67 pages 2 hours read

Salman Rushdie

Midnight's Children

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1981

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Summary and Study Guide


Midnight’s Children is a 1981 magical realism novel by British American novelist Salman Rushdie. The story follows Saleem, a child born at the moment of India’s independence who possesses strange powers. The novel won many awards, including the Booker of Bookers Prize, which was awarded to the best all-time winner of the Booker Prize on the award’s 40th anniversary. Midnight’s Children has been adapted for theater, radio, and film. This guide uses the 2006 Vintage Canada eBook edition.

Plot Summary

Saleem Sinai is the first-person narrator of Midnight’s Children. His companion Padma listens to him telling the story of his family’s life, which he hopes to finish before he dies. Saleem was born at the moment India gained its independence from the British Empire, at exactly midnight on August 15, 1947. Since that moment, his life has been tied to the fate of his country.

Saleem begins his story with his grandfather, Aadam Aziz. In 1915, Aadam has returned to Kashmir, his homeland, after studying medicine in Germany. While living with his parents, he regularly treats Naseem, the daughter of a wealthy man named Ghani. However, Ghani will only allow Aadam to treat Naseem through a small hole in a sheet to preserve her honor. After years of treating Naseem, Aadam knows that he loves her. He sees her face for the first time on the final day of World War I. Aadam marries Naseem and moves to Agra. There, Aadam experiences the violent suppression of Indian protests in the name of independence. The couple has three daughters named Alia, Mumtaz, and Emerald and two sons named Mustapha and Hanif. Following the death of Aadam’s friend Mian Abdullah, Aadam agrees to shelter Mian’s secretary Nadir Kahn in his basement. While hiding from the authorities, Nadir falls in love with Mumtaz. The couple marries in secret, but after two years of marriage Aadam discovers that his daughter is still a virgin. Aadam is outraged and Nadir flees from the house while Emerald runs to tell her lover, a military officer named Major Zulfikar. Though Nadir is not caught, Emerald marries Zulfikar. Shortly after, Mumtaz meets Ahmed Sinai. Ahmed had been courting Alia, but he marries Mumtaz instead; she agrees to change her name to Amina and move to Delhi with her new husband.

In Delhi, Amina becomes pregnant with her first child. She visits a fortune teller, who informs her that her son will never be older or younger than India, among other more cryptic predictions. At the same time, Ahmed’s business is targeted because he is Muslim. When he fails to pay a bribe, his warehouse burns down. The family moves to Bombay, purchasing a house on an estate that belonged to an Englishman named William Methwold, who plans to return to Britain following India’s independence. A beggar named Wee Willie Winkie visits the estate often. He reveals that, like Amina, his wife Vanita is pregnant. However, he does not know that his wife had a secret affair with Methwold. Amina and Vanita give birth on the night India gains its independence. As the babies lay in the maternity ward, the midwife Mary Pereira switches the name tags in an act of revolutionary solidarity with her boyfriend, Joseph D’Costa. The baby from the rich family will grow up with the poor beggar while the beggar’s son will grow up in the wealthy household. Feeling guilty, Mary leaves her job as a midwife and becomes a nanny in the family. Saleem, the son of Vanita and Wee Willie Winkie, will now grow up with the rich family. The timing of Saleem’s birth ties him to India’s history. He is one of many babies born in the hour after independence. A few years later, Amina gives birth to a daughter, who is nicknamed the Brass Monkey. Saleem’s large nose and the expectations placed on him by the circumstances of his birth inspire the other boys in his school to bully him, which turns Saleem into a shy boy. One morning, he seeks out the comfort of his usual hiding spot inside a laundry basket. He then overhears his mother having a strange telephone conversation, which turns out to be with her former husband. She is outraged at Saleem’s eavesdropping and punishes him by forbidding him from speaking for an entire day. During Saleem’s day of silence, he realizes he can hear voices in his head. Eventually, he realizes that he has magical powers. He can use his telepathy to hear other people’s thoughts, and he uses this power to contact the hundreds of other children born in the hour after India’s independence. They call themselves Midnight’s Children, and they all have powers, the strength of which depends on how close to midnight the child was born. Saleem discovers that Wee Willie Winkie’s son, Shiva, has a special capacity for violence and very strong knees. Saleem and Shiva do not see eye-to-eye. Saleem’s true parentage is revealed when his parents are asked to donate blood to him after an accident. Afterward, he is sent to live with Aunt Pia and Uncle Hanif. He stays with them for some time, then returns home. After Saleem leaves, Hanif dies by suicide, and the family mourns his death. The mourning period prompts Mary to confess to switching the babies’ name tags. When Ahmed becomes a bitter, violent alcoholic, Amina takes her children to Pakistan to live with her sister Emerald. Saleem sees Emerald’s husband General Zulfikar launch a coup against the government in Pakistan.

The Brass Monkey becomes a famous singer in Pakistan and becomes known as Jamila Singer. Ahmed suffers a heart attack, so Amina and the children return to Bombay. During this time, Saleem’s nose becomes completely blocked. When he has an operation to fix the issue, he loses his telepathic powers but gains an amazing sense of smell. Saleem can even smell emotions. After India loses a war to China, the family moves back to Pakistan. Jamila continues her music career and becomes the most famous singer in the country. When war breaks out in Pakistan, most of Saleem’s family is killed by an air raid. Saleem is hit in the head and loses his memories. Unsure of his identity, Saleem is recruited into the Pakistani army. His sense of smell makes him a valuable asset, as he can smell danger. Saleem becomes involved in the Pakistan Civil War, in which the Pakistani Army commits atrocities in the country now known as Bangladesh. Saleem disappears into the jungle with his unit, and when they emerge, he reunites with one of the Midnight’s Children, a witch named Parvati. She invites him to live in an enclave of magicians in Delhi, a community led by a man named Picture Singh.

After Saleem refuses to marry her, Parvati has an affair with Shiva and becomes pregnant with his child. Saleem agrees to marry the now-pregnant Parvati. At the same time, the Prime Minister of India launches a sterilization campaign in the country. The army attacks the magicians, and the inhabitants are forcibly sterilized. Parvati and many others die. Under torture, Saleem shares the names of the rest of the Midnight’s Children, who are also sterilized. When the Prime Minister calls an election, however, she loses. The Midnight’s Children are freed. Saleem finds Parvati’s son with Picture Singh. They go to Bombay and Picture challenges a famous snake charmer to a duel. Saleem discovers that Mary Pereira now works at a chutney factory in Bombay. He joins her and meets Padma in the factory. With his story complete, Saleem agrees to marry Padma. Just as he prophesied, he turns to dust and dies on the day of his wedding and the anniversary of India’s independence.