Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Place and Belonging in The Satanic Verses

The beginning of The Satanic Verses situates the story within the context of ethical displacement. The two Indian actors fall toward England like babies through mothers' birth canals. Without agency, willing or not, the grown men are birthed into a world which views them as outsiders. As Gibreel and Saladin symbolically plunge toward the unwelcoming waters of the English Channel, they find themselves surrounded by debris from the wrecked plane: the source of their untimely birth. This physical refuse accompanies an incorporeal debris, which the narrator describes as "debris of the soul" (Rushdie, 4). The listed debris of the soul contains many elements which pertain to that which is lost for the individual who emigrates from his or her birthplace. In fact, adjectives such as "sloughed-off" and "severed" connote loss, either intentional or forced. This abstract waste includes "the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home (5). This particular passage concerns the loss of meaning, particularly of those words which represent the concept of a place of belonging or acceptance.

Each of the three words listed in this passage concerns a displaced individual's desire to assimilate into a culture and to feel comfortable with his or her own identity. The words themselves echo with hope and the prospect of acceptance. When placed in conjunction with the words "home" and "belonging," the word "land" represents more than the physical foundation upon which we stand. Instead, the land represents the abstract idea of a physical place in which an individual is free and welcome to exercise his or her unique identity. For Saladin and Gibreel, now careening toward an England still conscious of its past relations with India, such a place would be quite welcomed.

While the idea of a place of belonging seems to be the ideal for the Eastern immigrant, it is important to note how these words are situated in this section. The embodied concepts of land, belonging, and home fall along with the two actors toward the cruel ground. These concepts, because they are "hollow, booming words," stand little chance of surviving such a fall. Hollowness suggests a lack of substance beyond the external. While these terms are pleasant to hear for the alienated immigrant, their ultimate lack of obduracy in the face of the harsh English soil will prove that they are, in fact, fragile. Furthermore, the adjective "booming" suggests power, yet one that is auditory and thus able to be dampened. While these words may ring in the minds of the immigrants, the reality of their situation may prove to check these comforting concepts. The ideas which rain down among the debris of the plane ultimately amount to little when faced with such a fall. The fragility of these terms in the context of the novel suggests the difficultly for the displaced immigrant to truly find a place of belonging in a strange land.

1 comment:

  1. I understand what you mean when you write that the concepts of belonging, home, and land are hollow words to Gibreel and Saladin. Because they are immigrants to England from India, they are less likely to feel at home and have a true sense of belonging as they did back in India or how the English feel so at home in England. I touched on something like that in my blog when I wrote that their being born into England was mysterious. Saladin and Gibreel are unknown to the English and the English are unknown to them. They are less likely to be welcomed and find a sense of belonging there because they are Indian immigrants.