"Specks of Voiceless Dust": Midnight's Children and the Impact of the Bildungsroman on the National Narrative of Postmodern India

Anne Gala


Salman Rushdie’s use of the 19th Century Bildungsroman form in his novel, Midnight’s Children, explores a young man’s coming of age on the threshold of a changing society while simultaneously illustrating the futility of an Indian national narrative. Rushdie’s novel spans four generations but centers on the journey of his protagonist, Saleem Sinai. Born at the exact moment of India’s independence in 1947, Saleem is inexorably “handcuffed to history”, his birth marking the birth of a new India. Saleem embodies India in the novel, his magical powers literally enabling him to contain all of India’s voices within himself. The novel charts Saleem’s life, detailing his rise and fall through social classes and his effort to find identity in an increasingly fractured society. Critics argue that Rushdie uses the 19th Century European Bildungsroman, a type of coming of age structure, as a model to chart Saleem’s passage from birth to adulthood in Midnight’s Children. Many elements that characterize the genre can be found in the novel, and the influence of European narrative forms mirrors the effect of colonialism in India. I assert that Rushdie sets up Saleem’s growth in the style of the Bildungsroman and proceeds to dismantle the genre through Saleem’s failure to achieve a concrete personal identity, as well as the character’s failure to assimilate into society. As a postmodern novel, Midnight’s Children rejects the idea of unified self. Therefore, if Saleem, as India, fails to rectify his fractured self, what does this say about India’s ability to achieve a unified nation narrative? This paper explores how the breakdown of the Bildungsroman in the novel reflects the inability for a national narrative of postmodern India.


Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie, Bildungsroman, National Narratives

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