Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Home and Childhood: The Shattered Mirror

Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children is the work that launched Rushdie’s career and earned him popularity and renown. In the excerpt from Imaginary Homelands the we read, he ties in images and moments from Midnight Children. He explains why he made the narrator of that story, Saleem, untrustworthy as a narrator: because he is human and has a “fallible memory” and a fragmented vision of his past (Rushdie 10). This introduces the metaphor of the shattered, broken mirror, which represents human memory and the past in the excerpt and allows the reader to visualize how difficult it is to write about one’s homeland, when one doesn’t live there anymore. Rushdie himself seems somewhat unsure whether a fragmented view of the past is beneficial or detrimental stating that “the broken mirror may actually be as valuable as the one which is supposedly unflawed” (Rushdie 11). Although it may seem obvious that seeing the whole picture is better, Rushdie argues that in some ways, the fragmented pieces become more valuable and more vital to people’s lives and writer’s experiences. This is  because the memories that human beings do have of the past and of their homes are more often than not, big moments in their lives. As Rushdie writes, the memories that he had of his childhood in Bombay were “of greater status, greater resonance, because they were remains; fragmentation made trivial things seem like symbols, and the mundane acquired numinous qualities” (Rushdie 12). To Rushdie, it is the little things combined that make up his childhood and remind him of his homeland. 

I believe that the shattered mirror is also representative of childhood. Even if you still live in the place where you grew up, your past is fragmented. We are not meant to remember every single thing that happened every day when we were two years old. Childhood is where we develop our first idea of what home is. So Rushdie, as a child living in Bombay, developed his personal idea of what his home was. That is why when he returned to do his research, he was amazed by how many of his memories came back to him and how, even if they were the most ordinary things, they became a part of his stories and became symbols of his past in the present. 
Home is a collection of memories, whether they are our own or not, that represent moments in time where we felt at home. When we think of home, we think of a place or people, but in reality we are thinking of the memories we made in that place or with those people. We are thinking of moments in which we felt like we belonged, felt loved, or felt a part of something. Through these childhood memories that we bring to the surface, we put together our own idea of home. Rushdie’s definition is that , “meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved” (Rushdie 12). Therefore, we find meaning in the shattered mirror fragments of our past, and they contribute to who we are and what we do in the present. For writers like Rushdie, whether they have left their homeland or not, it is a similar idea; they take the experiences of their past and turn them into stories about their homelands. 

In my dad, who has lived in the United States for the majority of his life, but lived for his first 18 years in a small village in Ireland, I see this idea everyday. Though he is Irish by heritage and proud of it, he considers himself to be American and you can barely hear his accent anymore. But whenever he does something or says something a little different or out of the ordinary, he always has a story about when he was a kid in Ireland to explain why he uses that phrase or acts that way. His stories are vivid and he tells them so well that I can almost picture myself there and they seem so real to me. Does that mean that he remembers every moment of his childhood second by second? Of course not. He forgets names and dates and places. Sometimes he just remembers a person and tells me about them, but it is obvious that although they may not be complete these stories are a part of who he is. Just because isn't in Ireland anymore, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t, deep down, carry his homeland with him everyday through the fragments of his childhood memories. In this sense, the shattered mirror is not a bad thing, but, as Rushdie said, beneficial, as it makes the things we do remember all the more special. 

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