The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie: Study Guide1: Chapters IV - VI
- "A City Visible but Unseen"
- "Return to Jahilia"
The Satanic Verses Summary and Analysis of Part IV - "Ayesha"
- This section returns to Gibreel’s dreams. Most of Parts IV and VIII are set in Titlipur, a rural village that shares the mythic quality of Jahilia, but exists in modern times.
- However, the beginning of this vision is set in London. In it, we meet the Imam, a conservative Muslim leader living in exile in London. He has fled both his homeland of Desh and his archenemy, the empress Ayesha. From London, he and his aides broadcast anti-Ayesha propaganda to Desh using a ham radio. Bilal X, an African-American convert to Islam, is the Imam’s most faithful disciple; he is in charge of reading the broadcasts.
- Once again, Gibreel finds himself not only an observer but also a character in his vision, playing the part of the angel Gibreel. The Imam asks Gibreel to help him reclaim Desh, but Gibreel is reluctant. The Imam rushes Gibreel and forces him to fly to Iran, to help the Imam overthrow Ayesha. Gibreel tries to explain that the people revolt against Ayesha because they hate her, and not because they love the Imam. The Imam ignores Gibreel and murders Ayesha. However, the spirit of the goddess Al-lat reanimates her body.
- The Imam orders Gibreel to fight Al-lat, and he reluctantly complies. After a fierce battle with lightning spears, Gibreel kills Al-lat. The Imam becomes the absolute ruler of Desh and stops all of the country’s clocks.
- Gibreel has a second, seemingly unrelated dream. This one is set in the peaceful village of Titlipur, which is famous for its beautiful swarms of butterflies. A landowner, Mirza Saeed Akhtar, lives in a luxurious house with his beloved wife, Mishal. Though they love each other, they have been unsuccessful in conceiving a child, something Mishal believes is a reflexion of their muted sexual passions.
- One day, Mirza sees an peasant girl eating butterflies in his backyard, and he is overcome with lust for her. The girl has a epileptic seizure, so Mirza Saeed brings her inside. Mishal recognizes her as an orphan who sells animal figurines on the side of the road. Her name is also Ayesha, although there is no obvious connection between her and the empress from Gibreel’s first dream.
- The Akhtars adopt Ayesha, who grows into a beautiful woman. However, no one wants to marry her because of both her epilepsy and her distracted demeanor, which makes people worry she is insane. She supports herself by making small figurines that promote chastity and family values. The toy merchant, Sri Srinivas, buys them as much to support her as to make a profit.
- One man, a clown named Osman, falls in love with her despite her apparent insanity. He is a former untouchable who converted to Islam, largely to escape the restrictions of his caste. Ayesha spurns him, but nevertheless uses his likeness to make some new figurines, which she cannot sell because of Osman’s reputation for religious insincerity. On her way back from trying to sell the figurines to Sri Srinivas, Ayesha’s hair turns white and her dress turns into butterflies. When she returns to the village, she claims that she has lain with the archangel Gibreel, which breaks Osman’s heart. Gibreel is shocked to hear this, since he does not remember such an incident. Ayesha returns to Mirza's house, and grows extremely close to Mishal.
- Meanwhile, Mirza Saeed stresses about his attraction to Ayesha. He encourages Mishal to take the veil and confine herself to the house, which is a dramatic departure from their progressive habits. He cannot determine whether this request is motivated by love for her or lust for Ayesha, whom he might secretly want to seduce in his wife's absence. Meanwhile, Mrs. Qureishi, Mishal's mother, has moved in with them and insists that Mirza release his wife from these demands. Because Mishal thinks it is some kind of erotic game, she plays along, but the religious devotion only brings her closer to Ayesha.
- One day, Ayesha proclaims that the angel Gibreel has revealed that Mishal has severe breast cancer. Mirza Saeed accuses her of lying, and beats her. However, a terrified Mishal sees a doctor, who confirms Ayesha’s prophecy. Mirza Saeed believes God is punishing him for lusting after Ayesha by afflicting his wife with cancer.
- Ayesha disappears for seven days. When she returns, she calls a village council, and tells the leaders that the archangel Gibreel has spoken to her again. This time, he has commanded that the entire village walk to Mecca. (The route crosses the Arabian sea, which the angel has promised will part for them.) If they do this, Mishal’s cancer will be healed. The village agrees to go. As Mishal and Mrs. Qureishi prepare to leave with the others, Mirza Saeed tries to talk them out of it, insisting that religion is nothing but superstition and that the journey will surely kill Mishal.
- Gibreel’s two dreams in Part IV are dramatically different from one another, although there are some points of overlap. The first dream, about the Imam, is best understood as a political allegory. Some scholars, including Paul Brians, have noted the Imam’s resemblance to Ayatollah Khomeini, who would later issue a fatwa against Rushdie after The Satanic Verses was published. Brians notes the parallels between this story and the Iranian revolution; the Imam believes he can solve his country’s spiritual decline by literally stopping the clocks, a reference to the Ayatollah’s strict conservatism. (Rushdie himself has affirmed this interpretation of the section.)
- The Imam’s ability to bend Gibreel to his will is a damning commentary on how theocratic regimes (like Iran’s) corrupt religion to suit their own purposes. This section also adds a dimension of complexity to the satanic verses story of Part II. When Gibreel is forced to fight Al-lat, he is uncomfortable using violence, yet the narrator describes her death in graphic, horrific detail. Although we never learn much about Al-lat as a character, the passage can be read as a condemnation of the way some ideologues try to eradicate those who are different from them. Interestingly, though, Mahound's non violent attempts to embrace Al-lat in the 'satanic verses' episode would necessarily have meant a compromise of his ideals. The contradiction seems to be that the only way to begin something new is to destroy what came before, even if that involves unpleasant violence. This theme will resonate with later sections of the novel.
- The second dream is very different in tone from the first. While the Imam plot keeps extraneous details to a minimum, the narrator uses a more realistic mode for the Titlipur storyline. We get a full portrait of the village, including a description of the mythology surrounding its central banyan tree, and characterizations of minor figures such as Sri Srinivas and Osman. It is also more overtly literary than the first dream. For example, Osman functions like the fool in classical drama; in this trope, the fool is a social outcast but nevertheless makes profound insights about the people around him. Rushdie seems to acknowledge this parallel by giving Osman a job as a clown.
- It is also worth investigating the use of anachronism in the Titlipur plot. At first, the superstitious, ignorant villagers seem drawn from ancient times – at the beginning of the dream, they believe epilepsy is the same thing as insanity, and that it is contagious. However, Titlipur melds traditional village culture with moments of modernity; for example, the Akhtars watch soft porn on a VCR, and Mishal accuses her secular husband of trying to emulate the English, which dates the story to the twentieth century. These anachronisms are part of Rushdie’s signature style. He appropriates pieces of different traditions and blends them together to create something entirely unique. However, it is also an accurate reflection of Indian life in 1989 (and to a lesser extent, today); pockets of traditional culture exist alongside fully modern cities, and these forces compete to fashion an Indian identity. Indeed, this conflict also resonates in the Titlipur story, in terms of attitudes towards women. Questions of a woman's sexuality, the veil, and her trustworthiness all appear in this section. Rushdie does not declare a traditional or modern approach to women as superior, but instead explores the complexity of the conflict.
- The most obvious point of overlap between the two dreams is that they feature charismatic women who commune with the supernatural – and both of these women are named Ayesha. However, there are also thematic similarities. Both dreams address the problems that arise when a person tries to speak for God. The Imam and Ayesha both invoke Gibreel, but he is always bewildered when they call in his name. This harkens back to Part II, and continues to suggest that communion with a god is often more about the human's desire than the deity's desire. Of course, there are differences in the way each character invokes Gibreel. The narrator muses: “With Mahound, there is always a struggle; with the Imam, slavery; but with this girl, there is nothing. Gibreel is inert, usually asleep in the dream as he is in life” (240-241). No character has a truly harmonious relationship with God –indeed, in the world of the novel, such a thing might be impossible. What someone wants from God will determine how God speaks to him or her.
- Finally, it is also useful to understand the hajj, one of the pillars of Islam. According to the faith, any person who is financially and physically able should make at least one pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca (represted as Jahilia in the Mahound plotline) in his or her life. The villagers of Titlipur would be exempt from the expectation, either because of their poverty or because of their infirmity. The fact that Ayesha offers them a chance to fulfill the expectation despite these limitations gives her a miraculous air; she is promising greater service to Allah than they otherwise thought themselves capable of. Mirza Saeed tries to convince Mishal to simply fly to the city if she wants to go, but she is as attracted to the miraculous impossibility of the trip as she is to the hajj itself.
The Satanic Verses Summary and Analysis of Part V - "A City Visible but Unseen"
- Chapter 1
- The story returns to contemporary London.
- Jumpy Joshi, guilty over his adultery, wants to take care of Saladin. He gives Saladin a coat to cover his horns, and brings him to the nearby Shaandaar Cafe, a restaurant and hotel, for help. There, he asks the proprietor, Muhammad Sufyan, to house Saladin, who is becoming more panicked about his transformation. The Sufyan family agrees to help by housing him in their attic room.
- The narrator gives some background about the Sufyan matriarch, Hind Sufyan (not to be confused with Hind, Abu Simbel’s wife in the Jahilia plot). She sees her husband Muhammad as an effeminate weakling. She also resents the fact that they had to move to London because of Muhammad’s involvement with the Bengali Communist party. She is especially resentful that she has to manage the business, attracting customers with her excellent cooking, while he remains ineffectual.
- The Sufyans do their best to help Saladin – indeed, the two teenage daughters, Anahita and Mishal Sufyan, are delighted by his transformation. However, Saladin remains silently frustrated to be helpless before people who are ‘not British.’ He has nightmares about Hyacinth Phillips, and about his wife’s affair with Jumpy. The next morning, he calls his old colleague, Mimi Mamoulian, and is dismayed to hear both that he’s been replaced at his television job on the alien show, and that Mimi is dating Billy Battuta, a notorious playboy and scam artist. Saladin calls his producer, Hal Valance, who confirms that he has indeed been dropped from the show – because, he says, audiences prefer white actors.
- Hind loves to read imported magazines about Bollywood, and she one day she reads an article that reports Gibreel Farishta is returning to the screen. When she mentions it to Saladin, he becomes enraged – he still resents how Gibreel refused to help him when he was arrested. Oddly, his rage shrinks his horns and his penis; soon afterwards, the transformation recommences and he resumes his goat shape. In fact, his horns, tail and body continue to grow.
- Within a few weeks, Gibreel’s film deal falls through because the film's producer, Billy Battuta, is arrested for fraud along with Mimi. Meanwhile, Mishal Sufyan starts an affair with Hanif Johnson, a well-to-do lawyer who lives at the Shaandaar Cafe, while Saladin’s wife Pamela leads a public investigation into allegations of witchcraft being practiced by police officers. Pamela also becomes pregnant, with Jumpy Joshi's child. She refuses to believe that her husband is still alive, and to accept that the goat is in fact him.
- Jumpy and the Sufyans all keep silent about Saladin’s transformation. Nevertheless, people all over London begin having dreams of a goatlike devil wreaking havoc. The image of “the Goatman” begins to appear everywhere, from commercials to political protests, and young people of color begin to embrace it as a symbol of rebellion (295). This movement, along with a gruesome serial killer known only as the Granny Ripper, gives the police a pretext to harass the immigrant community.
- Things come to a head when Hind finds out about Mishal Sufyan’s affair with Hanif the lawyer. She is enraged; at the same time, she and Muhammad are fighting because he has found out she regularly overcharges their customers at the café. In the middle of the massive argument that ensues, Saladin storms out of his room, now eight feet tall, naked, and breathing sulphuric smoke. The Sufyans realize they can no longer host Saladin in his current form, so Mishal contacts her friend Pinkwalla, who works as a nightclub deejay. Pinkwalla arranges for Saladin to sleep in the basement of the Hot Wax club, a popular South Asian hang-out owned by John Maslama. That night, Saladin is once again consumed with fury at Gibreel for betraying him. This rage transforms back into a human, although the change is very painful.
- Chapter 2
- We learn a bit about Alleluia Cone’s youth. Her father (Otto Cone) survived a concentration camp in World War II, so he eschewed his native Poland and threw himself into becoming English. Her older sister Elena was a supermodel who eventually died of a drug overdose. Although the girls tried to maintain a relationship, they had little in common, and they grew apart after Allie lost her virginity and Elena reacted angrily to the news.
- We also learn that Alleluia is not entirely well. When scaling Everest along with a helper, she decided to climb the highest peak without her oxygen mask. Perhaps because of the ensuing brain damage, she has begun to see the ghost of Maurice Wilson, the yogi who died in a solo ascent, throughout London. The spectre tempts her to try her own solo ascent, while also implicitly promising she will die in the attempt. She does not confess these sightings to anyone.
- Gibreel’s plotline picks up where it left off – he has collapsed on Alleluia’s doorstep. He moves in with her. Their sex life is fantastic, but the arrangement has its tensions: Gibreel is a slob, he speaks rudely to Alleluia’s friends, and he is prone to fits of jealous rage. Alleluia, for her part, is skittish about love and worries that the relationship is moving too fast. Her concerns are exacerbated by her mother, Alicja Cone, who is quite vocal about her dislike for the relationship.
- The biggest problem, though, is Gibreel’s belief that he is the Angel of the Recitation (the most important archangel in the Muslim canon, who delivered God’s word to Muhammad). One night, an angel visits Gibreel and tells him to leave Alleluia so he can spread the word of God through London. He complies, and leaves after a fight. Alleluia is distraught.
- Gibreel wanders the city trying to save people, but they all think him insane. Rekha Merchant’s ghost appears to him, mocking his ineffectiveness; she also warns him that Alleluia is secretly trying to get pregnant. One day, Gibreel meets Orphia Phillips (Hyacinth’s sister, although Gibreel does not realize the connection to Saladin). Although she is skeptical of Gibreel’s claims, she confides in him about her co-worker and lover, Uriah Moseley, who abandoned her for another woman. Gibreel puts his hands on Orphia and heals her, and they together confront Uriah. However, Uriah has proposed to his new girlfriend, Rochelle Watkins, and Orphia gets in trouble when her boss sees her with Gibreel. She angrily reprimands him for his interference.
- Rekha appears to Gibreel again, and offers to return his sanity if he admits he loves her. Gibreel declines because he still feels beholden to his mission. However, he grows progressively more frustrated when no one listens to him; finally, he fantasizes that he has grown to gargantuan proportions, and he steps onto the cars.
- Of course, he has not grown, and he is hit by the car of S.S. Sisodia, an Indian film producer. Sisodia recognizes Gibreel, and he and Alleluia bring the actor to a psychiatric hospital, where he is treated for schizophrenia. Soon, Sisodia arranges for Gibreel to star in a trilogy of religious films in which he will play the archangel Gibreel. Alleluia objects that the association will be detrimental to Gibreel's mental health, but Gibreel accepts the job anyway.
- To promote the films, Gibreel agrees to headline a dance show in London, although his identity is kept secret – he is a surprise ‘Dark Star.’ He dresses as an angel and is lowered onto the stage, but when the fans rush the stage, he levitates into the air and disappears. He enjoys flying over London, and ponders the city’s best and worst qualities. Suddenly, he has a vision of Saladin Chamcha as a demon, and passes out. When he wakes, he is again on Alleluia’s doorstep.
- In this section, Rushdie makes many of the novel’s political themes explicit. Although the previous chapters have addressed the immigrant experience in some detail, “A City Visible but Unseen” highlights the frustration and rage that many immigrant youths feel in a society that excludes them. When Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses in 1989, the United Kingdom had long been relatively liberal in its treatment of minorities. However, the influx of immigrants from India and Africa was still a relatively new phenomenon, and this was causing tensions with natives. This tension was most apparent in London, which is and was a hub for new immigrants. Although these new British citizens had the same rights and privileges as natives, many felt excluded from English culture. In the novel, these tensions come to a head when the image of Saladin as a goat-man becomes a symbol of immigrant frustration.
- Although Saladin himself eschews his Indian identity, his experiences illustrate some of the prejudices that ‘brown people’ experienced as newcomers in England. Although he is a British citizen and has lived there since he was thirteen, the police officers do not believe he is a citizen, and beat him mercilessly. Although the police officers treat Gibreel a bit better, he also experiences racism when he encounters a pamphleteer distributing anti-immigrant materials. On a slightly more benign note, Part V also shows evidence of cultural segregation; the Sufyans seem to associate exclusively with other South Asian immigrants, and Alleluia’s mother makes several racist comments about her daughter’s relationship with Gibreel.
- Further, Rushdie begins to sow seeds of the violence that cultural unrest can engender. When the minorities take the goat-man symbol to support their cause, the police begin to prepare for impending violence, ironically using their own violence to suppress it. Likewise, the mystery of the Granny Killer exacerbates racial tensions, as do Pamela's accusations of witchcraft amongst the police. While Rushdie keeps his amused tone throughout, the grounded reality of racial and cultural unrest does make its way into this section.
- Cultural and economic exploitation also become important concepts in Part V. On page 270, Mimi acknowledges that her new boyfriend Billy Battuta is exploiting her, valuing her primarily because she is white. However, Mimi views this kind of exploitation as a fact of life, to be acknowledged and accepted. Her worldview is very different from Saladin’s; he rarely thinks critically about the relationship between cultures, and when he does, he makes a point of denigrating Indian culture as much as possible. What both have in common is that they define themselves in a binary fashion - either by what they are or are not, rather than considering their identity as singular, full of particular contradictions and qualities.
- The issue of cultural exploitation is most prominent in Chapter 1; in Chapter 2, we witness economic exploitation when Gibreel’s producer, S.S. Sisodia, urges him to return to work despite his fragile mental condition. Sisodia even capitalizes on Gibreel’s delusion by casting him as the angel Gibreel in a new film trilogy. Naturally, cultural and economic exploitation go hand in hand, particularly in the historical relationship between Great Britain and India. Although Gibreel’s exploitation at the hands of Sisodia has little apparent connection to geopolitics, it does demonstrate the problems that arise when a people try to capitalize on their identities – whether it’s Mimi using her whiteness to attract Billy, or Gibreel using his mental illness to boost his film profits. Gibreel, as we see, is actually an extremely complicated personality, whose masks as actor bleed into his own cultural and economic particulars. However, he is forced to cement an identity by commoditizing it into a film role. He is letting his rather fantastical personality become binary. While religious themes continue to resonate here - through both Saladin and Gibreel's transformations - they become subsumed to the cultural and political themes. Saladin's hatred of Gibreel cedes his religious transformation, while Gibreel happily trades his angelic personality for a prospective return to secular stardom.
- It is also worth mentioning this section’s postmodern self-reflexivity – another one of Rushdie’s stylistic hallmarks. The narrator frequently makes reference to himself, as both the creator of the story and a character in it. Likewise, Mimi’s description of Western culture as a ‘culture of pastiche’ can describe The Satanic Verses itself, with its frequent references to Indian and Western pop culture and its appropriation of Islamic history.
The Satanic Verses Summary and Analysis of Part VI - "Return to Jahilia"
- Part VI resumes the Jahilia plotline twenty-five years after the end of Part II.
After two and a half decades in the more tolerant city of Yathrib, Mahound is set to return to his native city. Jahilia has suffered an economic decline over the years, and many of the characters from Part II, including Baal the poet and Abu Simbel, are in ill health. Hind, however, has strangely not aged at all. She remains as ruthless and sexually voracious as ever, and she rules Jahilia with an iron fist. The narrator pays special attention to Baal, who can no longer construct decent poems or attract women.
- One night, Salman – one of Mahound’s disciples – visits Baal to warn him that Mahound is returning. For a long time, Salman was a great supporter of Mahound, and even invented a spike pit that helped Yathrib defend itself against an army that followed them from Jahilia. However, Salman has now rebelled against Mahound because, under Mahound’s doctrine of Submission, “no aspect of human existence was to be left unregulated, free” (376). (Submission describes the act of self-denial before Allah). Salman began to doubt Submission when he noticed that the content of Mahound’s revelations always seemed to benefit Mahound and no one else. To test his doubts, Salman – who worked as a scribe for Mahound – started making changes to the revelations that Mahound dictated to him for the sacred script. Mahound never noticed the changes, which confirmed Salman's belief that Mahound was not in fact delivering the words of Allah. His faith destroyed, and worried that Mahound would eventually discover his subterfuge, Salman fled to Jahilia, believing it the one place where Submission would never take hold. Of course, with Mahound's impending return, this no longer seems likely.
- Unexpectedly, Abu Simbel accepts Submission, and addresses the people of Jahilia from his balcony, encouraging them to do the same. Hind is horrified by this, mainly because of her longstanding feud with Mahound; she had killed his uncle Hamza and other followers after the events of Part II. She pleads with the crowd to ignore her husband, but they take Abu Simbel’s side. Meanwhile, Mahound’s disciple Khalid enters the city and destroys the statue of Uzza, one of Jahilia's patron goddesses. When Uzza actually appears as a devilish woman, he kills her, and then reports back to Mahound.
- Mahound next destroys Jahilia’s main polytheistic shrine, the House of Black Stone. Most of the citizens then convert, including Hind, whom Mahound forgives for murdering his uncle. Mahound’s men find Salman, who begs for his life despite having betrayed the faith. Mahound seems posed to order his execution, but Salman promises to bring Mahound to Baal, and the prophet agrees. Mahound had never recovered from the shame of the vicious poetry Baal wrote about him and his faith, as detailed in Part II.
- Fearing for his life, Baal hides in a notoriously labyrinthine brothel, so intricate that he easily hides from Mahound's disciples when they search there for him. He disguises himself as a eunuch member of the staff, and from that vantage overhears men talking of outside events while they visit the prostitutes over the next months. He learns that most Jahilians have converted, though few of them are serious about Submission. Though prostitution is not sanctioned by Submission, Mahound has allowed some brothels to remain open temporarily. There is a thriving black market for pork and alcohol (both outlawed by Submission), and some people still secretly pray to the old goddesses. Gradually, Baal becomes disenchanted with both Submission and the old polytheism, and he becomes an atheist. However, he remains irritated by Mahound’s ceaseless search for power, so he develops a plan to undermine Submission.
- Baal thinks of one patron, Musa, who gossips about Mahound’s large harem. Baal suggests to the prostitutes that the next one to entertain Musa should pretend to be one of Mahound’s wives. The youngest prostitute agrees, and Musa is delighted. Soon, all of the prostitutes pretend to be a wife of Mahound, the brothel's business triples, and Baal is pleased that all of Jahilia is complicit in this heresy. The women gradually begin to take on the personality traits of Mahound's wives in their everyday lives, and they insist on collectively ‘marrying’ Baal, who is the only male staff member who is not a eunuch.
- One day, Salman visits the brothel and recognizes Baal. He explains that he is leaving town; Mahound’s theocracy has become too miserable to bear. Shortly afterwards, Mahound announces that all brothels must be closed and their owners arrested. However, the madam kills herself before she can be incarcerated, so the police officers arrest the prostitutes instead. When they beg him to intercede, he cowardly flees, and later regrets it. He begins to serenade them with beautiful poetry at the window of their jail cell every night, and eventually allows himself to be put on trial, where he explains to the public the gimmick he engineered. He is beheaded, and the prostitutes are stoned.
- The narrator reveals that Hind never truly converted to Submission; she just sequestered herself and lived out her life unhappily. Not long after Baal’s execution, Mahound falls ill and readies himself for death. He has a vision of Al-Lat, who tells him that his illness is her revenge. “Still,” he says, “I thank thee, Al-Lat, for this gift” (406). Those are his last words.
- As the Jahilia plotline concludes, Rushdie introduces a direct and pointed critique of Islam – and by default, of religion in general. He accomplishes this through the figure of Salman, who shares several characteristics with the author, and thus serves as a kind of stand-in for him. Salman shares a first name with Rushdie; in addition, his Persian ethnicity makes him an outsider among the followers of Submission.
- This may be a reflection of Rushdie’s own life experience. Although he writes about India, Islam, and Eastern culture, he was educated in England and has spent most of his adult life in the West – thus, some might argue that his perspective is that of a foreigner, one who does not entirely belong to any one culture. Finally, Salman’s position as a scribe, and his invention of the spike pit, show that he is more intellectually inclined than his peers, and that he has a creative personality – both qualities that Rushdie might well identify with.
- Initially, the Jahilia plotline encouraged the reader to sympathize with Mahound, who wrestles with doubt and uncertainty, and must confront persecution from Abu Simbel and the authorities. However, as Submission begins to flourish, Mahound is corrupted by power and takes advantage of his position to tightly control his followers’ lives. He no longer allows any room for doubt, but instead insists on certainty to cement his authority. By the end of Part VI, Jahilia has no clear moral center. Mahound and his followers are corrupt; Hind has sequestered herself; Salman has fled.
- Baal is arguably Part VI's protagonist, but even his actions are rife with moral ambiguity. In Part II, he wrote verses attacking Mahound not out of principle, but to avoid being beaten by Abu Simbel. Here, he antagonizes Mahound from his hideout in the brothel, but makes no real attempt to overthrow the regime. Ultimately, Baal is too silly and cowardly to be considered a hero, and Submission is just one more malevolent force in a universe of moral bankruptcy. In this way, Rushdie implicitly questions what authority an artist can have in the face of true power and corruption. Baal uses his imaginative ingenuity to sow seeds of heresy and discord, but those attempts falter before the permanence of execution. The artist certainly has power - in fact, Baal seems to be the man Mahound hates most from his earlier life - but that power only resonates when it is supported by the men who control the force.
- This narrative can be understood as a revisionist interpretation of Islamic history, but there are also parallels to more recent events. For example, the corruption of Submission could also be considered as an allegory for the Iranian revolution, which Rushdie satirized in Part IV. Like Submission, Iran’s theocracy first gained power as a populist movement, and it enjoyed support from many left-wing intellectuals. However, its leaders gradually exerted close control over the lives of its people. Indeed, Jahilia’s black market for pork and prostitutes evokes a modern theocratic regime more than any incident in ancient history. On the other hand, it is arguable that Rusdie is using this allegory to make a more universal statement about the way power corrupts ideals, and no revolution can remain pure, precisely because every person has both angelic and satanic potential. What begins as a pure intention is easily corrupted by our less noble qualities. In this way, this narrative parallels that of Gibreel and Saladin.
Footnote 1: See Gradesaver.com - The Satanic Verses.
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