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Haroun and the Sea of Stories is on the surface a children's novel that Rushdie wrote for his 11 year old son. After a more in depth reading though, the novel emerges as a satire on the restrictions imposed on freedom of speech.
The novel is basically about a young boy (Haroun) whose father is a renowned storyteller but loses the gift of gab after his wife elopes. Haroun wants to restore his father's abilities of storytelling and thus embarks on a fantastical adventure that takes him to another planet, where there is constant strife between speech and silence.
He meets incredible creatures who become his friends and he gets involved in the battle of silence v/s speech, the battle to save the stories of the world. At the end he succeeds in restoring the gift of gab and his mother returns home to a happy ending.
The novel is highly allegorical with hidden meanings strewn across the narrative. The novel is also autobiographical in nature as it is the first novel that Rushdie wrote after his much controversial Satanic Verses succeeded in getting him a death sentence by religious leaders.
The book's storyline clearly draws a contrast between speech and silence. Much of the story's action takes place in a magical land where there is battle between the supporters of speech and the foe of speech. The novel highlights the importance of speech and communication in comparison with silence and muteness.
Rushdie also talks about the importance of language not only in the spoken form but also the language of gestures and movements. He illustrates how loss of language results in loss of identity and utter chaos. He also shows the foolishness of useless speech thus advocating a balance between silence and speech.
Theme and Sub-Themes
The major theme seems to be a Children's fantasy novel.
On closer study the following themes emerge:
The importance of stories and imagination.
The balance between silence and speech
The censorship of free speech
The foolishness of war
Control through language
The beauty of darkness
The struggle of every human with own subconscious
The psychology of a child
The blindness of love
The effect of parents' separation on kids
The nature and character of stories
The dirty tricks of politics
Observation and comments analysis
The novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories was written by Rushdie for his son Zafar, who was 11 at that time. The novel was written by Rushdie after his previous novel, The Satanic Verses met with worldwide criticism. The Satanic Verses was declared blasphemous and a Fatwa was placed upon Rushdie calling for his death. Rushdie had to thus, live a life of hiding till things cooled down and this secluded life prompted him to write on the subject of freedom of speech.
Rushdie had promised to write his son a children's novel and that is why on the surface Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a common kids' fiction. But, just like Rushdie's every novel, this one too has undercurrents of many themes and subthemes.
The story revolves around Haroun Khalifa the son of Rashid Khalifa. Rashid is a famous storyteller in a city which is so 'ruinously sad that it has forgotten its name.' The tragedy occurs when Haroun's mother and Rashid the story teller's wife elopes with their neighbour. The loss hits Rashid so hard that he loses his storytelling abilities, his gift of gab. His son, Haroun makes up his mind to restore the gift of his father.
Haroun's determination takes him to a magical land, the land of Kahani where flows the sea of stories. Here he meets strange creatures and learns that the sea of stories is in trouble as there is someone wanting to poison it. As he gets more involved he learns about Khattam Shud the arch-enemy of speech and language. Khattam Shud wants to destroy the sea of stories and rule the planet of Kahani.
What follows is a war between the land of speech appropriately called GUP city and the land of silence called the Land of CHUP. How the protagonist Haroun Khalifa takes part in the war and the role he plays is both amusing and entertaining.
The novel deals majorly about the contrast of speech and silence. In the magical land of Kahani, there are two parts, one is the land of Gup where free speech is practised and the other is Land of Chup where speech is not allowed. Even the kings and ruler are named accordingly. Gup land's king is King Chattergy (derived from the word Chatter), princess is called Batcheat (Meaning Chit Chat) and the prince, her fiancée is called Bolo (Meaning to speak). On the other hand the Chup land is ruled by Khattam Shud (Pointing to the end of speech and thereby everything).
When these two sides battle it out, the protagonist Haroun is a part of the war and plays an important role that helps the Gupees win the war. He also learns many important lessons on the way and finally accomplishes his ultimate aim of restoring his father's gift of gab.
Rushdie makes it a point to mark the importance of opposites. He highlights the need of silence and the foolishness of useless chatter. He also points out the grace and beauty of darkness as opposed to sunlight.
The censorship of speech is an important theme of the novel and finds its roots in Rushdie's own experiences. After Rushdie's novel Satanic Verses hurt religious sentiments, he went into exile and in this novel he talks of censorship in metaphors and also sometimes directly. The freedom of speech is the life blood of stories and these themes make the novel a whole.
The novel is primarily a children's fiction and so, the psychology of a young child is played upon by Rushdie through the protagonist Haroun. In every action of Haroun, in each of his dialogue and also in his thoughts, a child psychology is revealed. When his mother deserts his father, he suffers a blow and his concentration power diminishes leaving him able to concentrate for not more than 11 minutes. Thus the effect of parents' separation on kids is also brought to fore.
The novel also deals a lot with shadows. It is explained that in the land of Chup there is perpetual darkness because of which the shadows rule. The shadows are shown as individual entities separate from their owners. These shadows have their own will and are at constant war with their owners. Using this concept of shadows Rushdie points to the subconscious mind of every person which is at constant strife with the conscious self. The subconscious wants to assert itself, to come to surface but is bound by the conscious. This whole psychological concept is explained beautifully by Rushdie's depiction of Mudra the Shadow warrior.
Rushdie does not fail to highlight the futility and foolishness of war when he talks about the way the two armies clash. The description of war is indeed comical and definitely very foolish. In this subtle way, Rushdie points out the foolishness and uselessness of war.
Another theme explored by Rushdie is the blindness of love. The prince and princess of the Gup city are shown as total fools and yet their love for each other makes them incapable of seeing each other's flaws. Their love makes them so blind that they fail to notice that they make constant fools of themselves. Yet in the end when the multitudes stare at them and see them in perfect love, the crowds forgive their foolishness thus making true the statement that love conquers all.
Many of Rushdie's books have a mention of politics. This one too talks about the dirty politics of the country where Haroun lives. The politicians hire Rashid the storyteller to tell stories to win crowds and play other such dirty games to sway the crowds' preferences towards themselves. Yet when the storyteller actually tells his stories, the mob turns against the politicos and sends them off.
The characters are definitely alive and affable. As in his all other books, Rushdie's language is explicative and his language itself weaves magic. The use of Hindi words for names of places and characters is an amusing way of connecting with the reader. Also, the way Rushdie weaves the themes and sub themes together; his art is indeed exemplary and enchanting.
The novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories is an extremely amusing, highly colourful and vivid account a young boy's adventure into an unknown land to help his father regain his lost talent. Rushdie is a master storyteller and weaves many stories into one. He talks of a young boy's struggle to come to terms with his mother's elopement, the father's distress and subsequent loss of talent along with the magical planet of Kahani with all the stories and tales that it holds.
The novel ridicules politicians, advocates freedom of speech, makes fun of foolish wars, admires the beauty of darkness and night, shows respect to silence and the language of silence and gestures, gives an insight into a child's mind,