappy life with a husband who she did not know. Unhappiness was represented many times in the story; it was also symbolized by the permit to London.
The symbolism of the permit to London revolves around the concept of contentment in the world. “Now I will go back to Lahore and my job. I work in a great house, as ayah to three good boys. They would have been sad to see me leave” (Rushdie 15). If Miss Rehana had received the permit to go to London, she would have had to leave everything that she loved behind in India. Muhammad Ali, described the permit process to be a tedious task involving an interrogation of the applier. Therefore, the permit also symbolizes that integration is hard to accomplish. With so many obstacles standing in Miss Rehana’s way of going to London, it can be inferred from the story that she was not destined to migrate and leave her home in India. Her home in India is significant to her, and it is also one of the themes of the short story.
Indian nationalism is a major theme of “Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies”. It was shown in the end as a reason why Miss Rehana did not decide to go to England. But there are many other themes in the story. For example, attraction and arranged marriage are other themes. The men were attracted to Miss Rehana, and from the attraction came good works, especially from Muhammad Ali. He gave her the advice that helped her get rejected for the permit. The story also portrayed that happiness was indeed stronger than marriage and that arranged marriages did not work out. “It was an arranged engagement…I was nine years old when my parents fixed it, Mustafa Dar was already thirty at that time…Then my parents died and Mustafa Dar went to England and said he would send for me. That was many years ago” (Rushdie 14). Miss Rehana wanted to live a happy life in India, instead of a miserable life in England. This book had much to do with the occurrences with the East, but Rushdie had much to say about the West as well.
“At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” depicts the happenings of the western culture. The unnamed main character comes to an auction where it is selling a pair of ruby slippers. The main character believes that by purchasing the ruby slippers, he would win over his love, Gale. Because so many people want the ruby slippers, he does not bid the highest price, and therefore, he does not get the slippers. But the character still believes that life goes on and he is anticipating the next auction so he can buy something to impress Gale.
“At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” described life in the West. The stories out of the “West set” tend to be the dullest, because there are no culturally diverse dilemmas (Ho). There was only one main character in the story, and his characterization is unique compared to Rushdie’s other characters in that he shows more hope than pessimism (Ahmad 1324). He seemed to be living on his own which showed a sense of maturity, but he still had a superficial, desperate, and oblivious personality. The man was very shallow because he thought the slippers would attract his lover. He was desperate to find love, and he was determined to do anything to have it. Even though the ruby slippers are shown to be a materialistic prize, the narrator thought it represented something completely different.
The ruby slippers can be symbolized differently according to the viewpoint of the narrator or reader. According to the narrator, the ruby slippers were a form of success. With the slippers, he would be recognized from the diverse crowd of people as a winner. He desperately wanted to find love, and he believed that with the slippers he would obtain it. But to the average reader, the ruby slippers symbolized stupidity and materialism. The readers believe that the narrator is very naïve for believing that his lover would take him back for the slippers. If this were true, the story would describe the world as being very materialistic. But instead, there are more positive themes.
There are several western themes to “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers.” The story depicts a sense of unity among the diverse range of people at the auction, all vying for the same prize. But at the same time, it shows a theme of competition that arouses people. Along with competition, there is always the chance of failure, which was the result for the narrator. In the end, the narrator learns that life does go on, and therefore he does not give up, for there is another auction the following week. As in the previous story, there is a theme about love. This story does represent a superficial attraction like the one before, but it also depicts how love can make people do crazy things.
The final story in the collection, East, West, is “The Courter.” The story of “The Courter” is how the young boy learns of the difficulties of integrating cultures. The young boy goes through a number of tough experiences that made living in the western environment a nightmare. His family gets laughed at for their eastern habitual actions, such as the use of wrong vocabulary. They also are victims of violent attacks. But they still survive on the good works that take place in the West.
The characters of “The Courter” are distinctive because they are of eastern ethnicity in western times. There are quite a few characters in the story, but the main male protagonist is young boy who is left unnamed. The boy is a preteen living in England whose parents emigrated from India. Because the boy was very young, he tended to be very immature towards others. He gave sharp nicknames to people, and often played cruel jokes on them. But when other people started to discriminate his family and him, he began to learn from his experiences.
The game of chess was symbolic in the story of “The Courter.” It represented the happiness of the family in a game that required thinking and skill. The family did not feel discriminated while playing the game. It was their form of enjoyment where they could not be bothered by trivial matters. The game is customary in both the East and the West. It shows how the two cultures combine for the same interest. Cultural hybridization was the main point of the story, and it showed how cultures learn to integrate even though it can be wearisome (Ahmad 1323).
The main theme of the story is integration and identity. The boy sat through many terrible events of abuse to his family because they were not situated to the English culture as others were. It was tough for the family to withstand the prejudices against them, but they never gave up on it. With all these experiences, the young boy started to consider his identity in the world (Liukkonen). He was of Indian ethnicity living in an English world. Even though, he was embarrassed by his parents’ constant cultural mistakes, he realized that he would have done the same.
In his stories, Rushdie definitely depicted the faults and virtues of characters that made the stories entertaining pieces of fiction. He defined the boundaries of the East and West, and showed when they intermix. Because of this original style of writing, he makes his place in the twentieth century context.
Because of Salman Rushdie’s distinct ethnic background, he brings a unique style to British literature. “The culturally and religiously diverse worlds of both India and Great Britain offer Rushdie a wealth of concerns and themes that consistently reflect and refract throughout his works” (Ho). Throughout his works, Rushdie often talks about integration and the difficulties that come with them (Ahmad 1317). A regular style in his works is how he takes history and fictionalizes it into a “new genre” (Holcombe). His distinct style sets him apart from other British contemporary authors who follow a Modernist style, while Rushdie follows a Romantic, Postmodernist, and Post-colonialist style and trend.
Contemporary British authors usually follow the literary movement of Modernism. Literary Modernism focuses on going against rules, and finding new perspectives (Fajardo-Acosta). The authors of Modernism went against public opinion by writing about liberal ideas in their works (“Modernism”). In spite of the fact that Modernism is common in the work of British authors, Rushdie is not considered an author of Modernism. He never focused on breaking away from traditions, but rather on joining the different traditions of different cultures.
Rushdie is an apparent example of a Romantic writer because of his emphasis on individualism (Holcombe). “The basic aims of Romanticism are various: a return to nature and to believe in the goodness of humanity; the rediscovery of the artist as a supremely individual creator; the development of nationalistic pride; and the exaltation of the senses and emotions over reason and intellect” (“Characteristics of Romanticism”). These key points were illustrated in Rushdie’s works. “The Courter” portrayed good works when “Mixed-Up saved the ladies from a violent attack. “Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies” also depicted the goodness of humanity when Muhammad Ali offered Miss Rehana advice. This short story illustrated a sense of nationalistic pride in India, when Miss Rehana remained in India because that was her true home. Another short story by Rushdie, “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers,” also showed his Romantic writings. The main character expressed individualism when trying to set himself apart from the other diverse range of people at the auction. This short story is also Romantic because the character puts emotions over intellect. He was willing to spend good amount of money for red slippers, because he thought it would win over his love. Romanticism is somewhat related to Postmodernism, another literary movement in which Rushdie is involved.
Salman Rushdie is distinguished as a Postmodernist writer because of his constant themes of coexistence displayed in his works (Ahmad 1317). Postmodernism is characterized by emphasis on the ideas of the value and independence of the local society, the numerous amount of outcomes of human existence, and the coexistence of clashing cultures” (Fajardo-Acosta). “Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies” exhibits Rushdie’s Postmodernist writing. The story talked about how the small town in India was independent and lived on simple necessities. The story also gave a theme of coexistence when it talked about how the Indians lived together and how even the smallest job, like a bus driver, would be noticed in society. “The Courter” showed how the autonomy of the people relied on people’s good works. When Rushdie is recognized as a Postmodernist, he usually is recognized as a Post-colonialist as well.
Salman Rushdie is a strong follower in the Post-colonial literary movement (Ahmad 1317). Post-colonialism is characterized by the depictions of the experiences of the victims or individuals of colonial power (Fajardo-Acosta). His short story, “The Courter,” is a great example of Post-colonialism because it depicts the discrimination towards the Eastern people by the Western culture. The character, “Mixed-Up,” endured an attack from the Western society because he was a victim of prejudices. But Salman Rushdie does not usually allow an ending of internal divisions to take place in his works. A feeling of contentment does come over the characters, where the diverse cultures come together.
Salman Rushdie became a literary success for many reasons. His upbringing and childhood gave him personal experiences of integration that became important themes and morals for his works. Because of Rushdie’s individuality, he was set apart from other British contemporaries because he followed different literary movements. Rushdie’s use of fictionalizing history made entertaining and controversial plots that gathered readers from all over the world. Rushdie’s works impacted the world because of his free speech and political statements. Salman Rushdie will always be remembered as a twentieth century British author whose success arose from his literary talents and his political mind.
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