Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Suggested Essay Questions

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  1. 1

    In the novel’s opening, why is the Sad City sad?

    The sadness of Haroun’s Sad City represents the transition of the Indian sub-continent from a land of tradition into a land of commerce and industry. Rushdie judges this transition to be sad because it strips away the culture and tradition of the society. This sadness is embodied by Mr. Sengupta, who criticizes Rashid for his storytelling. Mr. Sengupta, who is characterized as an accountant and a part of the commercial and industrial rise of the land, does not understand the power or value of story.

  2. 2

    Can Haroun and the Sea of Stories be classified as a hero epic?

    Rushdie’s novel does follow the basic template of a hero epic. A hero epic is the story of an individual who goes through great hardships in order to achieve a goal. This is usually a return to a homeland or the recovery of a lost love. In the case of Haroun, both of these are true. Haroun must go through a series of adventures in which he almost fails because of danger and his own weakness. In the end, he is able to help save the stories of the Sea and reconcile his relationship with his father.

  3. 3

    Discuss some of the cultural markers that make the novel unique.

    Rushdie incorporates a number of popular cultural markers in the novel and combines them with traditional Indian folklore to create a unique imaginary world that is infused with fantastical cultural references from both East and West. For example, Rushdie heavily borrows themes Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass. In each novel, the meaning and efficacy of language is a slippery slope. It is able to be taken away at any time. Carrol’s novel also appears in the novel’s “Walrus” character and there is even a reference to the Beatles song “I am the Walrus,” found on their Magical Mystery Tour album. These references all create a sense of journey through language and consciousness that traverses and transcends worlds.

  4. 4

    Is silence the antithesis of speech?

    At first, the people of Gup and Haroun see the Land of Chup and its void of speech as a place antithetical to their own values as a society. The Guppees see their own values as superior. They are willing to invade Chup in order to protect those values. However, as the novel progresses, Haroun finds that there is a particular kind of beauty in silence. Silence, he finds, is a complement to free speech. Free speech, in fact, can be harmful in some instances when silence is better. The beauty of silence is best represented by Mudra, the shadow warrior.

  5. 5

    Discuss the novel’s political commentary.

    On one level, the novel can be read as a simple children’s adventure tale, but Rushdie also meant for the novel to be a political allegory. The questions of silence and the efficacy of substantial things all allude to Rushdie’s own political drama when a fatwa was issued against him by the Shah of Iran for his depiction of Muslims in a previous novel. Rushdie criticizes the Islamic society that the Shah had built in Iran and compares it to a land of shadows. While in the land of Perpetual Darkness, Haroun notes, “That’s what shadows are like; even when they’re sharp, they’re never as sharp-edged as real, substantial things.” Rushdie judges the fundamentalist states of the Middle East to violate the reality of human freedom and flourishing.

  6. 6

    According to the novel, how can free speech become dangerous?

    Free speech becomes a dangerous thing, according to the novel, when it becomes so free that it produces nothing but nonsense. In its quest for complete freedom of speech, Gup subjected Chup to complete darkness and silence, a reminder that freedom can sometimes be oppressive to others when not checked with responsibility. As the Guppee army sails towards Chup, Haroun is shocked that there could be such open rebellion and questioning of authority in the ranks. This is another example of how an irresponsible freedom of speech can become a basis for chaos and not freedom.

  7. 7

    Why does Mudra rebel against his homeland?

    In a way, Mudra is a symbol for Rushdie’s own struggle with the culture of his homeland. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the resulting rise of power of Islamic fundamentalism in countries across the Middle East, Rushdie sought to fight the oppression of speech and art through his writing. Mudra’s shadow represents the culture and tradition joined to a person as though it were a separate kind of substance from the person; culture has a life of its own. Mudra’s conflict is that he and his fellow Chupwala’s no longer trust their shadows. Rushdie uses this symbolizes as a commentary on how the culture of the Middle East is turned against them and changed into something they can no longer trust.

  8. 8

    Is Haroun and the Sea of Stories a novel for children or a novel for adults?

    The novel functions on two levels. On the first level, it is a novel for children. Its main character is a young boy. The action and adventure of the story appeal to a younger audience. The unique use of language adds playfulness to the text that appeals to a childlike imagination. On another level, the themes of the novel are meant to be understood by adults. Political, social, and artistic commentary is used in the novel’s allusions and symbolism. In this way, Rushdie means to tell a tale that can be enjoyed and understood by a wide audience.

  9. 9

    Although Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a written novel, oral tradition plays a large role for many of the characters. Discuss what this means for the novel’s narrative.

    The oral tradition of storytelling and the orality of the stories within the novel represent an important tradition in Eastern narrative traditions. The earliest stories, those represented as pure in the Sea of Stories, were not written but were spoken by figures such as Rashid Khalifa. Rashid, therefore, symbolizes the ancient storytellers that helped to keep tradition and culture alive through the repetition of stories. Many of these stories were also told through song and so several of the characters in the novel use music as a means of passing along information about themselves or about the meaning of their world. For instance, Mali the Gardner always illuminates some characteristic about himself through song. Likewise, the Plentimaw Fish only speak in a music-like rhyme. Their lyricism is as much about creating a world as it is about communication.

  10. 10

    Is the novel’s happy ending manufactured or real?

    Rushdie ends the novel without a clear resolution of whether the story’s happy ending is a good thing for its characters. Haroun is obviously glad that his mother returned and it creates a happy environment for him. However, he is also disturbed that that the happy ending is synthetic, or unreal, just as was the Khattam-Shud’s poison. The real meaning of the ending, perhaps, is found in Haroun’s mother’s song, which symbolizes that the story never really ends. Just as her singing continues, so does the meaning and narrative of all good stories.