Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children Summary and Analysis of Book One: Methwold; Tick, Tock

Summary of "Methwold"

As soon as Amina and Ahmed get to Bombay, they find a house that is owned by an Englishman named William Methwold. Methwold owns a villa that contains four houses that are each different embodiments of European palaces. Because India is becoming independent, Methwold is leaving the country that he has made his home. However, before he leaves, he has conditions for the new tenants. Until August 15th, when India becomes free, they must keep everything in the house exactly the way it is. The tenants must also attend nightly cocktail, a European tradition, with him in the garden.

The tenants, all Indians, despise Methwold’s conditions. They don’t want to live amongst his European paintings and use his Western appliances. Most of all, they don’t understand why cocktail hour and why it is important. Yet each tenant slowly begins to get used to their surroundings as well as Methwold’s continued presence. They even adopt fake British accents and mimic Methwold’s habits.

Amina reads in the newspaper that any child who is born at the exact moment of India’s independence will win a prize. She remembers Ramram’s words, and she knows that her son will be the winning child. Wee Willie Winkie, a poor clown and bard who performs nightly at Methwold Estate, also announces that his wife Vanita is set to give birth on August 15th at midnight as well. Methwold becomes noticeably stiff, though, and Saleem informs Padma that he slept with Winkie’s wife months ago. The child that Winkie believes is his is actually the biological son of the very British-looking Methwold.

The narration takes a detour to a young midwife named Mary Pereira. She is sitting in a confessional booth and confessing that her boyfriend Joseph D’Costa is trying to provoke a revolution against the British with violence. She seems concerned about his actions, but she also wants to impress him. Saleem mentions that Mary will be an important figure in the near future.

Summary of "Tick, Tock"

August 14th sees the day of Pakistan’s liberation from India. Also on that day, the events of Saleem’s birth are set in motion. At Methwold Estate, cocktail hour is going smoothly until Amina goes into labor. Vanita’s labor has already started. As the sun sets on August 15th, Methwold stands in the center courtyard of his estate and salutes the landscape and the setting sun. Hours later, both women go into labor at midnight and have healthy baby boys that look strangely similar: both have clear blue eyes and noses that overpower their face.

Mary Pereira, wanting to make her boyfriend Joseph proud, takes the two midnight children and switches their nametags. Now, the Sinai family will raise the child that is biologically Vanita’s and William’s. Because Vanita dies and William is leaving the country, the destitute Winkie is left to unknowingly raise Amina and Ahmed’s child. Later, when Amina claims her prize for having a child at midnight, she is given the paltry sum of one hundred rupees and has an article written about her son’s symbolic importance.


Methwold Estate serves as a petri dish of how British imperialism took over India. Methwold came into the country and built property that he then sold back to the Indians. He refused to let them decorate with their own belongings, and they had to adopt many of his customs for the last few months that he was in the country. As the Indians slowly argue less and less with his customs and then begin to imitate and adopt them as their own, the transfer of culture is complete. Methwold even stands back and looks at his creation, smiling at how cultured the Indians are acting.

There is an interesting scene with Methwold at the onset of night on August 15th where he salutes the setting sun on the last day of Britain’s rule. It is a smart play on the phrase “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” The phrase plainly means that Britain’s rule was so vast that the sun was always shining on land that belonged to Britain. Yet at the close of August 15th, the sun shines its light on British India for the last time.

Up until this point in the novel, Saleem has insisted that everything that has happened in his story has been alluding to his birth. He believes he has been fated to be India’s twin, that everything in his life will has significant ties to India’s own infancy. But when Mary switches the nametags, the readers discover that this backstory doesn’t even belong to Saleem. This family history is Shiva’s, who was raised by Winkie in an unfortunate twist. This detail pokes holes in Saleem’s narration and ultimately makes his authority as a narrator even shakier. He claims that he belongs to the people and the land, that he is a pure child of India’s independence. However, he’s the son of a poor woman and a British man.

Yet, oddly enough, Saleem’s biological lineage allows him to be a product of India, just not in the way that he claims. While the Sinais belong to a middle class family, there are other social groups that have created India. Even though Methwold isn’t Indian, his ancestors have certainly carved their influence into India’s history. And Vanita, a poor woman, is also representative of a vast poverty-stricken group. It stands to reason that Saleem is a product of India in a more imperialistic and nontraditional way.

Mary’s actions were motivated by her affections for Joseph. At first glance, there is nothing political about them. However, her act is significant in that it shows the fluid border between classes, how all it takes is mistaken identity to make someone rich and another person poor. At the same time, Mary becomes somewhat of a mother to both these boys because she has ultimately created who they are and who they grow up to be. The Christian mythology behind this decision was a deliberate one on Rushdie’s part. As Mary is the mother of god, a woman who made life without being pregnant herself, her story mimics that of Mary Pereira.

It is important to note that not only India was born on August 15th, but also that Pakistan was born on August 14th due to the same ruling that allowed India to be independent. Two nations were created from the same legislation, much as how two children were born at the stroke of midnight. The prophesy of Saleem’s birth has as much in common with Pakistan and India as it does with Saleem and Shiva. Pakistan and India are the inverse of one another, but have similar experiences due to the sudden withdrawal of British presence.

Much of the novel can be explained by the rhetorical device chiasmus. It is a Greek term that signifies the mirroring effect much like the letter X. Two things are similar in structure, but their polarized differences are used to make a larger point. In the case of Shiva and Saleem, their temperament and social standing is used to show how circumstance often shapes people differently, no matter how similar they started out. The same can go for Pakistan and India who differ with their religious affiliations.