Study Guide

Midnight's Children

By Salman Rushdie

Midnight's Children Introduction

Got your backpack? Packed your towel? Your map?


Don't you know that Midnight's Children is a literary behemoth? You definitely shouldn't try to climb this thing without a map. Don't worry, though, we've got your back.

The first point on our map is fame. Picture this: It's 1981 when Salman Rushdie releases his second novel, Midnight's Children. Rushdie has absolutely no reason to think Midnight's Children will do well, since his first novel, Grimus, was a science-fiction flop. The new novel is different, though. It's a semi-autobiographical novel about a kid named Saleem. He's a fatalistic dork, who has magical powers and grows up in the shadow of India's independence. We've got some real hero material here.

And guess what? This new novel explodes onto the scene. It wins so many prizes that the only way to keep track of them all is to make a list:

  • The Booker prize
  • The James Tait Black Memorial prize
  • The Booker of Bookers prize
  • The English-speaking Union literary award
  • A bunch of others that we can't even fit here

The success of Midnight's Children is so epic that Rushdie quits writing sci-fi. If you've ever met someone who's into sci-fi, you know folks don't quit the genre lightly. But anyway, going forward Rushdie's other novels are all historical magical realist texts. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

Next up on our map is notoriety. Rushdie is no stranger to controversy. You might have heard that his novel Satanic Verses almost got him killed when Ayatollah Khomeini declared a fatwa against him in 1989. That's some serious stuff, but Rushdie first started playing with fire in Midnight's Children.

Three years after Midnight's Children was published, Rushdie got hit with a big fat lawsuit. Indira Gandhi sued him for defamation. The problem? One little sentence. The lawsuit was settled when Rushdie removed the sentence out of the novel, meaning you never got to read it. Worry not, though—we've got a copy just for you:

"It has often been said that Mrs. Gandhi's younger son Sanjay accused his mother of being responsible, through her neglect, for his father's death; and that this gave him an unbreakable hold over her, so that she became incapable of denying him anything."

Yeah, we wouldn't want to be blamed for someone else's death either.

Our last stop is Midnight's Children: the movie. You'd think the controversy was over, but even thirty-one years after its publication, it seems people are still a little afraid of this book. In 2012 Deepa Mehta directed a film adaptation of the movie, and controversy erupted before filming even wrapped. Let's list all the things that went wrong:

  • It was filmed in Sri Lanka instead of India in hopes of avoiding problems. India is where the story is set, though, and Sri Lanka just isn't India.
  • Rushdie wrote the screenplay and did the voiceovers, which offended Muslims.
  • Deepa Mehta, the director, was already notorious for her previous films that had upset members of the Hindu community.
  • Indira Gandhi appears in the movie looking like he-who-shall-not-be-named.

We probably don't need to tell you that the film didn't go over so well in India.

Fame, controversy, and a movie. That's what you need to know. There's your map, are you ready to get reading?

What is Midnight's Children About and Why Should I Care?

List of Things Shmoop Wants to Do with Our Lives:

  1. Win the Nobel Prize
  2. Have dinner with Rihanna
  3. Be knighted by the Queen
  4. Swim in a pool of gold, à la Scrooge McDuck

Everyone has these kinds of dreams, right? We know we're not the only ones dreaming of adoring fans throwing bouquets of roses at our feet while we smile and wave. But what about regular-old-boring-everyday dreams?

Knowing what you want out of your actual life is a little trickier, especially with so much pressure to have a detailed life game plan with less than twenty years walking around this planet under your belt.

What the heck are we supposed to do with our lives? Should we go to college? What about starting a business? That Steve Jobs guy didn't finish college and he turned out okay. Maybe we should just become hippies and live in the desert. No one will bother us about things like jobs and grades there.

In most of the novel, this is Saleem's problem. Everyone keeps telling him he has a great future ahead of him, but he has no idea what he's supposed to do. We know that feeling. His problems may involve a lot more magic and historical intrigue than yours, but we're sure that they feel just as important.

Here's the thing: Saleem fails. And not just once—this guy fails over and over again. He keeps trying, though. And eventually he figures this whole life thing out. He doesn't become a doctor or anything fancy like that, but his life ends up being interesting enough to fill 600 pages anyway. Frankly, it gives us hope. How about you?

Midnight's Children Resources


Spit, A Glorious Tradition
Saleem isn't the only one who won't let go of his spittoon.

The Widow Dies
This infamous lady gets her life examined by the New York Times.

Curious About India?
Pack your bags and let's go!

Let's Swing By Pakistan While We're At It
An extended vacation is always the best kind…


Two Hours Or 500 pages?
Sure, the movie is shorter than the book, but not that much shorter.

Who's Afriaid Of The Big Bad Book?
Apparently everyone in India, since no one wants to show the movie there.


A Walk Down Memory Lane
An interview with Rushdie about history and his new novel, The Enchantress of Florence.

That's A Lot Of Dough
Perhaps this didn't happen, but wouldn't the world be better if it had?


Resistance And Peace
Learn a little more about Satyagraha though Ghandi's grandson.

Way More Heartwarming Than We Remember It
We guess they had to change some stuff to make the movie, but how did Saleem get so handsome?


They Go Mad…
Listen to the hot song climbing the charts during the Bangladesh Liberation War.

Jon Stewart And Salman Rushdie Get It On
Need we say more?


The Boyhood of Raleigh
This is a kind of weird picture to have in a kid's room, isn't it?

Jamila Singer?
That doesn't look like a brass monkey to us.

The Perforated Sheet?
Somehow we expected it to be made out of gold or something. Maybe we're just too attached to it.