The Hybridity of Narrative Form and Language in 'Haroun and the sea of stories'


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The present paper wishes to analyze the book “Haroun and the sea of stories” from different perspectives, concentrating on few of the characteristics that outline the book is a work of postmodernist meta-fiction, focusing on patterns of language and narrative style. At the same time, I will address the characteristics that make the novel appealing to adolescents and young readers, as well as to adults.
  Hybridity of narrative form and language in'Haroun and the Sea of Stories' The children`s book   Haroun and the Sea of Stories was published in 1990 by Salman Rushdieand as himself indicates, it should be read mainly as a fairy tale for children. However, it is hardto ignore the fact that the book was published one year after a  fatwah was issued against theauthor by Ayatollah Khomeini, an ex-Iranian political and religious leader, for publishing thenovel The Satanic Verses .The present paper wishes to analyze the book  “Haroun and the sea of stories” from different perspectives, concentrating on few of the characteristics that outline the book is a work of  postmodernist metafiction, focusing on patterns of language and narrative style. At the sametime, I will address the characteristics that make the novel appealing to adolescents and youngreaders, as well as to adults.In the light of this arguments, it is compulsory to stress out the author`s view upon the book itself, which gives us a clear contour on the starting point for interpretation. Hence, in a small booklet published by the British Film Institute on The Wizard of Oz  (1992), Rushdie describesthe impact this movie had on his future career as a writer: “ When I first saw The Wizard of Oz, it made a writer of me. Many years later, I began todecise the yarn and eventually became Haroun and the Sea of stories, and felt stronglythat if I could strike the right note it should be possible to write the tale in such way as tomake it of interest to adults as well as children; or, to use the phrase beloved of blurbists, to <<children from seven to seventy>>” 1   It is therefore only fair to assume that the endeavor the author has put into his work wasundertaken in order to target the adults as well and to pique their interest upon what the entire book seems to be concentrated upon: freedom of speech. All the oscillations around storytellingand freedom of telling stories is in fact connected with the personal liberty of the individual. The exploration of the value of fiction in “  Haroun and the Sea of Stories ” is initiated by Mr.Sengupta when he addresses Rashid`s wife the following question: “ what`s the use of stories that aren`t even true? ” 2   The challenge this question poses is combated in the course of the narrative.The author pinpoints that Rashid`s intention was never to relay on fact or truth, as a matter of fact, as Haroun outlines,  people had faith in him because in contrast to all the “  politico” headmitted that his stories were completely untrue and out of his head. Furthermore, Rashid`s 1   Suchismita Sen,  Memory, Language, and Society in Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories   , Literature,Vol.36, No. 4 (Winter, 1995), p. 662, Published by:University of Wisconsin Press,Article stable URL:   2   Salman Rushdie, “  Haroun and the sea of stories” , Granta Books, London, 1990, p.20  denial of offering facts and truths and his choice for fiction made him more trust-worthy that the “truth - tellers” because he was not attempting to capture the reality into political slogans. 3 Thisfirst argument is the starting point in proving the metafictional character of the book as theauthor choses to deal with a large and broad work of fiction, the stories. In this context, Nick Bentley`s characterization of the author`s writing techniques, expands the horizons for further analysis. “  Rushdie has often been associated with magic realism, a novelistic genre established mainly by Latin American writers such as Carlos Fuentes, Alejo Carpentier and Gabriel  Marcia Marquez. This form of writing often merges classic European realism withmagical stories (drawn in Rushdie‟s case from Asian and Middle - Eastern legends) whichdeconstruct the notions of rationality and order normally associated with the Western Enlightenment. It is then, a hybrid form that combines two modes of fiction that are most usually separate . ” 4  The cultural context from which  Haroun draws much of its substance needs to be understood inits broadest sense and beyond Rushdie`s current ordeal as it is shaped by the author`s experiencein India, the West and of course Islam. 5   “  In Haroun, Rushdie has managed to re-create his Indian Childhood not only throughimages but also by shaping the English language in a way that reverberates with thenuances of an Indian existence. Contemporary Indian Existence is torn between loyalty toits own tradition and its obvious admiration for many Western values.” 6   Ensuing, we have the Guppees as representatives of a free society, in which multiculturalism anddiversity are represented by the Sea of Stories. Furthermore, their dedication is visible in the willto fight against anyone that wants to put an end to freedom of speech. For them the freedom of speech is the most important liberty of all, as it leads towards a more tolerant society, in whichdifferent ideas manage to coexist side by side. Due to this premise, many times Rushdie`s novelhas been criticized for being full of naiveté, as the author tries to assume that speech does nothave the capacity to cause direct harm, thus ignoring the political implications of such anassumption. 7   3   Andrew S. Teverson, “Fairy Tale Politics: Free Spe ech and Multiculturalism in <<Haroun and the Sea of  Stories>>”, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 47, No.4, Salman Rushdie (Winter, 2001), pp. 444-446, Published by: Hofstra University, Article Stable URL:  4 Nick Bentley, Contemporary British Fiction , Edinburgh University Press, 2008, p. 67   5 Aron R. Aji and Salman Rushdie ,  All Names Mean Something : Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Legacy of  Islam , Contemporary Literature , Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring, 1995), pp. 103-129, Published by: University of WisconsinPress,Article Stable URL:    6 Suchismita Sen, “  Memory, Language…”  p.665 7   Teverson, “Fairy Tale Politics…”    Hybridity in Rushdie`s book challenges the reality-effect of content, either if it is understood asethics or as a narrative of identity. The signifying systems that one culture uses to understanditself cannot be rendered transparently in a new language. The author argues in his essay “Imaginary Homelands”    particularly on this topic: “  Many have referred about the appropriateness of [English] to Indian themes. And I hope all of us share the view that we can`t simply use the language in the way the Britishdid; that it needs remaking for our own purposes. Those of us who use English do so in spite of our ambiguity towards it, or perhaps because we can find in that linguistic struggle a reflection of the other struggles taking place in the real world, strugglesbetween the cultures within ourselves and the influences at work upon our societies. Toconquer En  glish may be to complete the process of making ourselves free.” 8   It is easy to depict that even  Haroun confronts the “the struggles between the cultures” inimmigrant identity. Rushdie argues in his book   Imaginary Homelands , that the culturaldisplacement gives rise to modernism in the sense of, those constructions of reality experiencedmore than once become suspect or provisional, making realism impossible. Speakers of IndianEnglish often use old fashioned expressions such as: “How is your good self?” or  “What is good   your name, sir? ” , adding flavor to the narration. In fact, not to many recognize that “good name” is a literal translation of the Bengali expression bhalo naam and it refers to a person`sformal name. Due to the widespread dual naming, the adjective “good” is used with a specialdifferent meaning in conversations by South Asians. 9  Salman Rushdie is part of a new generation of Indian fiction writers who manage to combineelements of an ancient Indian civilization with elements of the new independent nation it strivesto become. Thus, as in all postmodernist types of novel, in  Haroun we acknowledge the presenceof contradictory positions for the sake of ideologies, religious beliefs and conventions. 10 Also,the cultural hybridity manages to offer certain advantages in reducing the disparities betweenlanguage, race and art through the unification of all in one world.Turning back to the second premise stated in the introduction, it is clear that the novel managesto capture the attention of the young readers as well, for it can be described as a short literaryfantasy that combines elements of fairy tale. The quest of the little boy who travels in unknownlands in order to save his father from losing his storytelling gift, proved to be a captivating storyfor children. The narrative uses fantastical and nonsensical scenarios to hide the true satiricalintentions. The hero of the book also travels in a world parallel to his own and when he reacheshome he acknowledges that everything has changed and clarified. The similarities between 8 Salman Rushdie, “Imaginary Homelands. Essays and Criticism 1981 - 1991”  , Published by Granta Books inassociation with Penguin Books, New York, 1992, p. 17Stable URL:   9   Sen, “ Memory,Language…”, p.667 10 Teverson  ,”Fairy Tale Politics…”      Haroun and  Alice in Wonderland  are striking in this context. However, with a further insight wecan easily depict the different background the stories have. While  Alice in Wonderland  derivesfrom a the English storytelling tradition of the Victorian age, Rushdie`s novel manages todemonstrate a resistance to the exclusiveness of the European narrative forms and modes of  perceptions and beautifully intertwines it with Indian storytelling. 11 For instance, the elements of European storytelling mix, with allusions to the East and Eastern mythology is visible in thediscussion Rashid has with Haroun about the spirits of dead kings who live in the appearance of hoopoe birds and who also are helpful companions on quests. A sort of mechanical hoopoe birdis going to carry Haroun to the Ocean of the Streams of Story and to Gup City, travel thatactually represents the first part of his quest. Furthermore, Haroun`s companion is the Water Genie Iff, who seems to have been taken directly from the  Arabian Nights . All the metaphors,the foreign words, the synonyms repeated by Iff the Water Genie, the wordplay and the literaryallusions contained within the pages, successfully captivate the young readers due to thesymbolism they carry. The youngsters find themselves caught between the worlds of childhoodand adulthood, between the ambiguity of the story and the sophisticated critique on our freedoms.Many of the intertextual elements refer to texts which are part of traditional children reading,although no child reader manages to grasps all the allusions to other works of fiction, themotivation for further inquiry it is provided. In “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” the allusionsused throughout the text are however sewed in such way in which they manage to communicatea metafictional statement. Hence, the answer to the question Haroun asks his father in the beginning, “What is the use of stories that aren`t even true?” , is to be found on his quest in itsdifferent phases. In the first part of his journey, the beauty of the stories is revealed in the coloursof the Ocean of the Streams of Story. In this world the stories are called differently. For instance “Princess Rescue Story G/1001/RIM/777/M(w)I better known as „Rapunzel‟” 12 . However, whenHaroun drinks from the Ocean and enters the story, the entire saga takes a wrong turn due to themix up of the stories by Kahttam Shud. “ What Haroun was experiencing, though he didn`t know it, was Princess Rescue Story Number S/1001/ZHT/420/41(r)xi; and because the princess in this particular story had a haircut and therefore had no long tresses to let down[…], Haroun as the hero was required to climb up the outside of the tower by clinging to the cracks between the stones with his bare hands and feet.” 13   Eventually, when Haroun transforms into a spider and the princess pushes him down because shedoes not want to be saved by a spider, the reader can realize the allusions the author makes to 11   Idem 12   Rushdie, “  Haroun …”,  p. 73   13   Idem
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