Midnight’s Children

Midnight’s Children

Midnight’s Children Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Salman Rushdie's Midnight’s Children. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Salman Rushdie

Ahmed Salman Rushdie was born into a wealthy Kashmiri-Muslim family in Bombay before India declared independence from British rule. His father was a skilled lawyer and businessman, and his mother was a teacher. Early in life, he was educated at a private school in Mumbai and later attended a British boarding school. Ultimately, Rushdie studied at King’s College, University of Cambridge, where he earned an M.A. in history. He began his career in London in the 1970s as a copywriter for numerous advertising agencies and published his first two books during this time, including Midnight’s Children. Following the success of Midnight’s Children—which subsequently won the Booker Prize in 1981 and the Best of the Bookers in 1993 and 2008—Rushdie began writing full-time and has since published several award-winning novels, essays, and short stories, including The Satanic Verses and East, West. In 1983, he was elected as a fellow to the Royal Society of Literature, the United Kingdom’s premier literary organization, earning him the credentials FRSL. Following the 1988 publication of The Satanic Verses, a controversial novel concerning Islam and a controversial Muslim tradition, Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran, issued a fatwa, or bounty, on Rushdie’s head for blasphemy. After Rushdie was forced to spend years in hiding, the former president of Iran declared the fatwa finished; however, the order was never officially lifted, and the bounty was recently increased in 2016 to over three million dollars. In 1999, Rushdie was awarded Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, the highest form of French recognition for contribution to the arts, and in June of 2007, he was knighted by the Queen of England for accomplishments in literature. Since 2000, Rushdie has lived exclusively in New York City, where he was named the Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University in 2015. He entered into four marriages, each ending in divorce, and has two sons, Zafar, born in 1979, and Milan, born in 1997.
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Historical Context of Midnight’s Children

Major occurrences within protagonist Saleem Sinai’s life are juxtaposed alongside Indian and other world events, and Rushdie even incorporates actual historical figures—such as Indira Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India—as characters within the novel. Arguably, one of the most important historical events in Midnight’s Children is Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, a country-wide state of emergency which took place in India from 1975 to 1977. Gandhi recommended the Emergency to the President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, in response to growing civil unrest and violence, and it was so declared on June 25, 1975. The Emergency suspended the citizens’ right to vote, giving Gandhi absolute power—and the ability to rule by decree. She censored the press and imprisoned those who opposed her, including other politicians. Many human rights violations took place during the Emergency, such as a forced sterilization program planned and executed by Gandhi’s son, Sanjay, a fellow Indian politician. The Emergency officially ended on March 23, 1977, after Gandhi released the last political prisoners and allowed citizens to vote. Midnight’s Children is a critical look at this dark time in Indian history and the tyrannical rulings of Indira Gandhi, who sued Rushdie for libel in 1984. Surprisingly, Gandhi’s lawsuit did not seek to ban the book or strike her name from it; instead, she sought to remove a single sentence which implied that her husband died as a result of her neglect, hence her nickname throughout the novel as the Widow. Gandhi won her case and the offending sentence was removed from the published text.

Other Books Related to Midnight’s Children

Many of Salman Rushdie’s works, including Midnight’s Children and The Enchantress of Florence, fall under the subgenre known as magical realism, which is a specific type of artistic realism that seeks to depict everyday occurrences infused with magical or supernatural elements. Magical realism is thought to have originated with Latin American works from the mid-twentieth century, such as Jorge Luis Borges’s Ficciones and Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, which Rushdie actually references in Midnight’s Children. Since then, magical realism has grown to include other works of English literature, such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman. Rushdie claims to have been influenced by the writing of both Borges and García Márquez, as well as James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon, whose level of complexity is reflected in Rushdie’s own writing. Midnight’s Children is heavily intertextual—meaning it frequently references other famous literary works—and Rushdie often mentions the Middle Eastern folktale, One Thousand and One Nights, along with other texts, such Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Rushdie is also an important contributor to postcolonial literature (works written by people from previously colonized countries primarily focusing on the political and cultural implications of independence on the formerly oppressed), and Midnight’s Children has become a postcolonial mainstay, along with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid.
Key Facts about Midnight’s Children
  • Full Title: Midnight’s Children
  • When Written: Late 1970s through 1980
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: 1981
  • Literary Period: Postmodern, Postcolonial
  • Genre: Magical realism
  • Setting: The subcontinent of India
  • Climax: Shiva and the Indian army attack and destroy the magicians’ ghetto, where Saleem lives with his wife, Parvati-the-witch, and her son, the biological child of Shiva whom Saleem claims as his own.
  • Antagonist: Shiva
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Midnight’s Children

Back-up Plan. Rushdie has long since been a huge fan of film and theater and claims that acting was his back-up career choice in the event that his writing failed to take off. Rushdie’s love for film is reflected in his writing, which is infused with numerous references to actors and movies, and he even made cameo appearances in the films Bridget Jones’s Diary and Then She Found Me.

Banned Books. Many of Salman Rushdie’s works are considered controversial, especially within Muslim societies, and The Satanic Verses has been banned in several countries. Rushdie reports that when his mother lived in Pakistan, he was unable to enter the country to visit her.