A. Hazel Verbina isAssistant Professor at Dr. G. R. Damodharan College of Science, Civil Aerodrome Post, Avinashi Road, Coimbatore - 641014 (Tamilnadu)-India. Her articles on literary criticism have been appeared in various journal. email: <verbinahazel@gmail.com>


 
 

The Migrant and the Immigrant- a Comparative Study
on Salman Rushdie and Chinua Achebe

- A. Hazel Verbina


The two great writers of the post colonial era Achebe and Rushdie resemble in many ways in their writing. Salman rushdie concentrates on the migrants whereas Achebe concentrates on the native’s suffering because of the immigration of the British people. Achebe’s attitude resembles that expressed by the Indian postcolonial novelist Salman Rushdie. Rushdie presents the post colonial turmoil and the Indo-Pakistani experiences. His Midnight’s Children and Shame can be considered as sociopolitical satires about India and Pakistan after their independences.

Rushdian visions are also filled with Indian elements and post-colonial western skepticism. Salman Rushdie is a diasporic writer, though not fit in the definition of Boehmer according to whom diasporas are the children of migrants. Shame is the story of Rushdie’s first exiled country i.e. Pakistan. It is also an allegorical novel as Rushdie himself says: “The country in this story is not Pakistan, not quite. There are two countries, real and fictional occupying the same space or almost the same space”. Shame is a novel about migration. At several places Salman Rushdie emerges as the narrator and narrates the deplorable conditions of migrants.

In his novels, Salman Rushdie deals with various national and international themes, but his primary focus is his motherland and its subcontinents i.e. Pakistan and Bangladesh. Themes such as migration, exile, diaspora, nationalism, multiculturalism, dualism etc. appear in his novels from the very first page. His writings have become the focus of a certain kind of struggle for cultural identity in Britain and other Western states.

Three of Rushdie’s most important works, Midnight’s Children, Shame, and The Satanic Verses, draw heavily on the theme of migration. By examining the life of the migrant, Rushdie explores the universal mystery of being born and the puzzle of who one is. One can understand Rushdie’s quest for identity by examining his life, his deliberately chosen style of prose, the theme of “double identity”, “divided selves” and the “Shadow figures” in his novels and in his personality, and the benefits that many characters reap from being migrants. Salman Rushdie is the quintessential migrant and has gained a unique perspective from his rather unique life. Migration is a painful but emancipating process: “To be reborn, first you have to die” (The Satanic Verses). Rushdie admits that after leaving one’s homeland for a long time, one has
a tendency to romanticize, over-emphasize, or even forget completely, certain details. However, Rushdie also maintains that there is an advantage to this filtering of experience. In Midnight’s Children, Rushdie uses the metaphor of a movie screen to explain the perception of a migrant: “Suppose yourself in a large cinema, and gradually moving up, until your nose is almost pressed against the screen. Gradually the stars’ faces dissolve into dancing grain; tiny details assume grotesque proportions;... it becomes clear that the illusion itself is reality” (394). Although migrants may not be able to determine the precise historical truth of their past, they are able to ferret out what is important in the shaping of their lives.

Indeed, it is quite clear in Rushdie’s novels that migrants gain insight from their plight. Unfortunately, however, such insight is often silenced and devalued. By successfully blending English and Indian voices, Rushdie manages to empower the migrant. In “Imaginary Homelands” Rushdie writes; “We can’t simply use the language the way the British did; it needs remaking for our own purposes...To conquer English may be to complete the process of making ourselves free” (17).

Shame, Midnight’s Children, and The Satanic Verses all deal with the death the migrant dies, the agony of mutation, and the emancipation and self- knowledge of rebirth. One can understand this unifying theme in Rushdie’s works by examining his life, his deliberately chosen style of prose, the theme of “double identity” in his novels and in his personality.

Despite the confusion and ambiguity that the migrant’s existence entails, in Rushdie’s novels it forces the character to search for self-identity, to search for the things that made him: this is the blessing of the migrant. Each of the migrant protagonists has a very special talent that allows him to clearly view himself and the world around him. In Midnight’s Children, Saleem is born on India’s independence day and hence has powers of telepathy. In The Satanic Verses Gibreel believes he is a prophet and is blessed with foreknowledge of future events. Indeed, Rushdie himself embarks on a journey of self-discovery when he writes and the talent that propels him toward self-knowledge is his brilliant creativity and skillful writing.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century most European states migrated to Africa and other parts of the world where they established colonies. Nigeria was amongst other African nations that received visitors who were on a colonising mission introducing their religion and culture that is later imposed on Igbo. The culture of the people of Umuofia (Igbo culture)is immensely threatened by this change.
Things Fall Apart is indeed a classic study of cross-cultural misunderstanding and the consequences to the rest of humanity, when a belligerent culture or civilization, out of sheer arrogance and ethnocentrism, takes it upon itself to invade another culture, another civilization. One of the issues that critics have continued to discuss is whether Okonkwo serves as an embodiment of the values of Umuofia or stands in conflict with them.

In Things Fall Apart, Achebe correlates the same idea to the Igbo society of Nigeria that due to its colonization by the British and because of internal weaknesses within the native structure, the community of Umuofia is unable to withstand the change and transformation leading to an anarchic world of destruction and causing the traditional world of African culture and values in colonial as well as in post colonial era to fall apart. He expounds that Africa is a composite and vibrant society against the view that it is stereotypical, primitive, simple and backward. European writers have always presented the continent as a dark place inhabited by people of primitive minds. Achebe changed this notion and assumption by presenting a completely different perspective of the African society.

Achebe’s writing tends to insist that the African culture was vulnerable to invasion by western civilization. Hero is distressed by social changes brought by white men in the traditional society. His position is at risk due to the arrival of a new value system. The irony is that Okonkwo completely loses himself in both.

Achebe places slavery in an ongoing process in which the onslaught of colonialism uncovers and also radically transforms the moral and legal dispensations in which African slavery was worlded. The afterlives of slavery become an intimate but deeply perturbing part of postcolonial heritage. The invocations of slavery in Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease point to the search for an irretrievable moral center in which to enunciate the operations of slavery in one specific historical setting. But since that moral order is irrevocably altered, Achebe places slavery in an ongoing pro-cess in which the onslaught of colonialism uncovers and also radically transforms the moral and legal dispensations in which African slavery was worlded.

Literature has been a medium through which writers enumerate the social issue especially writers like Rushdie and Achebe has a deep thirst towards their native culture and they could never sustain the changes that took place because of the migration. They want the people around the world to understand the ultimate suffering of the migrants in adapting themselves towards the new society and culture and that serves the basis of their novels.

References

- Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. New York: Penguin Books, 1980
- Rushdie, Salman. Shame. New York: Random House, 1984.
- Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. Dover: The Consortium, 1988.
- Weatherby, William. Salman Rushdie: Sentenced to Death. New York: Carol & Graf
- Hamilton, Ian. “The First Life of Salman Rushdie.” The New Yorker. Dec. 1995: 90-113.
- Harrison, James. Salman Rushdie. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.
- Jones, Peter. “The Satanic Verses andthe Politics of Identity.” Reading Rushdie. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994
- Needham, Anuradha. “The Politics of Post-Colonial Identity in Salman Rushdie.” Reading Rushdie. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994. Publishers, 1990
- Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized(Boston: Beacon Press, 1965), p.9. Print.
- Chinua Achebe, “The Novelist as Teacher,” Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965 1987 (London: Heinemann, 1988), p. 30. Print.
- Achebe, “The Black Writer’s Burden,” Presence Africaine, 59 (1966), p. 135.
- Achebe, Things Fall Apart(London: Heinemann, 1971), p. 1

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© Author
(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Summer 2015)