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Stony Brook University

The official electronic file of this thesis or dissertation is maintained by the University

Libraries on behalf of The Graduate School at Stony Brook University.

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Sighing into a League of His Own:

Rushdie’s Use of Camões’s Epic and Cervantes’s Romance in The Moor’s Last Sigh

A Thesis Presented


Amanda M Ponnwitz


The Graduate School

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in English Stony Brook University December 2010 Copyright by Amanda M Ponnwitz Stony Brook University The Graduate School Amanda M Ponnwitz We, the thesis committee for the above candidate for the Master of Arts degree, hereby recommend acceptance of this thesis.

Dr. Bente Videbaek – Thesis Advisor Lecturer, English Dr. Ayesha Ramachandran – Second Reader Assistant Professor, English This thesis is accepted by the Graduate School Lawrence Martin Dean of the Graduate School ii


of the Thesis

Sighing into a League of His Own:

Rushdie’s Use of Camões’s Epic and Cervantes’s Romance in The Moor’s Last Sigh by Amanda M Ponnwitz Master of Arts in English Stony Brook University This paper provides an analysis of Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh use Luis Vaz de Camões’s epic poem The Lusiads and Miguel de Cervantes’s satiric romance Don Quixote. After a brief discussion of epic and romance, I trace Rushdie’s use and re-use of various aspects from both of these works. A close reading of The Lusiads and The Moor’s Last Sigh will show that in re-using Camões’s epic, Rushdie provides India with a nationalistic work and voice that reclaims India from her imperial past, while also providing a pluralist perspective for the world to learn from. Furthermore, an analysis of Don Quixote and The Moor’s Last Sigh will show that in reusing Cervantes’s romance, Rushdie continues to promote the pluralist ideals, while also re-using the romance trope of loss to create a sense of urgency for pluralism and tolerance.


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List of Abbreviations…………………………………………………………..vi Introduction……………………………………………………………………. 1 I. Camões’s Epic………………………………………………………. 4 Portrayals of Portugal, Natives and Christianity……..………........... 5 Creation of Earthly Paradises………………………………….........13 Promoting the Nation over the Individual……………………..........14 Camões’s Hopeful Future for Portugal…………..………………....15 II. Rushdie’s Re-use of Camões’s Epic……………………...………..16 Portrayals of Nationalities and Religions……………………...........17 Promoting the Ideas of Multiplicity…………………………..…….21 Destruction of Earthly Paradises…………………...…………….....27 Rushdie’s Hopeful Future for India.…………………………..........29 III. Epilogue: Rushdie’s Re-use of Cervantes’s Romance……………..31 Works Cited……………………………………………………………...…….38 

–  –  –

can even tell a story that is universally understood. In Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh, Moraes, the narrator, tells the story of his family through these exasperated exultations. His story transports the reader back and forth in time, while evoking many historical and ahistorical figures. Through the character of Moraes’s grandfather, Camoens da Gama, Rushdie recalls the image of Luis Vaz de Camões, author of the Portuguese epic poem The Lusiads, which recreates the history of Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India. Meanwhile, Rushdie’s inclusion of Benegeli, the place Moraes travels to in search of his mother’s paintings, evokes the remembrance of the fictional historian, Cid Hamet Ben Engeli from Miguel de Cervantes’s satiric romance Don Quixote. Obvious in his allusions, Rushdie wants his reader to note how he uses and re-uses these works within his own narrative. The question then becomes: what does Rushdie achieve in using and re-using Camões and Cervantes? First and foremost, he creates a nationalistic work for India. Subsequently, Rushdie creates a narrative that does not limit itself to just being nationalistic, but that also celebrates a pluralist perspective in hopes that the world can learn from the susurrations of the past for a brighter future.

Rushdie’s choice in alluding to The Lusiads and Don Quixote in his narrative is interesting because both belong to different genres of literature: epic and romance, respectively.

In Empire and Epic, David Quint sets out the distinction between these two genres when he writes: “To the victor belongs epic, with its linear teleology; to the losers belongs romance, with its random or circular wandering” (9). Quint’s definition of epic and romance is situated around the winners and losers in imperial history. Epic belongs to the victors because the narrative style indicates power and a clear-cut path toward victory. In The Lusiads, Camões retells the heroic tale of Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India in an effort to remember the glorious Portuguese past in which they were victorious over the old world order. Romance, on the other hand, belongs to the victims of imperial history because the lack of a focused narrative correlates to their search for what has been lost. In Don Quixote, Cervantes, Ben Engeli, and Don Quixote are all looking for the world as it no longer exists, albeit the world they are in search of is different for each one.

How and why does Rushdie use Camões’s epic and Cervantes’s romance? I believe that Rushdie only uses Camões and Cervantes as a reference point. What he actually does with these authors and their works is re-use them. In a sense, he recycles what Camões and Cervantes accomplish in their respective works, and I argue that Rushdie corrects their stories by correcting certain aspects of their narratives. In using epic, Rushdie provides India with a nationalistic winner’s story by celebrating her resiliency to her imperial past. He also suggests that in promoting the ideals of multiplicity, a better future can be achieved. Rushdie’s use of romance creates a sense of urgency for change, as what has been lost cannot be regained, at least not within his narration. In order to clearly show how Rushdie uses and re-uses these works and what is accomplished, I have broken my argument into three parts.

In Part I: Camões’s Epic, I closely analyze The Lusiads and Camões’s focus on Portugal’s victorious journey to India. Naturally, he promotes the Portuguese, but I examine his portrayals of both the Portuguese and the peoples of Africa and India in order to show his promotion of the Portuguese. An exploration of his celebration of the many over the singular, as well as his celebration of the Christian God over the Roman gods, will continue to show how exclusionary his narrative is. Furthermore, an analysis of his earthly paradise and his supposed dismissal of its creation illustrates how Camões creates a new cosmos in which the Portuguese are the leaders. Concluding my analysis of The Lusiads, I discuss how Camões’s uses his epic to express his hopes for the future of Portugal.

In Part II: Rushdie’s Re-use of Camões’s Epic, I present a close reading of The Moor’s Last Sigh in an effort to analyze how Rushdie corrects Camões’s exclusionary narrative by promoting multiple nationalities and religions. A continued analysis of the novel will show how, unlike Camões, he fully celebrates the ideals of multiplicity and plurality through his portrayals of character personalities, Bombay, and artwork. An exploration of the destruction of his earthly paradises and what he accomplishes in their destruction will illustrate how Rushdie corrects Camões’s use of the earthly paradise, and how he exudes an air of hopefulness for the future.

Subsequently, this analysis will prove how Rushdie creates a nationalistic work that provides India with a voice, while also promoting the ideals of plurality and tolerance to the world.

In the Epilogue: Rushdie’s Re-use of Cervantes’s Romance, I briefly analyze both texts’ use of narrative and narrator. Specifically, I concern my discussion with the distinction between truth and appearance within the narrative, the use of a narrator with a hybrid identity, and the trope of loss, which signifies a narrative of romance. While my analysis will show that Cervantes and Rushdie similarly obscure truth and appearance within their stories, it will also show how Rushdie re-uses Cervantes’s hybrid narrator and trope of loss. With the sense of loss that pervades The Moor’s Last Sigh, I argue that Rushdie’s urgency for a future that promotes plurality and tolerance becomes more intensified with this romance trope, than with his destruction of the earthly paradises, which are part of his re-use of Camões’s epic.

Although many critics have explored various aspects of Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh, none have offered an analysis that that links Rushdie’s novel with Camões’s epic and Cervantes’s romance. Analyzing The Moor’s Last Sigh using The Lusiads and Don Quixote is important because it gives the reader a clearer understanding of Rushdie’s goals and message. He does not just write a story, like most contemporary writers. Purposefully, Rushdie chooses Camões and Cervantes to help tell the story that neither they, nor he, have finished. He needs his readers to learn from the sighs of the past so that as the story continues beyond the narrative, a happy ending becomes possible.

Part I: Camões’s Epic If the names Camoens and Camões are not enough to evoke the remembrance of the epic poem The Lusiads, Rushdie makes certain that the reader makes the connection in these descriptions about Camoens: “Named after a poet” and “To me, the doublenesses in Grandfather Camoens reveal his beauty; his willingness to permit the coexistence within himself of conflicting impulses is the source of his full, gentle humaneness… his egalitarian ideas and the olympian reality of his social position” (10, 32). Rushdie’s word choice in describing Camoens suggests the nationalistic poet himself. In The Lusiads, Camões attempts to show Portugal and India in “coexistence,” however, he continually promotes Portugal’s dominance over the natives.

The “doublenesses” to which Rushdie refers in Camoens directly correlates to the trope of doubleness throughout the epic in which the “conflicting impulses” of the nation versus the individual and ancient Roman mythology versus Christianity are explored. In addition, Camões creates an “olympian reality” on earth with his creation of the Isle of Love. Furthermore, he takes on the endeavor of exuding an air of hopefulness for the future “social position” of Portugal.

Therefore, while Rushdie appears to create a fictionalized character in Camoens, he constructs an entire allusion to the history created by Camões in The Lusiads.1 This invocation of the Portuguese poet is meant to incite a remembrance of what Camões does within his epic so that Rushdie can correct it.

Portrayals of Portugal, Natives, and Christianity Luis Vaz de Camões’s The Lusiads retells, and, in part, recreates Portugal’s grand and heroic history. It is not a coincidence that it was written at a point in time in which Portugal’s glory days were coming to an end. In From Virgil to Milton, C.M. Bowra explicates that Camões’s goal in writing this epic would have been “to inspire, to elevate, to instruct” (17).

Therefore, in order to celebrate and remember Portugal’s past, Camões constructs a history with several layers, some of which are fact and others of which are myth. He also layers Portugal’s history with several voices. Camões, Vasco da Gama, Fernão Veloso, Monsayeed, and the gods and goddesses all share the responsibility of recounting the glorious past. Combined, these voices tell how Portugal and India were brought together because of the Portuguese lineage of valiant kings and explorers who risked their livelihood and lives to travel to India. Looking at these layers of history and myth will allow the reader to recognize how Camões employs the trope of doubleness within his epic.

In this multifaceted recollection of the historic journey Vasco da Gama makes to India, which initially brought Portugal and India together, Camões attempts to unite the two nations

with words. In a prophecy Tethys gives to Vasco da Gama, she states:

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 Because Rushdie corrects certain aspects of Camões’s epic, in his description of him Rushdie can be seen as being facetious, especially when he suggests that Camões is “egalitarian.” Writing his epic almost 75 years after Da Gama reached India, Camões foretells, through Tethys, what will happen to the two countries. The word “partnership” connotes a marriage or union in which two sides are equal, or at least in which two sides share power. Even though Tethys suggests their union will occur “with time,” Camões is writing from that future; a part of India, while Camões is writing this epic, is under Portuguese control; there has been no equality in power from Camões’s perspective. Continuing to look closely at this prophecy, however, one notices the word “holding,” which implies a forced union. The Portuguese will “conquer” India, which also sets up a hierarchy of power. Therefore, while this junction of the two nations seems like a positive and mutual agreement, it also suggests that the Portuguese are the greater force, capable of making India succumb to their will.

At times within the epic, Camões appears to characterize Portugal in harsh terms; what he might say negatively about the Portuguese, however, is usually counterbalanced with a pejorative description of the Africans or Indians. Naturally, his portrayals are often ambiguous in his effort to ensure the Portuguese are honored. For instance, Camões, when describing Portuguese actions

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