An the name of Alleluia Cones, and who

An Exploration
of Good and Evil

Introduction

                   The
novel The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was published in 1988 and explores a
number of fascinating themes and dichotomies. Its impact after publication was
explosive, particularly in religious realms, culminating in a Fatwa on
Rushdie’s head. Its commentary on colonialism is equally powerful. In contrast
to previous analysis which focused on the sacrilegious political statements
made in the text, this paper focuses specifically on the moral implications of
the portrayals of good and evil and specifically in regard to archetypal
caricatures. 

 

One of the main relationships explored in The Satanic Verses is
that between

good and evil. Rushdie
uses two Indian actors as vehicles for this exploration. Salahuddin
Chamchawala, known as The Man of a Thousand Voices, or Saladin Chamcha, is
desperate to escape his Indian identity to become an Englishman. He loses his
accent, but no producers in London will cast him in starring rolls due to his
dark skin. The other is a Bollywood superstar and philanderer by the name of
Gibreel Farishta who falls in love with an English climber by the name of
Alleluia Cones, and who suffers from serial nightmares in which he is the
Archangel Gibreel of the Quran. Both men happen to be on the same flight to
London when their plane is hijacked by religious extremists and is blown up
mid-flight. Saladin and Gibreel are the sole survivors; as a result of their fall
from the sky, they transform into beings resembling a devil and an angel
respectively. This transformation ignites the conflict between the two, and the
powers of good and evil that they represent. As the dynamics between good and
evil come into focus, one of the most influential characters to emerge is the
narrator. The narrator not only appears within the story as “the fellow
upstairs” to Gibreel in the midst of his supposed madness, he also comments
throughout the progression of the story. This narrator is of ambiguous morality
and identity, often speaking as both God and The Devil. It is assumed that the
narrator is male, due to his appearance to Gibreel as a Salman Rushdie looking
man. The novel’s religious references and parallels to the Quran are the
primary reasons for its controversial status. Salman Rushdie presents and
explores the nature of good and evil through the use of characterization,
structure, and allusion, along with other literary devices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Section 1: An Archetypal Relationship Subverted

Chapter 1: The Angelic Gibreel Farishta 

Salman Rushdie explores the ideas of good and evil using foil characters:

Gibreel represents and
subsequently subverts the archetypal characterization of an angelic hero.
Initially, after the fall, Gibreel is characterized as angelic through his
appearance and the reactions of others. Gibreel is on a train following his
fall to earth, and is accosted by a fanatic, whose idolatry disturbs him:

At once Maslama’s mouth fell open. He seemed to shrink several inches, and
after a few frozen moments, he fell to his knees with a thud. What’s he doing
down there, Gibreel wondered, picking up my hat? But the madman was begging for
forgiveness. ‘I never doubted you would come,’ he was saying. ‘Pardon my clumsy
rage.’…and Gibreel saw that they were surrounded by a warm golden light that
was coming from a point just behind his head. In the glass of the sliding door,
he saw the reflection of the halo around his hair.

Maslama’s awed reaction at the sight of Gibreel’s halo is an expected response
when faced with an angel. The appearance of Gibreel as having a glowing halo is
also an indication of his angelic status. Devotion to celebrities can be
compared to that of religious deities. The similarities between the persona of
Gibreel, the actor, and the archangel suggest that the greatness of deities may
be a facade. Gibreel is characterized by his thoughts about Maslama behavior as
understandably baffled. This shows that he believes he is not what Maslama
sees, and refers to him as a “madman.” Although, when Maslama kneels, Gibreel
wonders if he is picking up his hat for him, which reveals a certain
self-absorption stereotypically attributed to celebrities. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2: Satanic Saladin

In contrast, directly after the fall, Saladin is characterized as devilish
through his

actions and appearance.
Saladin and Gibreel are taken in by an older woman who finds them on the beach.
Saladin calls home only to have a man answer and realize that his wife has
moved on in his absence. “Saladin Chamcha, alone in an unknown bedroom…lay face
downwards and wept. ‘Damn all the Indians.'” This line demonstrates Saladin’s
utter rejection of his ethnicity and how being alone, and not being afforded
respect or admiration for who he is, causes him great distress. His need for
approval foreshadows the jealous hatred that Saladin comes to have toward
Gibreel:

The police arrive shortly thereafter to investigate and arrest Saladin as an
illegal alien, despite his British citizenship. As they take him away, the
older woman who saves them attempts to stop them: ‘Lady, if it’s proof you’re
after, you couldn’t do better than those.’ Saladin Chamcha…raised his hands to
his forehead, and then he knew that he had woken into the most fearsome of
nightmares… because there at his temples, growing longer by the moment, and
sharp enough to draw blood, were two new, goaty, unarguable horns.

The physical appearance of devilish features
characterizes Saladin as satanic; the fact that he is accused of being an
illegal immigrant despite being a British citizen suggests parallels between
people’s fear of immigrants or those who are different, and evil itself. The
description of this moment as “the most fearsome of nightmares” is situationally
ironic because one would not expect a creature of nightmares to have such
fears, which implies that Saladin’s characterization is not simply pure evil.
Saladin is humiliated and called an immigrant when all he wants is to be
accepted into British society. His devilish outer appearance further blocks him
from this goal and so alienated, inspires him to commit devilish acts.

 

Saladin’s anger toward Gibreel for failing to intervene with the
police on his

behalf festers, which
leads the narrator to conclude that:

 

Evil may not be as far beneath the surfaces as we like to say it
is. –That, in fact, we fall towards it naturally, it is not against our
natures. – And that Saladin Chamcha set out to destroy Gibreel Farishta
because, finally, it proved so easy to do; the true appeal of evil being the
seductive ease with which one may embark upon that road.

This line characterizes Saladin through his actions as evil as he sets out to
destroy Gibreel; the narrator claims that it is already within human nature to
commit jealous, malevolent acts. This speaks to the moral ambiguity of Saladin
because he has been, in his mind, wronged by Gibreel and truly believes that he
is acting out of righteous vengeance. Furthermore, if it is only natural for
humans to act in such a way, then he is not truly evil, just human. The
narrator uses the word “we” when discussing the nature of humanity, but the
narrator has been established as an omnipotent deity of some kind, which
implies that not only do humans have evil in their nature but that all beings
are a mixture of both. 

Gibreel brings judgment down upon London in the form of a
city-wide fire, and

finds Saladin in the
ruins of the Shandaar Cafe:

 

Consider this fallen man. He sought without remorse to shatter the
mind of a fellow human being; and exploited, to do so, an entirely blameless
woman… yet this same man has risked death, with scarcely any hesitation, in a
foolhardy rescue attempt. What does this mean?

 

This line characterizes
Saladin through his actions, as capable of acts of evil and good. The
interrogative phrase “what does this mean?” prompts the realization that being
capable of both evil and good means that Saladin, despite being the embodiment
of the devil, is not purely evil. That Saladin is capable of hurting innocents
such as Alleluia, but also of trying to save them confirms his complexity. The
hypothesis put forth by the narrator earlier that evil is part of the natural
state of sentient beings is altered by the fact that Saladin “risked death,
with scarcely any hesitation,” in order to do good. This suggests that evil is
perhaps as much a part of a sentient being’s natural state as goodness. 

Chapter 3: The Oldest Rivalry

            Ultimately, Gibreel and Saladin are
juxtaposed in order to represent the complex relationship between good and
evil. After the fall, “One man’s breath sweetened, while another’s, by equal
and opposite mystery, was soured.” Saladin gains Gibreel’s halitosis when he
takes on the characteristics of the devil, while Gibreel becomes even more
angelic with the absence of his legendary bad breath. The metaphor of the bad
breath for goodness also demonstrates the mutability of a person’s status as
good or evil. It can change in a heartbeat as it does for Gibreel who at the
end of the novel seems to fall from grace and loses his God-like status, and
the love of his life. One of the actors forced to work with him after his fall
from grace states that: “‘It was like kissing the Devil.’ Gibreel’s old problem
of sulfurous halitosis had evidently returned with a vengeance.” This line
characterizes Gibreel as devilish, a reversal of earlier characterizations. 

The specific diction of associating Gibreel to the Devil, and
saying that his halitosis returns with a “vengeance,” displays how far Gibreel
falls, and how easy it is for his perceived goodness to turn. However, despite
incentives not to do so, Gibreel saves Saladin from perishing in the fire of
London: 

Gibreel Farishta steps forward, bearing Saladin along the path of
forgiveness…so that on a night when the city is at war, the night heaving with
enmity and rage, there is this small redeeming victory for love. 

This moment signifies
forgiveness and the coming together of Gibreel and Saladin, the embodiments of
good and evil. By suggesting that these two characters have reconciled, it also
implies that the polarity of good and evil can come together as well, whether
it be within a single consciousness, or as interconnected concepts in a novel. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Section 2: The Structure of Dichotomy 
Chapter 1: Geminate
Cartwheels to Wonderland

           Furthermore,
Rushdie employs structural devices, such as diction and narration, to explore
the many facets of the good and evil dynamic. Early in the novel, when Gibreel
and Saladin fall from the sky to London below, language of ‘up’ and ‘down’
suggests good and evil: 

Gibreelsaladin Farishtachamcha, condemned to this endless but also
ending angelicdevilish fall, did not become aware of the moment at which the
processes of their transmutation began. Mutation? Yessir, but not
random…instead of uttering words of rejection he Saladin opened his arms and
Farishta swam into them until they were embracing head-to-tail, and the force
of their collision sent them tumbling end over end, performing their geminate
cartwheels all the way down and along the hole that went to Wonderland…Hybrid
cloud creatures pressed in upon them…and Chamcha in his semi-consciousness was
seized by the notion that he, too, had acquired the quality of cloudiness,
becoming metamorphic, hybrid, as if he were growing into the person whose head
now nestled between his legs and whose legs were wrapped around his long,
patrician neck.

Compounding the two
character’s names not only shows the blurred boundaries between good and evil,
but also the transformative process of the fall, an allusion to the Biblical
fall from grace that both Lucifer and humanity suffer. This has the effect of
tying Gibreel and Saladin to Biblical events. By compounding angelic and
devilish, the connection between good and evil is further insinuated. The word
“geminate” refers to the opposing nature of good and evil, but also how they
are inextricably linked to one another, much like Gibreel and Saladin as they
plummet to earth. The allusion to Wonderland refers to the fantastical way
Gibreel and Saladin will be changed following their fall, as Alice is in
Wonderland. The descriptor, “The quality of cloudiness” suggests a Wonderland
confusion and the difficulty in distinguishing where one character or concept
ends and the other begins. The motif of the word “hybrid” simply serves to
cement the blending of the two men and their characteristics. The link
established between them by the aforementioned diction underlines a connection
between good and evil, and the gray areas that accompany this dichotomy. The
ultimate effect of the use of compound words is to establish that the two men
representing good and evil are both individually an amalgamation of good and
evil qualities.

 

When Gibreel begins living with the love of his life Alleluia
Cone, he receives a visit from someone claiming to be God sitting on his bed: 

This was not the Almighty he expected. ‘Who are you?’ he asked with interest…
‘Ooparvala,’ the apparition answered. ‘The Fellow Upstairs.’ ‘How do I know
you’re not the other One,’ Gibreel asked craftily, ‘Neechayvala, the Guy from
Underneath?’ A daring question, eliciting a snappish reply. This Deity might
look like a myopic scrivener, but It could certainly mobilize the traditional
apparatus of divine rage… ‘We’re losing patience with you, Gibreel Farishta.
You’ve doubted Us just about long enough…We are not obliged to explain Our
nature to you…Whether we be multiform, plural, representing the
union-by-hybridization of such opposites as Oopar
and Neechay, or whether We be pure,
stark, extreme, will not be resolved here.’

This excerpt employs
Hindi to accentuate the complexity of duality and hybridization. Using the
Hindi words for ‘upward’ and ‘beneath’, God muses that he himself may be a
hybridization of opposites. Gibreel’s crafty question points at the difficulty
in differentiating good and evil by questioning whether God is actually the
Devil. The parity in sentence structure between Gods response, “The Fellow
Upstairs” and “The Guy from Underneath,” both being euphemistic and casual in
quality and tone, completes a duality. The use of the word crafty connotes a
deviousness that the supposed angel Gibreel should not possess if he was as
virtuous as a warrior of God is thought to be, which further demonstrates a
blending of good and evil qualities, even within the angelic protagonist. The
description of God as a “myopic scrivener” as well as possessing other physical
qualities similar to the author, not only subverts the stereotype of God and
his divine appearance but also suggests the author is, in fact, God in the
novel. Indeed, when writers create universes in novels, they are akin to a God
in their absolute power over their creations, and their ability to be wrathful
or kind, constructive or destructive. In addition, the use of the plural when
referring to himself, the character of God, may also be implying the dual
nature of an all-powerful deity, as a force for both good and evil. 

 

 

Chapter 2: An Ambivalent
God 

The whimsical portrayal of the dichotomy between the two
characters is furthered by the narrator in response to Gibreel accrediting
their survival of their fall to divine intervention, and Chamcha accrediting
luck: 

I know the truth, obviously. I watched the whole thing. As to omnipresence and
-potence, I’m making no claims at present, but I can manage this much, I hope.
Chamcha willed it and Farishta did what was willed. Which was the miracle
worker? Of what type – angelic, satanic – was Farishta’s song? Who am I? Let’s
put it this way: who has the best tunes?

This extract introduces the ambiguous morality
of the narrator while hinting that he’s the ruling deity within this novel’s
universe. The wry tone evoked by the use of the word “obviously,” and the
evasive statements about his identity, reveal that the narrator seems to be
making light of the importance of his nature, whether it be good or evil. The
interrogative phrases of “‘who am I?'” And, “‘who has the best tunes?'” further
demonstrate this playfulness specifically directed at those who seek the
distinction between God and other deities, or who denounce any other divine,
satanic forces outright. The implication is that the actions of a powerful
being cannot be seen as satanic or angelic by the actions alone, it is only
through context can one decipher whether an action is evil or good.

The nature of the narrator is further articulated after Saladin
questions whether the existence of angels and devils, of separate entities
representing both good and evil, truly exist when man is at once both angelic
and Satanic. The narrator responds: 

Don’t ask me to clear things up one way or
another; the time of revelations is long gone. The rules of Creation are pretty
clear: you set things up…and then you let them roll. Where’s the pleasure if
you’re always intervening to give hints…? Don’t think I haven’t wanted to butt
in; I have, plenty of times. And once it’s true, I did. I sat on Alleluia
Cone’s bed and spoke to the superstar, Gibreel.

The nonchalance of the
narrator’s tone gives the impression of an ambivalent God. The notion that
humans are simply entertainment for this deity is supported by the words
“‘where’s the pleasure'” when referring to not intervening in reality. The
phrase “‘don’t ask me'” implies that praying, and other common activities in
religion are meaningless because the deity that is both God and the Devil will
not intervene. The allusion to the earlier events of the novel where Gibreel
sees the Supreme Being on Alleluia’s bed confirms that the narrator is, in
fact, the God of this novel’s universe. It is true that the author of a novel
is both Devil and God to his own imaginary universe, and this comparison,
between author and creator, makes light of those who blindly follow a God while
demonstrating that the line between good and evil is whatever the creator
decides.

Section 3: Sacrilegious
Allusions
Chapter 1: Damning
Verses  

           Additionally,
Rushdie explores the relationship between good and evil in the context of
religion and the dynamic between God and Shaitan through the use of allusion.
Throughout the novel, Rushdie alludes to events in the life of Mahound through
Gibreel’s dreams. During one of these dreams, Mahound is faced with the famous
moment later known as The Satanic Verses. It is the moment where Mahound asks
the Archangel Gibreel whether the goddess Lat Manat and Uzza are angels and not
devilish pagan deities. One of Mahound’s followers suggests asking Gibreel:

he, the dreamer, feels his heart leaping in
alarm, who, me? I’m supposed to know the answers here? I’m sitting here
watching this picture and now this actor points his finger out at me, who ever
heard the like, who asks the bloody audience of a ‘theological’ to solve the
bloody plot?

Referring to events in the Quran, as if it were
the action in a “‘theological'” hints that the Quran is as fictional as a
Bollywood film. The fact that the Archangel is, in fact, Gibreel the actor, not
only makes light of the seriousness of the Quran, and the trust placed in one
man’s visions of an angel but suggests that the Archangel is just as informed
as humans about any events taking place. The incredulous tone and the extended
theatrical analogy further display Gibreel’s ignorance of God, and the
fictional nature of the Quran, and perhaps the fact that humans may just be
entertainment for a higher being, like players in a play. 

           When Saladin
destroys Gibreel’s relationship with Alleluia, the narrator asks: “What does
the poet write? Verses. What jingle-jangles in Gibreel’s brain? Verses. What
broke his heart? Verses and again verses.” The verses in Gibreel’s head
reference the lies told by Saladin about Alleluia’s faithfulness, which lead to
Gibreel’s fall from grace toward the end of the novel. The use of the word
“verses” in and of itself is an allusion to the moment in the Quran where
Mahound is supposedly tricked by the Devil and delivers false verses to his
followers. By accepting the false verses, he gains new followers but loses the
faith of his original flock. Once he renounces the false verses as satanic, he
loses the faith of many others as well. Verses become closely associated with
lies and the root of destructive or hurtful events. The satanic verses
themselves are delivered by Gibreel, and the correction is also delivered by
Gibreel. In this instance, the verses are associated with evil as in the Quran.
 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2: Gibreel the Actor

 

Moreover, Gibreel’s dream-allusions coupled with extended metaphor
has the effect of blurring the lines between Quran and fiction. during the
moment where Gibreel delivers the correction to the Satanic Verses Mahound muses: 

It was the Devil,’ he says aloud… ‘The last time, it was Shaitan.’
This is what he has heard in his listening, that he has been tricked, that the
Devil came to him in the guise of the archangel so that the verses he
memorized… were not the real thing but its diabolic opposite, not godly, but
satanic…but Gibreel, hovering-watching from his highest camera angle, knows one
small detail, just one tiny thing that’s a bit of a problem here, namely that
it was me both times, baba, me the first and second also me.

The return of the
extended film metaphor strengthens the association between the Quran and
fiction. This continued associated can be extended to the fact that most
religions, Islam included, have very distinct separations between good and
evil, God and Shaitan. By questioning the realistic validity of the Quran, it
is also questioning the strength of this distinction. The emphasis placed on
the words “heard” and “listening” through italics suggests that because the
verses have been interpreted both times by Mahound, and it was not two
different messengers but only Gibreel the actor; Mahound was the one who was
wrong. He interprets the words with his own senses and makes an error. This
also calls into question whether the Archangel is, in fact, the opposite of the
wards of the Devil. If both messages were delivered by the same being, then it
stands to reason that the “satanic verses” and the “angelic verses” are not
opposites at all, but that the verses become evil or good depending on the
context and perspective. The association that good is true, and evil is false
is undermined as well because Gibreel, the Archangel, and supposed source of
good, is not honest because he is an actor, a profession famous for its basis
in lies. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

           To conclude,
in his novel The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie presents and explores ideas of
good and evil through the use of characterization, structure, and allusion,
along with other literary devices. The nature of good and evil is an ancient
question in cultures across the globe and is often explored in religion as a
black-and-white topic. There are clear distinctions placed between what is
“good” and what is “evil.” However, in The Satanic Verses, the character who is
ostensibly “good” falls from grace and ends up not only destroying the lives of
those who love him, but his own as well, while the supposedly “evil” character
develops over the course of the novel from a jealous, vengeful,
under-appreciated man running from his own identity to someone who has accepted
his past, been forgiven for his wrongdoings, and is on his way to a better
life. As further exploration, more research could be done on the themes of
reality versus dreams. In the novel, Gibreel’s religious zealotry is attributed
to his Schizophrenia, and this blatant association between religion and
insanity would be fascinating to explore further, especially with the recent
vilifying of Islam. The manifold contradictions to the common stereotypes of
“good” and “evil” help confirm that in this novel, no clear distinction exists,
but that wrong and right are subjective, ever-shifting, abstract concepts.

 

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