Tuesday, March 17, 2009

appearance vs. reality

I felt like in each story of Salman Rushdie's East, West appearance was bumping up against reality.  The first time I noticed it was in "Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies"; Rushdie writes, "Muhammad Ali spoke brutally, on purpose, to lessen the shock would feel when it, or something like it actually happened." (9)  Muhammad Ali hits Miss Rehana with "brutal" reality in order that she might be prepared for anything to come.  He calls her a "fool" (12) as she leaves him, angry that she did not believe his advice, and upon her returning he hears her shocking story.  Appearance and reality collide once more as Miss Rehana's joy does not match her situation.  Muhammad Ali says, “You looked so happy—so I just assumed…excuse me, but they turned you down or what?” (15) Upon hearing her answer, he replies,

‘But this is tragedy!’ Muhammad Ali lamented.  ‘Oh, how I pray that you had taken up my offer!  Now, but, it is not possible, I regret to inform.  Now they have your form on file, cross-check can be made, even the passport will not suffice.

‘It is spoilt, all spoilt, and it could have been so easy if advice had been accepted in good time.’

‘I do not think,’ she told him, ‘I truly do not think you should be sad.’

Her last smile, which he watched from the compound until the bus concealed it in a dust-cloud, was the happiest thing he had ever seen in his long, hot, hard, unloving life. (15-16)

Miss Rehana’s smile surprises Muhammad Ali; she finds happiness in a place where he does not see it, creating a beauty deeper than anything he has seen in his life so far.  She is able to admit her foolishness, accept her failed attempt and move graciously towards her future.

In each story, a character living a dream seems to stub his or her toe on reality.  Rushdie writes in “The Free Radio” about Ramani’s letters,

I remember the expression which came over his face in the days just before he learned the truth about his radio, and the huge mad energy which he had poured into the act of conjuring reality, by an act of magnificent faith, out of the hot thin air between his cupped hand and his ear. (32)

Ramani’s dream world is obvious in both his story about the free radio he is receiving as well as, according to the narrator, in his relationship with the “thief’s widow.” (20)  Ramani is oblivious to the “shame” (21) he should apparently be feeling and persuaded by the “flattery” of the “dreams” of the “armband youths.” (22) He lives in a world completely made up of “dreams” and desires, and even in the case that his dream is shattered, as in the incident of “The Free Radio,” he merely recreates a new dream to exist within.

            Dreams, appearances and fantasies create a homeland for people.  Rushdie makes the transition from dream to home in “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers;” the narrator’s relationship with his cousin, Gale becomes a “home” that he has lost and still deeply longs for.  He describes his desperation to purchase the Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz, which transport Dorothy home again as well as the auction at which they are being sold.  This chaos of the auction presents many stories of people who are longing for home, allowing Rushdie to say, “Home has become such a scattered, damaged, various concept in our present travails.” (93) What about a home causes people to need dreams to hold on to?  Is the past a home from which we all emigrated, as Rushdie mentioned in his article we read?  Where is the boundary between appearance and reality?

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