Thursday, October 21, 2010

Inferiority and Insignificance in "The Satanic Verses"

Within the first few pages of
The Satanic Verses,
the two main characters, Gibreel and Saladin, two Indian actors on their way to England, are falling through the air after a bomb was detonated on their plane. The narrator comments that Gibreel and Saladin "fell like tidbits of tobacco from a broken old cigar [4]." This simile is perfect in it's description of the status of the two in England and an immigrant in general. Likening them to rogue bits of tobacco, they become a mere annoyance, something to be simply brushed away into obscurity. Saladin even became one afflicted by such a view of his fellow Indians and Indian culture, choosing to tailor himself as an Englishmen, forcing his face, appearance, voice, and mannerism to become English. But for all the work he has done to achieve his goal, he is still treated like an animal by the constables and officers that arrest him from Rosa Diamond's house once the two land [162-167].
Immigrants as a whole are described as being inferior and unwanted by their trip through customs, having to describe their husband's genitalia and distinguishing marks and travelling with children whose legitimacy is suspect [4]. Customs is requiring them to go through a humiliating process by describing their husband's privates and presenting them with an arbitrary test. The British government is not ensuring these people are coming into the country legitimately, but actively trying to keep them out. And if they are suspected not to be, they are treated horribly, as Saladin and all of the other patients in the "hospital" that he is sent to are. Or when Saladin is initially arrested, he is undressed, physically abused, verbally berated, and made to eat his own excrement. These exemplify their status in the eyes of the English as inferior and insignificant, or as just bits of tobacco falling out of a cigar.


  1. I feel as if your post is particularly interesting having finally read section 5 of the novel. For those readers who are unaware, section five spends its first half dealing with Saladin Chamcha and his transformation into a devil-like creature. You mention in your post that the British view and treat him like an animal, which within the context of what we read seems especially to be a valid reading, but I think this changes later on in the book. I feel that he is viewed less like an animal and more like the incarnation of absolute evil; and evil which is viewed by immigrants, though, as a savior and symbol of hope.
    Why is it necessary to distinguish between the two readings, though? I think it's because Chamcha's transformation, as we have been able to discern from our newer reading, has much more to do with immigration than racism (though the two are intimately linked I feel we need to look at the political aspects of immigration). The British want the immigrants to shut up and either assimilate or leave them alone. They want the immigrants to take the beatings they dole out, surrender their homes when the British demand it, abandon their language etc. Chamcha represents action, a symbol to unite under, and this is what the British consider to be evil.

  2. Timbo, I too feel like we need to look more into the political aspects of immigration. The text certainly informs the idea of an intimate link between immigration and racism, but in a sense it fails at a full dissection of the phenomena in that it neglects providing an alternate solution. It is a very global text, colliding many different cultures together. At every collision the same problem seems to arise: the characters approach each other with preconcieved notions. The Indian nationalists despise the British, the British despise the Indians. While the Indians do not have the global power to treat the British so utterly inhumanely as the British treat them, the disdain exists nonetheless. What the characters from both sides praise is loyalty to the homeland and family. Rushdie does an amazing job painting the problems that arise between the collision of this desire for loyalty and the globalization of the world, but it does not provide a way around it.

  3. ...Woops, cut me off there. I intend to analyze the second half of the novel as a search for how the author proposes to solve this problem. Obviously the British colonization was the initial problem, but as much as we would like to, we cannot go back in time to reverse it. There exist today real world problems that cannot be quick-fixed out of, but need to be arrived at through complex solutions. I want to see what Rushdie does with this.