Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Anne R. Zahlan


In my thesis I examine the portrayal of women characters by two post-colonial Indian writers, Attia Hosain and Salman Rushdie, respectively in Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) and Midnight's Children (1980). I show how Hosain's and Rushdie's ideas of identity, nation and nationality influence their depiction of these women characters.

In the section analyzing Sunlight on a Broken Column, I argue that there is a spatial veil separating the feudal world of "Ashiana" from the outside world with its political disturbances, the life of a woman as an individual from the life of a woman as a part of a community. Through her narrator-protagonist Laila, Hosain depicts a feudal Muslim society with its restrictions and purdah system. Witnessing the political upheavals and partition of India into India and Pakistan, Hosain's women characters go through a transition from the pre-colonial to the post-colonial period.

In the discussion of Midnight's Children, I show that Rushdie's women characters also go through a similar transition. But they do not belong to the feudal class, but rather to middle-class mercantile society. Moreover, Rushdie's women characters function on two narrative levels-they are characters as well as metaphors. In society they perform the roles of mothers, wives and grandmothers, and on the metaphorical level they represent India.

Hosain's Sunlight on a Broken Column expresses a yearning for the India of the colonial period with feudalism as the basis of social structure and hierarchy. This nostalgia imbues the depiction of her women characters. Rushdie, "a midnight's child," on the other hand, in Midnight's Children is vexed with the political situation in post-independence India. His notion of the history of India is complex, as he says, "the nature of Indian culture has always been multiplicity, plurality and mingling." Like the country his women characters have multiple meanings.

Though Attia Hosain and Salman Rushdie belong to two different generations, the concerns that underlie Sunlight on a Broken Column and Midnight's Children are similar-nation and national identity. Both the authors write about India from England, from the metropolis. Nation and national identity are all the more important to them because they are exiles. To them "the past is home, albeit a lost home in a lost city in the mists of lost time" (Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands 9).