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Identity Crisis in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children

Jannat Parveen, Research Scholar                                                                   
Dr. Manjusha Kaushik, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Kanya Gurukul Campus, Haridwar, Uttarakhand                                                                



The present paper unfolds the concept of identity crisis in Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children. In the present time everyone is affected by the problem of identity crisis. It is a fact that everyone thinks about his own identity and wants to grow himself with his self respect only. His novel reveals the question of identity which he shows through the various characters who struggle for their survival. They are slave of the fate and they do not know what they are searching for so that their lives are meaningless even after so many struggles.  In Midnight’s Children, the novelist tries his best to describe the identity crisis on the one hand and how to satisfy the internal world of an individual on the other.

Key words:  Suffering, Identity Crisis, Contemporary World, Quest for Identity.


            Ahmed Salman Rushdie is a famous novelist, essayist, travel writer, screen writer and he is popularly known for his bold speeches, politics and identity. He is one of the most eminent novelists of modern times. As a modern writer he belongs to the group of Indo-English authors. He has written many novels. His first novel Grimus (1975) is a science fiction. The second novel, Midnight’s Children published in 1981, shows the development in modern India as well as the political condition of Pakistan. The Satanic Verses published in 1988 deals with the violent issues in the Muslim world.

Rushdie mingles the two worlds- British and Indian in his writing. So he covers the different shades of Indian and western tradition in his Writing. His novel incorporates protagonist’s isolation, Indian culture and political condition as well. Rushdie, in the words of Nayantara Sahgal, is a “Schizophrenic author”. (Sahgal 200) She further explains the word Schizophrenia as “a state of mind and feeling that is firmly rooted in particular subsoil but above ground has a more fluid identity that doesn’t fit comfortably into any single mould.” (Sahgal 200) Although he likes his birthplace India yet he is satisfied in foreign environment. Sometime Sahgal feels that Rushdie’s identity changes from time to time. He is not fit for a single frame of mind so he has different identities.

By birth and marriage he is Indian and English by education. His novels contemplate the question of identity and examine the philosophical importance of ideals and concepts. He presents many characters, that are connected to each other and when they separate, they share the identity of one another. He is a keen observer of the violent struggle between different religion, castes, languages, and geographical boundaries of different regions which he also reflects in his novels.

As an emigrant, he moved from one place to another. He migrated from India to Pakistan, where he has gone with his family against his desire. For his studies he moved to England and at last he moved to United States due to fatwa. As an onlooker he grasped the knowledge of various experiences and tries to incorporate in his writing as he has done in his search for an identity.

...exile or emigrants or expatriate are haunted by some sense of loss, some argues to reclaim, to look back even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt. But we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge- which gives rise to profound uncertainties that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost, that we will in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, India’s of the mind. (Rushdie 1991)

The word Identity is not restricted into a single thread. As in psychology and sociology, it is a person’s idea or group relation. The term Identity comes from the French word identite which means “the same.” and crisis denotes confusion because of which people cannot achieve important life goals. The term crisis refers to a person’s feeling of fear, disturbance, disillusion and pain.

The term basically deals with psychological state of mind. It suggests a crisis of self.  The person who sets his goals and priorities in his life time and if he is not able to achieve, he suffers from frustration. Difficulties are the hindrance in the way of progress of a man. It stops man to achieve strong personality or identity. It is really a question of self. If a person is strong inwardly, he will be able to do everything in life because he believes in himself that is the real success of a man and it strengthens the personality as well as the perception towards life. Man with his intellect knows how to protect him against the adverse circumstances but ignorant about his own inner self. Krishna said, “The self is friend of the (transformed) self but the enemy of the unregenerate self.” (Man’s Greatest Adventure, 10)

The term Identity Crisis first coined by German Psychologist Erik Erikson who is famous for his theory on Psychological development of human beings. It relates with a period of transformation in which consciousness of identity of a person becomes quite unsafe. Identity of a man develops through the experience of the crisis. Erikson believes that the creation of identity is one of the most important parts of a person’s life. He has described identity as:

...a subjective sense as well as an observable quality of personal sameness and continuity, paired with some belief in the sameness and continuity of some shared world image. As a quality of unself-conscious living, this can be gloriously obvious in a young person who has found himself as he has found his communality. In him we see emerge a unique unification of what is irreversibly given- that is, body type and temperament, giftedness and vulnerability, infantile models and acquired ideas—with the open choices provided in available roles, occupational possibilities, values offered, mentors met, friendship made, and first sexual encounters. (Erikson, 1970) 

The paper highlights Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children from the point of view of identity crisis. The novel reveals the different shades of identity with its autobiographical touch. The novelist himself is the victim of identity crisis because of migration and cultural displacement in his life in England. With the help of different characters the novelist tries to show the question of identity. Different writers have given the different definition of identity in their own way but the way of Rushdie is totally different.

Rushdie is a diasporic writer. He has experienced the feeling of displacement throughout his life because he grew up on this land which is mostly affected by the British rule. The novel Midnight’s Children are basically a story of the three generations of the Sinai family. The birth of Saleem is an excited event in the novel which creates a modern history of the nation on the one hand and the feeling of revolt on the other. He feels delighted to utter the fact that he was born at the exact moment when India gained its independence:

I was born in the city of Bombay... once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting’ away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more ... On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact... oh, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. (Midnight’s Children. 3)

The novelist beautifully reflects the personalities of the characters through physical appearance. There is something mysterious about personal appearance of Saleem. As he confides, “my large moon face was too large: too perfectly round.” (Midnight’s Children, 169) This fact is a maniac touch about him. His “dark stains spread down my western hairline, a dark patch coloured my eastern ear ... temples like stunted horns, even the rampant cucumber of the nose.” (Midnight’s Children.169)

The word hybridity plays an important role in Rushdie’s fiction. Andrew Teverson in his book Salman Rushdie: Contemporary World Writers writes:

Rushdie’s novels describe the intensified hybridization of an already Indian culture after the colonization of India by the British, and the further hybridization of British culture both in India during the colonial period and in Britain as a result of post-colonial migrations.” (Teverson 128)

The novelist represents cross-multiple cultures in his writings. Saleem has the problem of crossed identity in Midnight’s Children. Sometimes a person himself is not responsible for his downfall. As in the case of Saleem, a selfish lady exchanges the real identity of this newly born baby. But as soon as he comes to maturity, he faces the adverse criticism of the society and gets caught in the mire of clashes. As a first new born child of free India his destiny is chained to his country. He himself tells us, “Newspapers celebrated me; politicians ratified my position. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: ‘Dear Baby Saleem, my belated congratulations on the happy accident of your moment of birth! You are the newest bearer of that ancient face of India which is also eternally young. We shall be watching over your life with the closest attention. It will be, in a sense, the mirror of our own.’” (Midnight’s Children 167)

Saleem is not a lucky child as he is bound with two mothers and several fathers. As he observes: “I have had more mothers than most mothers have children.” (Midnight’s Children. 337). He is frustrated due to the family circumstances and the adverse condition. Not only Saleem but Aadam loses his own identity from the very day when he loses his son named Hanif, he condemns himself and never believes in God. Aadam searches his trust in God in his last days but he wants to take revenge for the death of his son, Hanif. He speaks against God and religion because God has taken away his son. He wants to show his anger against the power of God and he makes a hole in his chest. Firstly, this hole is invisible and he can feel it, but a fter sometime this hole becomes visible to everyone. 

Shiva is another example of identity crisis. Saleem and Shiva are same in some features but in most respect they are fully opposite. In one side, Shiva is a gang leader of children in which mostly boys are older than him. On the other side, Saleem gets horrified by other children. Shiva who is the son of a beggar is aspiring and brutal. He makes a good career when he becomes a favourite general of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. On the other hand Saleem loses his desired objects as well as his loving relation. In every moment a person is not responsible for his downfall. Their life is handled by others as in the case of Saleem or Shiva. They are puppet in the hands of Mary Pereira a nurse who easily transform the life of these two.

There is another example of Identity Crisis when Saleem suffers with a disease called Amnesia. Due to the bomb blast his family dies there and he has lost his senses. He has also lost his magical power of telepathy and he has obtained a super human sense of smell. Through this power, he is sent in the special army unit which uses dogs for searching for Baaghi units in the mountains and where he gets a status of a man dog. Not only does he lose his self but his humanity becomes an animal like dog which is in Muslim culture believed an unclean animal.

Aziz’s identity crisis throughout his life is similar to Kashmiri’s own identity issues. After the partition, most of the population of Kashmir is Muslim while their leader is Hindu whose name is Hari Singh. He is neither on the side of Pakistan nor of India. When Pakistan started fight, he pursued protection from India. Pakistan thought that Muslims of Kashmir would be devastated under the Hindu rule and it should belong to Pakistan because it is mainly inhabited by the Muslims. On the other hand, India stated that the progression of Kashmir was final and complete because it is an important part of India. At last, identity is represented through multiple elements: religion, language, culture, history, nationality, gender, personality traits, amongst other things.

After independence, Rushdie has represented the condition of Muslims in India by some Muslim characters. Narlikar opines, “... freeze a Muslim’s assets, they say, and you make him run to Pakistan, leaving all his wealth behind him.” (Midnight’s Children 185) Muslims think that the Indian government wants to send all the Muslims in Pakistan. In fact the Muslims who lived in India liked to go to Pakistan as Reverend mother said, “What is left in this India? ... Go, leave it all, go to Pakistan.” (Midnight’s Children.189) they feel that it is better to go to Pakistan than to live unhappy life in India.

Another character which shows the crisis is Saleem’s sister who is known by the name of Brass Monkey due to her hair colour is copper. Since her childhood she is a naughty child and knows how to entrap others in her own cage. After sometime when she grows up, everyone knows her by the real name Jamila who becomes a singer and is a religious fanatic. She performs behind the screen and she never shows her face in front of the audience. She is free and wild as a child and she can be easily controlled as an adult woman. When she was a child, she was influenced by her Christian ayah and she copied her in every way. She has totally changed.  Through the character of Jamila the novelist tries to show that a human character has different colours and that colour changes according with the passage of time. As Jamila was very naughty in her childhood but when she comes in a mature age she is totally different from earlier. The novelist beautifully describes the every character minutely.

Another character in the novel is Saleem’s grandfather Aadam Aziz who like others tries to prove his identity. In the opening chapter, after completing his medical studies in Germany, Aziz reached his homeland in Kashmir. When he was praying, he hits his nose, which makes him bleed. From this moment he takes an oath never again to kiss earth for any God. In other word, he sheds his identity as a Muslim.

One Kashmiri morning in the early spring of 1915, my grandfather Aadam Aziz hit his nose against a frost-hardened tussock of earth while attempting to pray. Three drops of blood plopped out of his left nostril, hardened instantly in the brittle air and lay before his eyes on the prayer-mat, transformed into rubies. Lurching back until he knelt with his head once more upright, he found that the tears which had sprung to his eyes had solidified, too; and at that moment, as he brushed diamonds contemptuously from his lashes, he resolved never again to kiss earth for any god or man (Midnight’s Children 4).

He shelters his beliefs against Muslim identity. Sometimes revolt and fighting is essential for justice. To give a lesson to the foreigners Mahatma Gandhi used hartal as a weapon against Britishers and after the Jalianwala Bagh massacre, they came to understand this fact very well that they cannot live on the Hindu land for more time. The time has come to move away from here. So, Aadam Aziz is internalizing this fact very well whether he himself is a Kashmiri or Hindu or a Muslim. He is confused to declare his identity.  However, this revolt leaves him with a permanent mark on his chest. After many years, reflecting on this mark, Aziz says, “I started off as a Kashmiri and not much of a Muslim. Then I got a bruise on the chest that turned me into an Indian”. (Midnight’s Children, 47) At last, he wants to say that this mark is sealed him as an Indian.         

Here we see another exchange of a child which happens when Parvati, wife of Saleem, goes away from her husband and after sometime she conceives a child (Adam Sinai) with Shiva who stumble her out. In this situation she returns to Saleem. After Parvati’s death, he takes care of Aadam. So Aadam is a double-swapped child and he returns to his original family by swapping. He is known by the name of Saleem’s grandfather. After this incident this fact is very clear that ultimate power is in the hands of God. Destiny plays an important role in life.

Thus the paper has shown the problem of Identity crisis through different characters of the novel. They play a very important role in it. In every moment they face the problem because they are not sure what they are searching for. They exchange their personality with someone else and transform into something different. Through his novel Midnight’s Children the novelist beautifully describes the problem of identity and the individual sufferings in the modern world. The novelist uses religious hybridity to represent the time of identity crisis of India at the time of Independence.




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