The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie: Study Guide1
- About The Satanic Verses
- The Satanic Verses Summary
- Character List
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary And Analysis. Parts:-
- "The Angel Gibreel"
- "Ellowen Deeowen"
- "A City Visible but Unseen"
- "Return to Jahilia"
- "The Angel Azraeel"
- "The Parting of the Arabian Sea"
- "A Wonderful Lamp"
- The Satanic Verses and Immigration
- About The Satanic Verses
- The Satanic Verses is a magical realist epic with three major plotlines. The first of these plotlines follows two Indian actors, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, after they miraculously survive a plane crash over the English Channel. The second and third plotlines are elaborate descriptions of dreams that Gibreel has after the crash. One focuses on the Muslim prophet Mahound (based on Mohammed), as he wrestles with his faith to found a new religion. Another follows Ayesha, a prophet who leads the people of her village on a futile pilgrimage. Rushdie draws on a variety of influences, including Islamic history and theology, Bollywood cinema, and immigration politics.
- The Satanic Verses is Salman Rushdie’s fourth novel. When it was published in 1988, the author was already well-known and critically respected. His novel Midnight’s Children, published eight years before, had won the Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was a bestseller. So when The Satanic Verses was published, it was poised to garner plenty of attention from critics and the public at large.
- And attract attention it did. Some Muslim clerics and literary critics found Rushdie’s use of Islamic theology very offensive. The main point of contention was his exploration of the ‘satanic verses,’ a series of possibly apocryphal verses in the Qur’an, in which Mohammed seems to recognize ‘Allah’s daughters’ – three female demigods. The story generally goes that Satan tricked Mohammed into recognizing the goddesses, but Mohammed retracted what he had said once he realized he had been fooled. However, this piece of Islamic history is extremely controversial, and some Muslim scholars argue that it never happened at all.
- Several countries with Muslim populations, including India, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and South Africa, banned The Satanic Verses, although the censorship often ended up becoming as controversial as the book itself. In February 1989, the Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared a fatwa on Rushdie – that is, a call for his murder. As a result, the United Kingdom - where Rushdie is a citizen - severed its diplomatic relations with Iran. Rushdie successfully went into hiding, a period of his life that he chronicles in his 2012 memoir, Joseph Anton. However, the Italian and Japanese translators of the novel, as well as its Norwegian publisher, were violently attacked; the Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, died of his wounds.
- In later years, both sides made attempts to resolve the conflict. The Iranians promised to retract the fatwa in order to improve their relationship with the United Kingdom. For his part, Rushdie made an official apology to Muslims, and even converted to Islam a year after the book’s publication. However, none of these attempts were long-lasting. Rushdie stopped being a Muslim shortly after his conversion, and Iran eventually reaffirmed the fatwa. The novel remains controversial to this day, although it has also been recognized for its stylistic virtuosity, and is studied by many scholars of postcolonial literature.
- The Satanic Verses Character List
- Gibreel: “For fifteen years," main character Gibreel Farishta was "the biggest star in the history of Indian movies” (11). Shortly before his fortieth birthday, he becomes seriously ill but miraculously recovers. However, instead of returning to Bollywood, he tries to move to London. On the way there, his plane is hijacked and explodes over the English Channel. He and Saladin are the only survivors of the explosion and the subsequent fall. After the accident, Gibreel begins to take on the personality and physical characteristics of the archangel Gibreel – although it is unclear if this transformation is real or a result of schizophrenia.
- Saladin: Born Salahuddin Chamchawala, Saladin Chamcha moved to London to study as a teenager. He has always loved British culture and eschews his Indian heritage as much as possible. He now works as a voice actor and is estranged from his father, his only remaining family in India. After the air accident, he transforms into an incarnation of Satan, much to his dismay.
- Rekha: Rekha Merchant is a wealthy, married neighbor with whom Gibreel Farishta was having an affair before he left India. She killed herself and her children by jumping off the roof of her apartment building after Gibreel left her for Alleluia Cone.
- Pimple Billimoria: An up-and-coming actress who was scheduled to perform with Gibreel on the day he disappeared from India. She eventually plays the role of Ayesha in The Parting of the Arabian Sea, a film Gibreel makes based on the Titlipur plotline.
- Naima Najmuddin: Gibreel Farishta’s mother, who died when he was a teenager.
- Babasaheb Mhatre: The General Secretary of the lunch-porters’ guild in Bombay. When Gibreel's father died, the Babasaheb invited Gibreel to live with him; he later arranged for Gibreel's first job in the film industry.
- Alleluia: Alleluia (Allie) Cone is a beautiful English mountain-climber. Gibreel falls in love with her shortly after recovering from his illness, and eventually moves in with her in London. Despite her own personal issues, she is a faithful helper to Gibreel when he is treated for schizophrenia.
- Changez: Saladin’s father, Changez Chamchawala, owns a successful business manufacturing agricultural sprays. He is also a nationalist politician. He has a strained relationship with his son.
- Nasreen: Nasreen Chamchawala is Saladin's mother, who dies when he is a young man.
- Pamela: Pamela Lovelace is Saladin's troubled young wife.
- Zeeny: Zeeny Vakil is Saladin’s lover in Bombay. She is a fearless, sexually aggressive writer. She published a controversial text on Indian identity, and is active in the communist movement.
- George Miranda: A Marxist filmmaker with whom Saladin connects upon his return to India.
- Bhupen Gandhi: A friend of Zeeny’s who works as a poet and journalist.
- Mimi Mamoulian: A highly skilled, Jewish voice actress in London. She and Saladin considered starting a relationship before the start of the novel, but decided against it because of their religious differences. She eventually becomes involved with Billy Battuta.
- Nasreen the Second: The woman Changez married after his first wife died. The fact that she shares a name with Saladin’s mother fuels Saladin’s anger toward his father.
- Vallabhai: The Chamchawala's housekeeper, and husband to Kasturba.
- Kasturba: Vallabhai's wife, who dresses as Nasreen as a fetish for Changez.
- Eugene Dumsday: A flamboyantly-dressed American missionary who sits next to Saladin on the Bostan before being released.
- Tavleen: One of the Bostan hijackers. Although she is a beautiful woman, Saladin suspects she is more willing to kill than her male comrades are.
- Dara, Buta, and Man Singh: The male Bostan hijackers. Unlike Tavleen, they are reluctant to use violence to achieve their goals.
- Jalandri: A passenger who is murdered by Tavleen.
- Mahound: The main prophet of Submission in the Jahilia plotline. He is an analog for Mohammed. Before becoming a prophet, he worked as a businessman. Although he is initially sincere in trying to spread his faith, he eventually becomes corrupted by power, and turns into a ruthless theocrat.
- Abu Simbel: Karim Abu Simbel is the head of Jahilia's ruling council (the Grandee). He initially fears Submission because it weakens his power, but he eventually converts to it.
- Baal: A poet in Jahilia who writes verse against Submission when Mahound first starts to spread the faith. He remains a dissident even when the religion takes control of the city.
- Hind: Karim Abu Simbel's wife, not to be confused with Hind Sufyan in the London plot. She has an affair with Baal, and despises Submission.
- Bilal: One of Mahound's disciples, who also appears briefly at the beginning of the Titlipur plotline.
- Khalid: Mahound's most ruthless disciple.
- Salman: A Persian disciple of Mahound who eventually becomes critical of Submission.
- Hamza: Mahound's uncle; Hind kills him at the end of Part II.
- Rosa Diamond: A senile woman who sees Gibreel and Saladin wash up on the beach after the plane crash. She hosts them in her house.
- Don Enrique Diamond: Rosa’s late Argentinian husband. She calls him Henry.
- Martín de la Cruz: An ostrich-hunter whom Rosa met in Argentina, and with whom she might have carried on an affair.
- Aurora del Sol: Wife to Martín de la Cruz, and rival to Rosa during her days in Argentina.
- Juan Julia: Aurora del Sol’s lover, also called the Vulture. Martín de la Cruz murders him, but the Diamonds help him cover up the crime.
- Doctor Babington: The doctor on the Diamond estate in Argentina.
- Officer Stein, Officer Bruno, and Officer Novak: The immigration officers who arrest Saladin. They beat and humiliate him in the Black Maria on the way to London.
- Hyacinth Phillips: Saladin’s physical therapist when he is hospitalized in London for pneumonia.
- Jumpy Joshi: Childhood friend of Saladin and the lover of Saladin’s wife, Pamela. He eventually moves in with her, and impregnates her.
- Muhammad Sufyan: Jumpy’s intellectual uncle and neighbor, and the owner of the Shaandaar Café. He and his family help shelter Saladin after his transformation.
- John Maslama: A wealthy Indian immigrant who talks to Gibreel on a train to London. He owns the Hot Wax nightclub and record stores, and eventually sells Gibreel the trumpet that he names the archangel Azraeel.
- The Imam: A ruthless cleric who, with Gibreel's help, fights the goddess Al-Lat to control the state of Desh at the beginning of Part IV.
- Ayesha: Three characters in this novel are named Ayesha.
- The first one to be introduced is the empress of Desh whom the Imam wishes to overthrow in the short dream at the beginning of Part IV.
- Most prominently, another woman named Ayesha is a main character in the Titlipur plotline. This Ayesha is an insane foundling who leads her entire village on a pilgrimage to the Arabian Sea, on what she believes are orders from the archangel Gibreel.
- In the Jahilia plotline, Ayesha is also the name of a fifteen-year-old prostitute. She calls herself this after Mahound's youngest and most beautiful wife.
- Mirza Saeed: Mirza Saeed Akhtar is a zamindar, or landowner, in the village of Titlipur. He wrestles with desire for Ayesha, whom he and his wife Mishal adopted as a girl. When Ayesha leads the pilgrimage to the sea, he does not believe that she is a prophet, but nevertheless comes along to protect his wife.
- Bibiji: A local saint in the village of Titlipur.
- Osman: A clown, and one of Ayesha's suitors. He follows her on the pilgrimage, but eventually loses his faith in her.:
- Mishal: Mishal Akhtar is Mirza Saeed’s wife. She wants to conceive a child, but is hampered by the fact that she and her husband have long since lost their sexual passion for each other. When she is diagnosed with breast cancer, Ayesha promises that she will be cured if the entire village completes a pilgrimage to the Arabian Sea. She becomes one of Ayesha's most devoted followers.
- Mrs. Qureishi: Mishal Akhtar’s mother, who accompanies her on the pilgrimage.
- Mr. Qureishi: Mishal Akhtar’s father, and the director of the state bank. He lives in the city, but briefly appears to try to convince Mishal to leave the pilgrimage.
- Sri Srinivas: A toy merchant in one of Titlipur’s neighboring villages. Although he is a Hindu, he joins the pilgrimage.
- Hind Sufyan: Muhammad Sufyan’s wife, not to be confused with Abu Simbel’s wife in the Jahilia plot. Hind Sufyan is very religious, so she becomes suspicious when Saladin appeals to her family for help after becoming a demon.
- Mishal Sufyan: Muhammad and Hind Sufyan’s seventeen-year-old daughter, who is having an affair with the lawyer Hanif Johnson.
- Anahita: Anahita is Muhammad and Hind Sufyan’s fifteen-year-old daughter. She is foul-mouthed and rebellious.
- Billy Battuta: Mimi Mamoulian’s Pakistani boyfriend. He hosts a travel show, but also makes money as a scam artist.
- Hal Valance: The producer of The Aliens Show, on which Saladin acted before the plane crash.
- Baby: Hal Valance’s young wife.
- Sisodia: S.S. Sisodia is a stuttering producer of Bollywood films, and a manipulative presence in Gibreel's life.
- Hanif Johnson: A well-to-do lawyer and prospective candidate for Prime Minister; he has an affair with Mishal Sufyan.
- Pinkwalla: A deejay at the Hot Wax nightclub in London. He is friends with Mishal Sufyan and Hanif Johnson.
- Otto Cone: Alleluia’s Polish father. He survived a concentration camp during World War Two, an experience that dramatically affected Alleluia’s childhood.
- Alicja Cone: Alleluia's mother, who begs her to leave Gibreel. After her husband Otto's death, she remarries and moves to Stanford, California.
- Elena: Alleluia’s older sister. She was a model, and died of a drug overdose.
- Jack Brunel: An animator, and one of Otto Cone’s friends who has an unrequited crush on Alleluia.
- Orphia Phillips: A ticket vendor who interacts with Gibreel after his transformation to angel. She is Hyacinth Phillips's sister.
- Uriah Mosely: Orphia Phillips's co-worker ex-boyfriend, who causes her great pain by abandoning her for Rochelle Watkins.
- Rochelle Watkins: Uriah Mosely's new lover.
- Ibrahim: A butcher in Jahilia who sells illicit pork; Also the name of the ancient religious figure who abandoned his daughter Hagar in the desert.
- Musa: A man from Jahilia who questions the fact that Mahound has twelve wives despite the fact that Submission only allows a man four wives.
- Dr. Uhuru Simba: A black activist who is arrested for the Granny Ripper murders.
- Charlie Sellers: Saladin’s agent.
- Amin: A waiter at the Shaandaar Café who replaces Mishal Sufyan.
- Antoinette Roberts: Uhuru Simba’s mother, who leads the campaign for his acquittal.
- Inspector Stephen Kinch: London’s chief of police.
- Muhammad Din: Sarpanch Muhammad Din is the head of the village council in Titlipur, and husband to Khadija.
- Khadija: Sarpanch Muhammad Din’s elderly wife, the first of the Titlipur pilgrims to die en route to the Arabian Sea.
- Panikkar: Changez Chamchawala’s hospice doctor.
- Swatilekha: Bhupen Gandhi’s new girlfriend, introduced in the final pages of the novel.
- Mrs. Mhatre: Wife of Babasaheb Mhatre, Mrs. Mhatre is characterized by the stifling affection she shows her husband. Babasaheb adopts Gibreel in large part because he hopes an adopted son will dilute those affections.
- Maurice Wilson: A yogi who attempted to scale Everest alone in 1934, and who died in the attempt. Alleluia sees his ghost both on the mountain and throughout the city.
- Bilal X: One of the Imam's disciples in the vision that opens Part IV.
- Al-lat: One of the pre-Islam pagan goddesses that Mahound accepts in the 'satanic verses' episode. In Part IV, Gibreel fights and defeats Al-lat at the Imam's behest.
- The Satanic Verses Glossary
- avatar: an incarnation of a deity on earth; usually mentioned in reference to Hinduism
- ayah: a female servant or governess
- beedi: a type of flavored cigarette, popular in India
- Black Maria: the traditional English police van
- dajjal: a false prophet in Islam
- dhaba: an inexpensive highway diner
- estancia: a large estate in Argentina
- gazal: a type of elegiac poetry with a set structure
- Hajj: the pilgrimage to Mecca, which all Muslims are required to make once during their lifetime (unless they are too ill or poor to do so)
- kurta: a long, loose-fitting shirt worn in South Asia
- manticore: a mythical creature with a human head, the body of a lion or tiger, and the tail of a serpent
- panchayat: a council that governs a village or small town in India
- pir: a Sufi mystic or religious leader
- purdah: the system of concealing women from men, which includes modest clothing as well as physical separation in the home and the community
- Satanic verses: a series of verses in the Qur'an that refer to Allah's daughters; they are a source of great controversy among Muslim scholars - some argue that they never existed at all, while others argue that they came from Satan, and that Mohammed quickly repudiated them
- tiffin: lunch, or another light afternoon meal
- turbot: a species of flatfish
- untouchable: a reference to the lowest Indian caste; members of this caste were considered literally untouchable by members of higher castes, and were considered dirty and forced to live separately from others (Since 1950, India has made an effort to eradicate the caste system, although members of low castes still face discrimination in certain circles.)
- zamindar: a landlord
- zenana: an area - usually part of a house - reserved for women
- The Satanic Verses Themes
- Reincarnation: Rushdie addresses the theme of reincarnation through methods both subtle and explicit. Obviously, reincarnation is central to the novel's primary conceit: the transformation of Gibreel and Saladin into an angel and a demon. However, there are also less blatant examples of characters being reborn or renewed. These include Alleluia, whose life changes for the better after she climbs Mount Everest, and Mishal Sufyan, who marries her lover and becomes a responsible adult after the deaths of her parents. Although these characters do not literally die, they each suffer a catastrophic event that leads them to personal revelation. Even Saladin's newfound maturity at the end of the novel can be considered an example of maturity; he changes his name and becomes a new person based on the lessons he has learned from his time as a demon. Overall, the novel is concerned with questions of identity and transformation, and suggests that a new identity usually requires the death of a previous one.
- Miracles: One of the most puzzling aspects of The Satanic Verses is its treatment of miracles. Rushdie generally demonstrates a deep skepticism of religion. However, there are numerous miracles in the story – the main characters transform; Ayesha controls butterflies; or the Londoners have dreams of Saladin as the Goatman. Although the narrator includes information that calls the miracles into question – for example, revealing that Gibreel is a diagnosed schizophrenic or that Ayesha hears the word of God through pop songs – he never fully discounts them. At the same time that Gibreel is mentally unwell, he is seen to levitate by several others. The reader is left to puzzle out whether the miracles are real or imagined, literal or metaphorical. This struggle, Rushdie suggests, is something that the faithful and the non-faithful alike must experience when trying to decide what they believe, especially in a world that has the potential for both marvels and banality.
- Indian identity: Indian identity proves to be a fraught concept in The Satanic Verses, as each character grapples with its meaning. In some cases, Rushdie is straightforward and even academic in his exploration of Indian culture. One example is Zeeny Vakil's book, which analyzes Indian identity as a product of pastiche and appropriation. However, Saladin's struggle with his Indian identity is much more emotional and abstract. It means different things to him over the course of his lifetime, and its meaning is often bound up with personal events, like his molestation at the age of thirteen. Overall, the novel suggests that Indian identity is both an absolute quantity that can be considered intellectually, and an enigma whose meaning is unique for each individual. Further, it suggests that Indian identity - like any identity - cannot be understood as a binary construction (i.e. Indian or not Indian) but rather is to be understood in each individual as an amalgamation of history, culture, and personal experience.
- Exploitation: Rushdie portrays many instances of exploitation, from the romantic to the geopolitical. Gibreel and Saladin both take advantage of others, sometimes out of necessity and sometimes by choice. Gibreel is both a perpetrator and a victim of interpersonal exploitation. He benefits from Alleluia's selfless love for him, while never truly trusting her; meanwhile, his producer Sisodia takes advantage of his mental illness to produce a profitable film. Saladin's experiences with exploitation often have geopolitical significance; for example, he takes advantage of the Sufyans' hospitality despite his private objections that they are 'not British.' Rushdie suggests that in a global world with such a complicated history, the human potential for exploitation is almost innate. Our struggle comes in recognizing this and deciding how to react to it.
- Mental illness: Several times over the course of the novel, the narrator posits mental illness as an alternative explanation for seemingly supernatural phenomena. For instance, it is never entirely clear whether Gibreel actually becomes angelic, or if the changes are a product of his schizophrenia. Likewise, the Titlipur plot hinges on the ambiguity of whether Ayesha is a prophet or insane. Further, one character's potential insanity often affects many others - examples are the dreams Londoners have of the goat-man, or the way Mahound's visions change his world. By exploring mental illness this way, Rushdie suggests that dreams and delusions are as much a part of the human experience as real events are, and should be taken seriously. They often carry as much weight and profundity as more banal events.
- Faith and doubt: The London, Jahilia, and Titlipur storylines all feature characters who wrestle with religious doubt. In each case, characters whom we might normally expect to be absolutely certain about their faith – like Mahound and Ayesha – instead have to deliberate and ponder over what they believe true. Secular characters similarly face the same struggle; Mirza Saeed, Gibreel, and Saladin must all rethink their atheism when faced with evidence of supernatural events. One common feature of these struggles is that the characters are never entirely certain, and they are thereby forced to take personal responsibility for their beliefs. Characters like Ayesha and the Imam – who are absolutely convinced of their correctness – inevitably grow corrupt because they have never experienced doubt. On the other hand, characters who doubt grow through their inner struggles. The novel suggests that each person has both angelic and satanic potential, and must forever struggle between them. Overall, Rushdie seems to suggest that religion is a powerful and difficult aspect of our lives and history, one that deserves and requires personal struggle.
- Racism: Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses in a climate of British conservative backlash against immigrants – particularly against South Asian ones, who comprise one of the largest minority groups in England. The novel addresses racism as an unfortunate but inevitable part of the immigrant experience. This theme manifests in minor moments, such as Gibreel's encounters with an anti-immigrant pamphleteer, and in more major ones, like when Saladin is beaten by the police. Further, the novel's arguable climax is affected by a riot against perceived police racism. Rushdie is fairly explicit about this theme – he suggests that racism is what turns Saladin and other immigrants into animals, a commentary on prejudice's dehumanizing effect. Finally, this theme connects to many of the others by being another instance of the way people exploit one another along a binary construction, rather than trying to understand the complicated personalities and histories of each individual.
- The Satanic Verses Quotes and Analysis
- “Damn you, India ... To hell with you, I escaped your clutches long ago, you won’t get your hooks into me again, you cannot drag me back.”
→ Saladin Chamcha, Page 35
Early in the novel, Saladin Chamcha makes this vehement proclamation as he prepares to return home to London from his acting stint in Bombay. However, much of The Satanic Verses is devoted to exploring how a person can never truly 'escape the clutches' of his native culture, try as he might. It is also worth noting Rushdie's use of personification here. To Saladin, India is not just a frustrating place, but is in fact a malevolent presence that tries to harm him. A person's history and culture is in fact an active presence towards defining him. Finally, Saladin's references to hell and damnation foreshadow his transformation into a devil later in the story.
- “It isn’t easy to be a brilliant, successful woman in a city where the gods are female but the females are merely goods.”
→ Narrator, Page 120
Abu Simbel’s vicious wife Hind is generally not portrayed sympathetically. However, Rushdie gives us some insight into her psyche at the beginning of the Jahilia plotline. His pithy wordplay – typical of this novel’s style – reveals a contradiction in how women are treated in Jahilia. However, Rushdie’s observation applies to many of the places and situations in the novel. In London, Bombay, and Titlipur, women are revered but repressed, just like in Jahilia. This influences the behavior of characters like Alleluia, Zeeny, and Ayesha, all of whom resort to drastic acts – be it climbing mountains, organizing demonstrations, or leading pilgrimages – to prove that they are more than ‘mere goods.’
- “Higher Powers had taken an interest, it should have been obvious to them both, and such Powers (I am, of course, speaking of myself) have a mischievous, almost a wanton attitude to tumbling flies.”
→ Narrator, Page 137
In The Satanic Verses, Allah never appears, but other “Higher Powers” meddle in the characters’ lives. There are the archangels and the goddesses we meet in Gibreel’s dreams, but the narrator is perhaps the most potent higher power of all. In some sense, he replaces Allah; after all, he explicitly reminds us that as the narrator, he has absolute power over the characters and the story. Here, the narrator’s self-reference reminds us that we are reading fiction. In the real world, Rushdie seems to suggest, people’s lives are influenced by external forces like politics, history, and perhaps even the gods. In the realm of the novel, though, the narrator reigns supreme. All in all, this quote reminds us that we do not always have as much control over ourselves and our identities as we would like to pretend.
- “The humiliation of it! He was – had gone to some lengths to become – a sophisticated man! Such degradations might be all very well for riff-raff from villages in Sylhet or the bicycle-repair shops of Gujranwala, but he was cut from different cloth!”
→ Narrator, Page 164
Saladin is arguably the most dynamic character in The Satanic Verses. Unlike Gibreel or any of the secondary characters, his personality changes in response to the things he learns. His description of South Asians in this passage is typical of his worldview early in the novel: he feels superior to other Indians because he has succeeded in making a life in London, and thereby distancing himself from his heritage. Saladin's condescending attitude toward the less privileged classes contrasts starkly with the views of other characters, like Zeeny, Jumpy, or Pamela, all of whom participate in left-wing political groups. Saladin's experiences – being turned into a demon, and losing many of his London friends in the Brickhall fires – teach him to embrace his Indian identity and respect those who are less fortunate. He comes to realize that one does not have nearly as much control over his life as he might think, and thus is he more tolerant of the complications he encounters in both people and society.
- “The body of Al-Lat has shrivelled on the grass, leaving behind only a dark stain; and now every clock in the capital city of Desh begins to chime, and goes on unceasingly, beyond twelve, beyond twenty-four, beyond one thousand and one, announcing the end of Time, the hour that is beyond measuring, the hour of the exile’s return, of the victory of water over wine, of the commencement of the Untime of the Imam.”
→ Narrator, Page 222
In the Jahilia and Titlipur plotlines, Rushdie rarely favors one religious faith over the other. Despite his strident criticisms of Islam, he presents Hindu and pagan faiths as equally dogmatic. Because of this, some readers might be confused by this passage, in which Rushdie suggests that Al-Lat’s death will result in Desh being enslaved by the Imam. However, it is important to remember that Al-Lat is also portrayed as tyrannical and violent in her fight with Gibreel. This passage, then, is less an elegy for Al-Lat than a requiem for religious freedom in general. Every god or religion deserves an elegy when it fades, but likewise does it deserve censure when it oversteps its bounds. Like people themselves, religion is capable of both angelic and satanic potentials.
- “While non-tint neo-Georgians dreamed of a sulphurous enemy crushing their perfectly restored residences beneath his smoking heel, nocturnal browns-and-blacks found themselves cheering, in their sleep, this what-else-after-all-but-black-man, maybe a little twisted up by fate class race history, all that, but getting off his behind, bad and mad, to kick a little ass.”
→ Narrator, Page 295
This quote discusses how immigrants rally behind the goatman as a symbol of their persecution. In the London plot, Rushdie explores the immigrant experience in detail. According to the novel, one of the most poignant and problematic aspects of life as an immigrant is dealing with the frustration of being insulted and excluded by white society. The immigrant characters are justifiably angry at the way they are treated by both authorities and the general population. However, they also want to uphold the Indian tradition of peaceful protest, to avoid playing into the stereotype of violent Eastern people. Younger immigrants find a solution to this complicated problem by embracing Satan, the biggest outsider in Western culture, as a symbol of their plight.
- “Information got abolished sometime in the twentieth century, can’t say just when; stands to reason, that’s part of the information that got abolish, abolished. Since then we’ve been living in a fairy-story. Got me? Everything happens by magic. Us fairies haven’t a fucking notion what’s going on. So how do we know if it’s right or wrong? We don’t even know what it is.”
→ Alleluia Cone, Page 323
Alleluia’s drunken explanation of the modern human condition has several possible interpretations. It can be read as a criticism of the ‘information overload’ that occurred as mass media became more prominent in the second half of the twentieth century. As scholars like Christopher Butler have written, the concept of information overload is an important theme in the work of postmodern authors like Rushdie. The abolition of information, then, does not mean that there is no information; on the contrary, it means that there is so much information that people cannot process it all. Certainly, one can see in Rushdie's style how he is intrigued by the concept of overload. The passage can also be read as a justification of the novel’s magical realist aesthetic. Rushdie’s fabulism, the passage suggests, is a metaphor for the moral confusion that people experience in response to the late twentieth century’s violence and ethical relativism.
- “Whores and writers, Mahound. We are the people you can’t forgive.”
→ Baal, Page 405
Baal’s comment to Mahound offers specific insight into the Jahilia plotline, as well as into theocracies more generally. The theocratic Muslim regimes that Rushdie criticize treat women and dissident writers especially harshly, so Baal’s words resonate with modern politics. However, the comment also refers to Mahound’s biggest flaw – his pride. Mahound is able to forgive Salman and Abu Simbel relatively easily when he comes to power in Jahilia. However, he cannot forget the humiliating verses Baal wrote about him twenty-five years before. The artist has a unique power because he can affect people without them realizing it. The whores also hurt Mahound’s pride by adopting the personalities of Mahound’s wives to please their clients. Because they are malleable, willing to take on different identities, they pose an implicit challenge to the rigidity of Mahound's ideology. By pointing out these two vendettas, Baal reveals Mahound’s narcissism, and suggests the danger of fixed ideas.
- “ – Or are there deeper resentments here, gripes for which this so-called Primary Cause is, in truth, no more than a substitute, a front? – For are they not conjoined opposites, these two, each man the other’s shadow? – One seeking to be transformed into the foreignness he admires, the other preferring, contemptuously, to transform; one, a hapless fellow who seems to be continually punished for uncommitted crimes, the other, called angelic by one and all, the type of man who gets away with everything.”
→ Narrator, Page 441
One of the central contradictions in The Satanic Verses is the fact that although Gibreel and Saladin transform into an angel and a demon, their moral status remains ambiguous. Saladin is continually victimized by everyone from the Police to his unfaithful wife, Pamela – a quality not traditionally associated with Satan. Likewise, Gibreel is portrayed as loutish and inconsiderate, and his transformation into an angel only makes him even more narcissistic. Although the men are opposites on the surface, their transformations also bring them closer together. Thematically, the sense is that they both have the potential for angelic and satanic behavior, even when they take the explicit form of one or the other. This passage brings this contradiction to the surface, and makes explicit the transformation’s double meaning.
- “In this century history stopped paying attention to the old psychological orientation of reality. I mean, these days, character isn’t destiny any more. Economics is destiny. Ideology is destiny. Bombs are destiny. What does a famine, a gas chamber, a grenade care how you lived your life? Crisis comes, death comes, and your pathetic individual self doesn’t have a thing to do with it, only to suffer the effects.”
→ Alicja Cone, Page 447
Alleluia’s mother Alicja is a tertiary character, but her experiences during World War Two give her a unique perspective on modern politics. She suggests that the atrocities of the first half of the century have irrevocably altered the psychological and moral aspects of the human condition. This helps explain why politics, which might have seemed abstract to members of Alicja’s generation, have such an impact on characters like the Sufyans and Zeeny Vakil. It also helps explain Saladin’s transformation into a devil. Rushdie eventually makes it clear that the Goatman is a symbol of the outsider status that South Asian immigrants experience in London. By transforming into Western culture’s most feared outsider, Saladin is “suffer[ing] the effects” of his people’s oppression in the most literal way possible. The entire novel presupposes a synthesis of politics, history, culture, and personality, and Alicja here suggests that this is all the more true in the new century.
- The Satanic Verses The Satanic Verses and Immigration
- There has been much research about the role of Islam in The Satanic Verses. However, religion is not the only hot-button issue that this novel explores. It also addresses the politics and mechanics of immigration from East to West – specifically, from India to the United Kingdom. To fully understand the role that immigration plays in the novel, it is necessary to know the political context in which The Satanic Verses was written.
- When Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, the United Kingdom's political climate was more conservative than it had been in decades (or would be for years afterwards). In 1979, the Conservative Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister, and with the help of a like-minded Parliament, she designed many conservative policies that would eventually take full effect.
- Immigration was an especially important issue to Thatcher; in a 1978 television interview, she claimed that British "people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture." (This despite the fact that Great Britain was over 90% white until 2001.) In 1981, the British government tightened control over immigration by passing the British Nationality Act, which stipulated that only citizens of the UK were guaranteed the right to live there. No longer could citizens of Britain's dependent countries and former colonies take citizenship for granted, as have previously been the case. Immigration subsequently dropped, and the UK also accepted fewer Asian refugees during this period than it had before Thatcher's tenure in office.
- Hostility towards immigrants was not limited to official policy. Thatcher's comments about the country being "swamped" with newcomers may have been controversial, but they did reflect the views of some white English people. According to a recent study by the University of Exeter, racially-motivated hate crimes increased during this period, as did support for the far-right National Front party. This helps explain why the immigrants in The Satanic Verses' London plot feel persecuted not only by the police but also by white Londoners in general.
Footnote 1: See Gradesaver.com - The Satanic Verses.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2022
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)