The Satanic Verses

Salman Rushdie begins his novel with the sentence "To be born again, first you must die." No other sentence epitomizes The Satanic Verses as the above. A Jungian Interpretation by Jessica Patel


Salman Rushdie begins his novel with the sentence "To be born again, first you must die" (Rushdie, 3). No other sentence epitomizes The Satanic Verses as the above. Indeed, in the cases of Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, their resurrection from the Bostan did more than give them life, it forced them to unearth their unconscious selves, something they had never done before. For clarification, the unconscious is:

...That portion of the psyche which is outside conscious awareness. The unconscious expresses itself in dreams, fantasies, obsessive preoccupations, slips of the tongue and accidents of all kinds. Jung distinguishes two layers of the unconscious: the personal unconscious derived from one's own experience, and the collective unconscious containing the universal patterns and images called archetypes. (Sharp, glossary).

Needless to say, both Farishta and Chamcha had much buried in their respective unconsciouses. Farishta's unconscious began to surface when he ate the unclean pigs, forbidden to all Muslims, after his near death experience (p. 30). Farishta began having dreams so torturing that he dreaded sleep, as evidenced by his constant babbling to stay awake on the hijacked Bostan (p. 82-83).

Farishta's dreams had the once famous actor cast in the lead role of the Archangel Gibreel, tireless preacher of reincarnation. While one normally would not find it unusual for an actor who has played religious roles his whole life to be having religious dreams, this time it had special meaning. The Archangel Gibreel was Farishta's shadow, that

. . . unconscious part of the personality containing characteristics and weaknesses which one's self- esteem will not permit one to recognize as one's own. It is generally the first layer of the unconscious to be encountered in psychological analysis and is personified in dreams by dark and dubious figures of the same sex as the dreamer (Sharp, glossary).

The Archangel appearing to Gibreel in his dreams was because of his losing his faith and eating the forbidden pork. Gibreel's unconscious was telling him that he was a Muslim, and he better start acting like one, or risk eternal torment for not doing so.

Gibreel's unconscious was still more complicated than this. It also contained the destroyer angel Azraeel, who uses a trumpet that blows fire to end the world. This Azraeel was a very minor part of his personality, only coming out near the end of the novel to kill some pimps (p. 460).

More important was the actual Ismail Najmuddin, the forgotten man who became Gibreel Farishta when he started acting in films. Even though Gibreel turned into a full- fledged philanderer when he became India's biggest movie star, he was not always such a cold-hearted person. In his younger days, he was in fact "endowed with a larger-than-usual capacity for love, without a single person on earth to offer it to" (Rushdie, 24). But with his phenomenal success in films, the women started throwing themselves at him and he began a succession of frivolous, petty affairs. "The avalanche of sex in which Gibreel Farishta was trapped managed to bury his greatest talent so deep that it might easily have been lost forever, his talent, that is, for loving genuinely, deeply and without holding back, the rare and delicate gift which he had never been able to employ" (Rushdie, 25).

Only when he met and fell hopelessly in love with Alleluia Cone did that talent finally come out for the first time. In addition to that incredible ability of all-encompassing love, Gibreel's unconscious also contained an incredible ability not to be proud of: jealousy. This jealousy manifested itself whenever there was even a thought of Allie with another man. He ranted and raved over cartoons sent to Allie by an admirer (p. 317-318) and nearly killed Jumpy Joshi when he illogically thought Allie wanted to be impregnated by the martial arts instructor (p. 430).

Even Rushdie admits that Gibreel did not know of his own capacity for envy:

. . . his overweening possessiveness and jealousy, of which he himself had been wholly unaware, owing to his never previously having thought of a woman as a treasure that had to be guarded at all costs against the piratical hordes who would naturally be trying to purloin her. . .(Rushdie, 315).

In the end, this jealousy cost him his relationship with Allie as he believed Saladin's "little satanic verses" to be true and consequently mutilated all of Allie's precious Mt. Everest momentos before leaving her (p. 446). Unfortunately, it also cost Sisodia and Allie their lives, as Gibreel killed them both because he couldn't get the little satanic verses out of his mind (p. 544-545). Unable to live with himself anymore, Gibreel committed suicide (p. 546). Where did all of this jealousy come from? Part of it came from his sickness, diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia (p. 338). Yet it also came from the fact that not being able to find or express his "talent" for love his entire adult life until he met Allie, he was extremely possessive of it because he didn't want to lose it. By unconsciously repressing love (because he never loved anyone before Allie), he was also repressing jealousy. If it had been expressed earlier and appropriately dealt with, it could have prevented Gibreel from reacting so violently to Allie and the little satanic verses when he came in contact with them in the future.

Yet for all of Gibreel's faults, that talent for love was expressed when he saved Saladin's life in the fire (p. 468). Despite learning that Saladin was behind the voices that were driving him insane, Gibreel picked him up out of the burning Shaandaar Cafe and rescued him. As Rushdie appropriately put it, ". . . love had shown that it could exert a humanizing power as great as that of hatred, that virtue could transform men as well as vice" (Rushdie, 540).

By letting his unconscious quality of love show at that very important moment, Gibreel proved that:

Nobody can fall so low unless he has a great depth. If such a thing can happen to a man, it challenges his best and highest on the other side; that is to say, this depth corresponds to a potential height, and the blackest darkness to a hidden light (Jung, Basler Nachrichten, 1946).

By saving Saladin's, his enemy's life, Gibreel attained that potential height. Gibreel was not the only one with an unconscious side. While reading The Satanic Verses, even I had a hard time in figuring out Saladin's shadow. Is Saladin's shadow the Indian Salahuddin Chamchawalla he left behind when he came to Ellowen Deeowen in 1961 or was it the devil-like figure that he became after his fall? I surmise that Saladin's shadow was definitely his Indian side. It is because of the suppression of his heritage that Saladin became the devil incarnated.

One of the first examples of Saladin's unconscious showing itself were his slips of the tongue on the plane to India. He found his "... speech unaccountably metamorphosed into the Bombay lilt he had so diligently (and so long ago!) unmade" (Rushdie, 34). As Jung said in Answer to Job, "The unconscious mind of man sees correctly even when conscious reason is blind and impotent" (Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East, 608). Though Saladin's conscious considered this trip to India a business trip, his unconscious knew that he was truly returning home.

Another example of this was Saladin's reaction to finding his best friend, Jumpy Joshi, was sleeping with his wife:

'Damn all Indians,' he cried into the muffling bedclothes, his fists punching at frilly-edged pillowcases from Harrods in Buenos Aires so fiercely that the fifty-year old fabric was ripped to shreds. 'What the hell. The vulgarity of it, the sod it sod it indelicacy. What the hell. That bastard, those bastards, their lack of bastard taste' (Rushdie, 137).

It was at this exact moment that the police arrived to arrest him. Saladin had rebuffed his heritage his whole life, but by finally damning all Indians as if he wasn't one, that was the final straw. It seems that this ultimate rejection was the beginning of all of his troubles with the police. As Jung said in Psychology and Alchemy, "We know that the mask of the unconscious is not rigid-it reflects the face we turn towards it. Hostility lends it a threatening aspect, friendliness softens its features" (Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, 29) You see, Saladin turned a hostile face towards his unconscious, trying to separate himself from what he really was, an Indian. It started with "Englishizing" his name from the Indian "Salahuddin Chamchawalla" to the more pronounceable "Saladin Chamcha" and was an ongoing process as he sought to fulfill his goal of becoming a proper Englishman. Even after becoming the devil incarnate and being forced to hide in an attic, Saladin continued to wonder why all of this had happened to him:

Had he not pursued his own idea of the good, sought to become that which he most admired, dedicated himself with a will bordering on obsession to the conquest of Englishness? Had he not worked hard, avoided trouble, striven to become new? Assiduity, fastidiousness, moderation, restraint, self- reliance, probity, family life: what did these add up to if not a moral code? . . What mean small-mindedness was this, to cast him back into the bosom of his people, from whom he'd felt so distant for so long! - Here thoughts of Zeeny Vakil welled up, and guiltily, nervously, he forced them down again. His heart kicked him violently, and he sat up, doubled over, gasped for breath. . . (Rushdie 256-257).

Consider Jung's remarks in Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious:

Observance of customs and laws can very easily be a cloak for a lie so subtle that our fellow human beings are unable to detect it. It may help us to escape all criticism, we may even be able to deceive ourselves in the belief of our obvious righteousness. But deep down, below the surface of the average man's conscience, he hears a voice whispering, 'There is something not right,' no matter how much his rightness is supported by public opinion or by the moral code (Jung, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, p. 80).

Saladin was trying to consciously reason out why he had become the devil while he refused to see the truth. He thought that he was good when he was trying to become as British as possible and was inadvertently supported by his very English wife and very English occupation (as a respectable actor). In truth, he was really going against his unconscious, his Indian heritage. In this case, the voice whispering "there is something not right" was his heart pumping furiously, telling him to stop being such an anglophile.

His unconscious side was repressing more than his Indianness, however. In that quest to be the proper Englishman, Saladin chose to bottle up all of the rage he had inside himself. Instead of expressing it immediately as you Americans would, he kept his anger to himself until he became the devil. Once his goatlike body was fully formed, he stomped around and spewed sulfurous smoke from his nose (p. 276). He couldn't hide his sexuality anymore either (possibly repressed because of molestation as a child (p. 38)) as his new body was always sporting an enormous erection (p. 157). All of these emotions finally had a way of asserting themselves when Saladin no longer had a human body to hide them with.

Because he tried to bury all of these unconscious thoughts and deny who he really was, he suffered probably his worst torture at the hands of policemen in the Black Maria (p. 157-164). The policemen he encountered in the Black Maria exhibited classic symptoms of projection. Projection is "a natural process whereby an unconscious quality, characteristic, or talent of one's own is perceived and reacted to in an outer person or thing" (Sharp, glossary).

Though from all appearances the police officers were completely British, their last names told a different story. Stein, Novak, and Bruno were far from Anglo-Saxon names, as Saladin himself noted (p. 163). By calling Saladin a "packy" (p. 157), a derogatory term for an Indian, the police officers were actually scapegoating their own inadequate feelings about being British (and not having proper English surnames) onto him, a supposed illegal alien. Officer Novak acrimoniously describing himself as being from Weybridge, where the very British Beatles also were from (p. 163), proved he in fact was insecure in his own identity.

As Jung says in Archaic Man:

We still attribute to the other fellow all the evil and inferior qualities that we do not like to recognize in ourselves, and therefore have to criticize and attack him, when all that has happened is that an inferior "soul" has emigrated from one person to another. The world is still full of betes noires and scapegoats, just as it formerly teemed with witches and werewolves (Jung, Civilization in Transition, 130)

Instead of coming to terms with their own inferiorities and resolving them, Novak and the other officers chose to project their negative feelings about themselves onto Saladin by making fun of him and beating the living daylights out of him.

Saladin was a "projector," too. One example is when Saladin vents his anger about being turned into the devil onto Gibreel, the man he believes is the cause of all his trouble. When Saladin finds out that Gibreel not only lied about being on the Bostan, but had also resumed a normal life while he was languishing in an attic, Saladin's horns shrunk just a little bit (p. 273). An even greater example of his projection occurred when Saladin became "human" again:

When Mishal, Hanif, and Pinkwalla ventured into the clubroom several hours later, they observed a scene of frightful devastation, table sent flying, chairs broken in half, and, of course, every waxwork . . . melted like tigers into butter; and at the centre of the carnage, sleeping like a baby, no mythological creature at all, no iconic Thing of horns and hellsbreath, but Mr. Saladin Chamcha himself, apparently restored to his old shape, mother-naked but of entirely human aspect and proportions, humanized - is there any option but to conclude? - by the fearsome concentrations of his hate (Rushdie, 294).

By projecting all of the anger that he had for Gibreel onto the life-size figures of Club Hot Wax, Saladin finally became human again, after months of sheer torture. It should be noted that while Saladin had capitulated to being a devil-like figure forever (choosing Lucretius over Ovid, p. 288), Chamcha was becoming more and more goatlike, growing thick, long hair over his body while developing a swishing tail. But when Saladin finally decided to act upon the man he believed was the root of all his torment, and not just resign to his present state, that is when he became normal again.

Yet Saladin wasn't satisfied with being human again. He had an urge for revenge so strong that he couldn't deny it. Consider Jung's observation in Return to a Simple Life, "The healthy man does not torture others-generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers" (Jung, Return to a Simple Life, 10). Even though Saladin wasn't a vindictive man before, "It is a fact that cannot be denied: the wickedness of others becomes our own wickedness because it kindles something evil in our own hearts" (Jung, After the Catastrophe, 413). By betraying him in Rosa Diamond's home and compounding it by resuming a normal life, Saladin felt Gibreel hadn't suffered after the fall from the Bostan as he himself had.

To remedy this situation, Saladin chose the left path, a.k.a. the sinister path:

What Saladin Chamcha understood that day was that he had been living in a state of phoney peace, that the change in him (or: within him) when he fell from the sky; no matter how assiduously he attempted to re-create his old existence, this was, he now saw, a fact that could not be unmade. He seemed to see a road before him, forking to left and right. Closing his eyes, settling back against taxicab upholstery, he chose the left-hand path (Rushdie, 418-419).

From this point on, Saladin wholeheartedly tries to drive Gibreel mad. By convincing Gibreel that he was his friend and his silence at Rosa Diamond's was in the past, Gibreel began confiding in Saladin about the intimate details of his sex life with Allie. Saladin in turn uses the knowledge of those conversations to recite the "little satanic verses" (p. 444-446) to Allie and Gibreel over the phone.

In this case, both parties made the mistake of trusting each other:

Just as we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, we naively suppose that people are as we imagine them to be. In this latter case, unfortunately, there is no scientific test that would prove the discrepancy between perception and reality. Although the possibility of gross deception is infinitely greater here than in our perception of the physical world, we still go on naively projecting our own psychology into our fellow human beings. In this way everyone creates for himself a series of more or less imaginary relationships based essentially on projection (Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, 507).

The problem in this case was assumption. Saladin assumed that after their bonding on the plane, Gibreel would speak up for him when the police came to get him. Gibreel assumed that he was telling the personal details of his life to a friend who would keep it confidential. Both made the mistake of projecting their own attitudes on the other. Unfortunately for them, these misassumptions had grave consequences. Saladin suffered immensely as his body was metamorphosed into a goat which stomached (and I literally mean "stomached") brutal torture at the hands of cruel policemen. As sad as this was, Gibreel ended up with an even worse fate, his own suicide.

Saladin finally attains his peace at the end of the novel when he returns to India for his father's impending death. He finally made up with his father after twenty years of silence and even made up with Zeeny, after only a few months of silence. Saladin ultimately did listen to his unconscious, realized he was an Indian meant to live in India, and lived happily.

In effect, Saladin comes to term with his shadow. By finally accepting his country and culture, Salahuddin became a truly happy person, for the first time in his life.

Undefeated (an, it appeared, unattached), Zeeny's reentry into his life completed the process of renewal, of regeneration, that had been the most surprising and paradoxical product of his father's terminal illness. His old English life, its bizarreries, its evils, now seemed very remote, even irrelevant, like his truncated stage-name. 'About time,' Zeeny approved when he told her of his return to Salahuddin. 'Now you can stop acting at last.' Yes, this looked like the start of a new phase. . . (Rushdie, 534).

As Jung remarked in The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man, "And yet the attainment of consciousness was the most precious fruit of the tree of knowledge, the magical weapon which gave man victory over the earth, and which we hope will give him a still greater victory over himself" (Jung, Civilization in Transition, 289). At the age of 40, Salahuddin finally found the fruit of consciousness.

Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses as he approached his fortieth birthday, a momentous perhaps tumultuous time in anyone's life. To Rushdie and others approaching forty, Jung had these words:

Wholly unprepared, we embark upon the second half of life. Or are there perhaps colleges for forty-year-olds which prepare them for their coming life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce our young people to a knowledge of the world? No, thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still, we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life's morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie (Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, 784).

Copyright 1997 Jessica Patel. All rights reserved.

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