Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Truths and Fictions

In the first half of East, West, Salman Rushdie weaves the theme of truth and fiction throughout his stories. In each tale, characters grapple with the potential dangers of these concepts. The situations in “East” seem to prove that while truth may have merits, fiction’s illusions may offer more happiness. Miss Rehana and Muhammad Ali debate whether truthful or deceitful methods will yield better results in her visa application. Ultimately, though the reader admires Rehana’s honesty, it proves fruitless. The narrator of “The Free Radio” pities Ram’s false hope, but he admires the confidence and happiness that youthful illusion provided Ram in the face of harsh reality. “The Prophet’s Hair” shows the danger of excessive honesty when, in an attempt to end hypocrisy, he spews “awful truths” that devastate his family (45). The “West” stories, in turn, emphasize the dangers of fiction: misunderstanding and falsehood lead to ghosts and murders in “Yorick,” while the embellishment of the tale of Christopher Columbus shows the intrigue of the imagined unknown. Each story presents a perspective that challenges the reader to question the tenability of a world with either too much truth or too much fiction.
Rushdie particularly emphasizes this theme in “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers.” The narrator muses that the word “home” has no reality behind it anymore. This illusion tempts people of all walks of life to bid for the opportunity to return to it, though it may not even exist. Fantasies, such as a literary character who participates in the auction and the narrator’s dream relationship with Gale, border dangerously on reality. The speaker observes, “This permeation of the real world by the fictional is a symptom of the moral decay of our post-millennial culture” (94). In the final stages of the auction, the narrator achieves a blissful state of detachment from reality. He calls this the process of coming under the grip of fiction, which poses great danger as it frees people of all inhibitions and desires. Ultimately, this story claims, one must constrain fiction from encroaching too far on reality. Rushdie’s images of “East” and “West” propose a tension between truth and fiction that both mistrusts and values both. This stance underscores the necessity of the author’s role in the culture as a voice that provides a candid view of society while using the hope-inspiring vehicle of fiction.

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