University of Oulu

The conflict between the personal and the social in Salman Rushdie’s Shame; ‘History’ vs. ‘history’

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Author: Sebire, Mark1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Humanities, English Philology
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.6 MB)
Pages: 60
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oulu : M. Sebire, 2015
Publish Date: 2015-12-14
Thesis type: Master's thesis
Tutor: Braidwood, John
Reviewer: Braidwood, John
Sandberg, Eric
At its most simplistic, the novel Shame is a tale about the birth of the nation of Pakistan. Its author, Salman Rushdie, is perhaps uniquely placed to tell this tale. He was born in Bombay, then British India, on 19th June, 1947 to a wealthy Muslim family of Kashmiri descent. Less than two months after his birth, his country was subject to major political change. British India was divided, and the nation of Pakistan was created on 14th August, 1947. The following day India gained its independence from Britain. Rushdie was therefore born at a pivotal point in his country’s history. His upbringing and education is equally pivotal as it provides an insight into his writing style and perspective, as he is a product of both the Indian and British educational systems. The central theme of this paper is that there are two distinct versions of history which are exposed in Shame; the official ‘History’ — with a capital ‘H’ — of the state, and the unofficial, personal ‘histories’ — with a small ‘h’ — of the characters in the novel. There is also the historical perspective of the author as well, which makes objective criticism complicated. The narrative process within the novel is a complex dialectic between the personal and the social; between what the state wishes people to believe has happened, and what people have actually witnessed, with the acknowledged limitations of memory and hindsight. The truth is a tantilising mirage; the closer the reader believes they are to it, the more Rushdie’s playful style leads them away. There are many views of the past depicted in the novel, therefore, but none of them could be described as definitive; they are all flawed by the subjectivity of the human condition. What Rushdie is doing, however, is forcing the reader to make up their own mind; to create their own ‘history’ from the versions he presents. As well as being labelled as postcolonial writing, the novel has been described as postmodern fiction. Both of these assertions are examined in this paper. The “different” techniques that Rushdie applies in the telling of his story will be addressed in the first section of this paper. The second part of this paper details what I believe to be the main theme of the novel, which is the question of the nature of history, and the individual’s place within society. In telling his story, Rushdie is “creating” a history of his own. What is striking about this novel is that it illuminates the hazy uncertainty which exists between what people believe to be “fact” and what they see as “fiction”, and this is, of course, Rushdie’s point.
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Copyright information: © Mark Sebire, 2015. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.