Analysis

Saleem not only claims that he was immediately conscious and self-aware as an infant but also that he was ultimately responsible for the events that unfolded during his early childhood. Saleem has placed himself at the center of his world—his significance confirmed by a prime minister’s letter, a newspaper photo, and the predictions of a holy man. At the same time, Saleem is perfectly aware of his features, particularly his enormous nose, which he willingly describes as ugly. Saleem’s features, however, are more than just his own: he has his grandfather’s nose and eyes, and yet he is not biologically related to Aadam Aziz. He has two birthmarks, which he describes as being on the west and east sides of his face, and a nose shaped like a cucumber. His face resembles, to some degree, a map of the Indian subcontinent.

The baby Saleem is already devouring the world with his gaze, in much the same way that the narrative crams itself with incredible amounts of data and sensory experience. Saleem takes responsibility for everything, saying “everything that happened, happened because of me.” Like the narrative, Saleem struggles to contain everything within his grasp. From his father’s alcoholism to the petty affairs of the estate, Saleem wants to claim it all as his, no doubt in part to fulfill the enormous weight and prophecy placed on him since birth. He has piled the frustrated desires and failures of his world onto himself. Rushdie began the novel with references to Adam and the Garden of Eden, and here he draws parallels between young Saleem and the Christ child, as both are presented as magical, redemptive infants whose powers had been prophesied long before their births. Saleem’s ayah, who represents as strongly a maternal figure as Amina does, is named Mary, like Jesus’ mother, and she has a love interest named Joseph, like Jesus’s father. When Amina goes to the racetrack, the baby Saleem claims to have performed what could be called his first miracle: he multiplies.

Continuing to make use of myths, religions, and symbols, Rushdie employs a childhood board game, Snakes and Ladders, to reinterpret the image of the snake. In the Bible, the devil appears to Adam and Eve as a snake and tempts Eve to break their promise to God and eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Traditionally, good and evil, like snakes and ladders, are seen as opposing and separate forces. However, in real life, these clear categories become confused, and the distinction between them can be ambiguous. The fact that Dr. Schaapsteker could save Saleem’s life by using snake poison represents the notion that the line separating good and evil is never as stark or clear as one might like.