Haroun and the Sea of Stories

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Balance and Opposites Theme Analysis

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Language, Words, and Naming Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Power and Censorship Theme Icon
Balance and Opposites Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Balance and Opposites Theme Icon

Throughout the novel, Haroun is confronted with opposing poles and concepts that are seemingly unable to coexist. Good struggles with evil; stories and language struggle with silence; absurdity struggles with logic. However, Haroun comes to realize that it's impossible to have, for example, only silence—there must be a balance of silence and sound, and this need for balance remains a common thread throughout.

The war between Chup and Gup, as well as the conflicts in Alfibay, are wars and battles of opposites. As Haroun journeys through Alfibay and Kahani, the reader is encouraged to make comparisons between the two sides. When the battle between the Guppees and the Chupwalas concludes thanks to Haroun's wish that the moon Kahani rotate, bringing day to Chup for the first time in many years, it becomes obvious that the victory wasn't just due to one side's superiority. The victory came in finding balance, not in the triumph of one side over the other.

Opposites are explored often through the use of character foils. The most developed foil is that between Rashid Khalifa and the twin characters Mr. Sengupta and Khattam-Shud. Rashid is loud, imaginative, and at times too caught up in telling stories to pay attention to what's going on in the real world. In contrast, Mr. Sengupta and Khattam-Shud are logical and down-to-earth to a fault, and have no time for stories or imagination. Prince Bolo also acts as an opposite for Mudra, the Shadow Warrior. Prince Bolo, despite speaking conventionally, never has anything particularly useful to say, while Mudra is unable to speak conventionally. However, what Mudra does "say" through the gesture language Abhinaya is fully thought out and taken seriously. By providing examples of characters on opposite ends of a spectrum, the novel further indicates the need for a happy medium. Every character is needed to truly tell the story, and as such the novel as a whole presents the balance for which it advocates.

Several characters, including Haroun, present a more balanced array of beliefs and traits. Butt the Hoopoe, as a machine, walks a fine line between scientific rationality and more human feeling and emotion. He is rational to a fault at times, which provides humor, but he also shows great insight into the human condition and the state of the world in a very emotional and human way. Mudra as well, because of his shadow, is able to achieve a great sense of balance, which helps him to be a successful communicator and warrior. He stands in stark contrast to other Chupwalas who have lost all sense of trust in their shadows, setting them completely off balance within themselves.

The Kahani lands of Gup and Chup also act as foils for each other. Gup is warm, friendly, and talkative, while Chup is a place of ice, fear, and silence. Chup, for all its seriousness, has to rely on elements of absurdity to make life livable there. All the residents wear nose warmers that look like clown noses to keep their real noses from freezing off, alluding to the idea that the extreme censorship that Chup experiences is, to some degree, absurd. In the same vein, despite Gup's belief in stories and nonsense, and an appreciation for the unpredictability of stories, the Eggheads and the Walrus rely on complicated, inherently rational science in order to keep the moon Kahani from turning, keeping life in Gup predictable and safe. In this way, despite presenting two opposite ways of life, the novel indicates that it's impossible to be fully one way or another. This idea becomes fully crystallized when the reader learns that Khattam-Shud, despite wanting silence for all, speaks—he's unable to maintain his power to dictate silence if he himself is silent.

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Balance and Opposites ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Balance and Opposites appears in each Chapter of Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Balance and Opposites Quotes in Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Below you will find the important quotes in Haroun and the Sea of Stories related to the theme of Balance and Opposites.
Chapter 5 Quotes

"A strange sort of Story Moon our Kahani would be, if storybook things weren't everywhere to be found." And Haroun had to admit that that was a reasonable remark.

Related Characters: Butt (speaker), Haroun Khalifa, Iff
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Haroun and Iff are speeding towards Gup City on Butt the Hoopoe, and Haroun is thinking that all manner of fanciful stories are coming true. Butt's reply highlights the relationship between absurdity and logic, and the balance between the two that is necessary for such a story to make sense. Since Kahani means "story," the fact that the moon Kahani is filled with storybook things makes perfect logical sense. However, this is one idea that builds throughout the novel and only becomes clear at the very end, when it's revealed that Haroun's sad city is also named Kahani. In this way, Butt's declaration here also serves to help the ending of the novel make sense, as one could argue that Soraya's return and the sad city's naming is a happy ending that could only be found in a storybook. However, since Kahani the moon and Kahani the city are linked by their name, they're both therefore subject to storybook logic.

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Chapter 6 Quotes

—"I don't know," panted Iff as he struggled to keep up with the charging boy. "We've never caught a spy before. Maybe we should scold him. Or make him stand in the corner. Or write I must not spy one thousand and one times. Or is that too severe?"

Related Characters: Iff (speaker), Haroun Khalifa, Rashid Khalifa
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Rashid has just been captured as a spy by the Guppee forces, and Haroun is rushing through the crowd to try to fix the situation. Haroun angrily asks what Guppees do to spies, listing several gruesome torture tactics, which bewilder and offend Iff and the surrounding Guppees.

Haroun comes from a place in Alfibay that relies on censorship to maintain order. Spies in Alfibay, presumably, are subjected to interrogation and torture in order to reveal their secrets. However, the punishments Iff suggests for spies are humorously minor in comparison. This begins to provide evidence of the sort of people the Guppees are—peaceful, open, and shocked even by the possibility of having to write lines (and the number of lines proposed is another reference to the 1001 Nights). These qualities then stand in stark contrast to the cruel society of the Chupwalas, who are not only secretive but sew their mouths shut as a sacrifice to Bezaban. The opposites at play allow Haroun to consider the differences between the two sides and where a happy, balanced medium might be.

Haroun noted that many other Pages of the Royal Guard were dressed in half-familiar stories. One Page wore the tale of ‘Bolo and the Wonderful Lamp’; another, ‘Bolo and the Forty Thieves’. Then there was ‘Bolo the Sailor’, ‘Bolo and Juliet’, ‘Bolo in Wonderland’.

Related Characters: Haroun Khalifa, Blabbermouth
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

Blabbermouth is leading Haroun to the Throne Room to meet his father, and Haroun is puzzled by the stories written on the Pages' tunics. The imagery of the tunics themselves reinforces that the novel is a book about books, stories, and words, as does the double meaning of "page." The many stories referenced on the Pages' tunics also provide another way for Rushdie to make overt references to outside works that span a great deal of time and geography, which further situates the novel as being dependent on these other works to form meaning. However, the changing of the title characters' names to Bolo is a relatively benign act of censorship and draws attention to the question of when censorship of this sort is appropriate, or if it’s censorship it all. The novel takes the position that it's essential to preserve stories, as they're a way for humans to connect to each other and connect with their history—but the reader is then asked to question whether these stories going to be truly preserved if the names are changed. Or, as Butt says, will these stories be able to handle some shaking up and change?

Chapter 7 Quotes

Haroun was rather shocked. "That sounds like mutinous talk to me," he suggested, and Iff, Goopy, Bagha and Mali found that very interesting indeed. "What's a Mutinous?" asked Iff, curiously. "Is it a plant?" Mali inquired.
"You don't understand," Haroun tried to say. "It's an Adjective."
"Nonsense," said the Water Genie. "Adjectives can't talk."
"Money talks, they say," Haroun found himself arguing (all this argument around him was proving infectious), "so why not Adjectives? Come to that, why not anything?"

Related Characters: Haroun Khalifa (speaker), Iff (speaker), Mali (speaker), Bagha, Goopy
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Haroun and the Guppee army are speeding across the Ocean towards the Land of Chup, loudly debating whether it's better to prioritize saving Batcheat or the Ocean. Haroun has been raised in Alfibay, where he's not used to hearing such debate in the first place, but also where debate like this would certainly come with consequences. Through what he experiences both in this moment and in thinking about what the implications of free speech are (and seeing the positive effects of such at the end of the novel), Haroun begins to develop an understanding of the true power of language.

Additionally, this passage showcases how the novel engages with language in a playful but serious way. The characters are debating the seriousness of free speech, but they're also having a rather ridiculous debate regarding parts of speech, what parts of speech can do or stand for, and how different individuals can interpret language in different ways.

"But but but what is the point of giving persons Freedom of Speech," declaimed Butt the Hoopoe, "if you then say they must not utilize the same? And is not the Power of Speech the greatest Power of all? Then surely it must be exercised to the full?"

Related Characters: Butt (speaker), Haroun Khalifa, Rashid Khalifa, Iff, General Kitab
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Haroun, Rashid, and the Guppee army are heading towards the Land of Chup, and Haroun is shocked to hear the Guppees arguing and saying out loud that they'd sacrifice Princess Batcheat for the sake of the Ocean. Haroun remarks that that kind of talk is mutinous, and Butt replies with this consideration of the power of free speech.

As far as actual speech is concerned, the Land of Gup represents a society in which the concept of free speech is taken to the extreme. Individuals can say things that are rude, inflammatory, or that go against the wishes and decisions of those in charge, and all of these vocalizations are not just okay, but encouraged. Haroun and Rashid, however, come from a place where censorship is not as intense as in Chup but where one still cannot get away with saying such things, and so they struggle to understand how this intense display of freedom of speech functions and how it can be a good thing.

Rashid sees later the true positive effect of the debate and argument that takes place during this journey. The openness that it created means that the Guppees are able and willing to support each other and work as a team. The absence of secret thoughts and desires that then have the capacity to do harm is what allows the Guppees to win, and the opposite of this is what causes the Chupwala army to be so grossly ineffective.

"But it's not as simple as that," he told himself, because the dance of the Shadow Warrior showed him that silence had its own grace and beauty (just as speech could be graceless and ugly); and that Action could be as noble as Words; and that creatures of darkness could be as lovely as the children of the light. "If Guppees and Chupwalas didn't hate each other so," he thought, "they might actually find each other pretty interesting. Opposites attract, as they say."

Related Characters: Haroun Khalifa (speaker), Mudra
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

Rashid has led Haroun and the Guppee officials to a Chupwala camp, where they come across Mudra the Shadow Warrior fighting his own Shadow. As they watch, Haroun considers the story in which he's found himself and the opposites at play within it.

With this thought, Haroun takes simply listing opposites or being aware of them one step further, and begins to synthesize them somewhere in the middle. He's seen, for example, Bolo’s speech, which is what is being referred to here as "graceless and ugly." He will soon also see Mudra speak using the gesture language Abhinaya, which further drives home the point that communicating silently can be beautiful. Most importantly is the fact that Haroun sees that the Guppees and Chupwalas have the potential to happily coexist with each other if they could be somehow brought into balance with themselves, each other, and their world, which is essentially what happens when Haroun's wish causes Kahani to turn.

Chapter 8 Quotes

"And of course there can be quarrels between the Shadow and the Substance or Self or Person; they can pull in opposite directions—how often have I witnessed that!-- but just as often there is a true partnership, and mutual respect. —So Peace with the Chupwalas means Peace with their Shadows, too."

Related Characters: Mudra (speaker)
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

Mudra and his Shadow are explaining to the Guppees about the partnership between Chupwalas and their Shadows, who often possess stronger personalities than the Person they're attached to. However, what Mudra describes demonstrates a situation in which a great degree of balance is achieved within a Person-Shadow whole, as the Person and Shadow can make up for each other's weaknesses and support their other half's strengths.

Throughout the novel, partnering is a way to achieve balance and happiness. Rashid's partnership with Soraya is strong enough to overcome the sadness of the sad city; Plentimaw Fishes mate for life and speak in verse to express their union; and Chupwalas have friends in their shadows. Through a partnership such as the one Mudra describes, the novel presents tangible examples of two different individuals, sometimes opposites, achieving balance.

"All my life I've heard about the wonderful Sea of Stories, and Water Genies, and everything; but I started believing only when I saw Iff in my bathroom the other night. And now that I've actually come to Kahani and seen with my own eyes how beautiful the Ocean is, with its Story Streams in colours whose names I don't even know, and its Floating Gardeners and Plentimaw Fishes and all, well, it turns out I may be too late, because the whole Ocean's going to be dead any minute if we don't do something. And it turns out that I don't like the idea of that, sir, not one bit. I don't like the idea that all the good stories in the world will go wrong for ever and ever, or just die. As I say, I only just started believing in the Ocean, but maybe it isn't too late for me to do my bit."

Related Characters: Haroun Khalifa (speaker), Rashid Khalifa, Iff, General Kitab
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

General Kitab has asked for a volunteer to investigate the second Khattam-Shud's activities and the Ocean's poisoning in the Old Zone. Haroun offers to go, and delivers this speech explaining why. Through this speech, Haroun begins to answer the guiding question of the novel regarding the purpose of stories. He's seen, first of all, how beautiful the physical embodiment of these stories is. This experience builds upon a lifetime of hearing these stories, which have surely provided guidance, entertainment, and fun to Haroun's life before he even believed in Kahani's existence.

Mudra's explanation of what happens when absolute silence is enforced has also certainly influenced Haroun. In addition to hearing about the mayhem and distrust caused by mandatory silence, Haroun has seen the terrifying effects of the Ocean's poisoning firsthand through his Princess Rescue Story experience. All of these experiences culminate in Haroun realizing the value of stories and of preserving them for future generations. When expanded to incorporate not just the events of the novel itself but the novel as a whole and stories in general, this speech turns into a passionate cry against the effects of censorship, so that stories might be enjoyed by all, whatever their use.

"Never thought it'd be so bad!"
"We have failed you! We feel sad!"
"I feel terrible! She feels worse!"
"We can hardly speak in verse."

Related Characters: Bagha (speaker), Goopy (speaker), Haroun Khalifa, Iff, Butt, Mali
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

Goopy and Bagha are explaining to Haroun, Iff, Mali, and Butt the Hoopoe that they cannot continue heading south towards the Wellspring given the state of the Ocean, as the poison affects them too much. This is a prime example of how verse is used throughout the novel to highlight important passages or ideas. The Plentimaw Fish mate for life, and speak in verse with their life partners in order to express this union. Knowing this, it underscores just how poisoned the Ocean is that this pair of Plentimaw Fish is considering that they may not be able to speak in verse as a consequence (and thus also may lose the strength of their bond).

This also mirrors what Haroun observes on the road over the mountains between the Town of G and the Valley of K. Near G, the signs along the road warning drivers to drive carefully rhyme, but as the road climbs the mountain, the signs stop rhyming. In this way, rhyming is normalized, while at the same time it serves to highlight important passages. In this system, when rhyming is given up, it indicates an even more important statement.

Chapter 9 Quotes

"But this is all too fanciful for words," he told himself. "A boat made out of shadows? A shadow-ship? Don't be nuts." But the idea kept nagging at him, and wouldn't let go. Look at the edges of everything here, said a voice in his head. The edges of the poison tanks, the crane, the ship itself. Don't they look, well, fuzzy? That's what shadows are like; even when they're sharp, they're never as sharp-edged as real, substantial things.

Related Characters: Haroun Khalifa (speaker), Khattam-Shud, Iff
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

Haroun and Iff are being shown onto Khattam-Shud's ship in the Old Zone of the Ocean. Haroun and Iff have been warned that since Khattam-Shud can separate himself from his shadow, he can be in two places at once, and here Haroun is confronted with the instinct that he's dealing with the shadow version.

Throughout the novel, Haroun has been on a journey in which he's not only attempting to save his father and stories, but in which he's also learning to trust himself. Haroun makes many observations about his surroundings, but this situation is extremely important to his growth and development. Through this mental nagging, Haroun is learning to trust in not just the logic he grew up with in Alfibay, but in the nonsensical, storybook logic of Kahani. This, in turn, allows Haroun to triumph, as he wins the war by accepting and working within the absurdity of Kahani.

Chapter 10 Quotes

We must make a great many poisons, because each and every story in the Ocean needs to be ruined in a different way. To ruin a happy story, you must make it sad. To ruin an action drama, you must make it move too slowly. To ruin a mystery you must make the criminal's identity obvious even to the most stupid audience..."

Related Characters: Khattam-Shud (speaker), Haroun Khalifa, Iff
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

Khattam-Shud is explaining to Haroun and Iff how he and his Chupwala minions are going about manufacturing poisons to target individual stories in the Ocean. This is one situation in which the novel engages in a very direct way with storytelling elements and conventions, and asks in a more roundabout way what makes a good story. Khattam-Shud has evidently figured out how to make individual types of stories into bad stories, which will in turn mean that those stories aren't then told. This take on censorship varies greatly from what Khattam-Shud is enforcing in Chup with the Silence Laws, as he doesn't need to enforce silence to end these stories—he must merely make them unlikable, unsuccessful, and boring.

Chapter 11 Quotes

And as for the rest, well, their vows of silence and their habits of secrecy had made them suspicious and distrustful of one another.

Related Characters: Mudra
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator is explaining for the reader what happened during the battle of Bat-Mat-Karo. This sentence is speaking specifically about the Chupwalas who didn't turn on their own Shadows, although all the Chupwalas were easily defeated by the Guppee forces.

Here, we see the dire consequences of Khattam-Shud's Silence Laws. The Silence Laws rendered the Chupwala army unwilling and unable to trust each other, as the Chupwalas were unable to share conversation with each other and build a sense of community. The novel makes it very clear through the Chupwalas' easy defeat that secrets and silence lead to this shattering of community, and in comparison, open discourse where all ideas are equally considered is how individuals build community, trust, and respect for each other.