In the South by Salman Rushdie: Summary & Analysis

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts has taught undergraduate-level film studies for over 9 years. She has a PhD in Media, Art and Text from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BA in film production from Marlboro College. She also has a certificate in teaching online from UMGC and non-profit marketing and fundraising from UC Davis.

This lesson examines the short story ''In the South'' by British Indian author Salman Rushdie. We'll learn about the main characters and their tricky relationship. Then, we'll explore the themes and imagery in the story.

The World According to Rushdie

British Indian author Salman Rushdie's short story ''In the South'' was published in The New Yorker in 2009. It tells of the lives of two old Indian men who have much in common and much that sets them apart. In the story, Rushdie explores themes of identity, family, and death. He begs the question of how one should define a life well-lived.

The story takes place in late 2004, after Christmas and just before New Year's Eve. Though Rushdie does not explicitly identify the setting, he provides details that allow readers to discern a south Indian location: the city of Chennai.

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  • 0:03 The World According to Rushdie
  • 0:41 The Textual Tapestry
  • 2:21 Junior and Senior
  • 3:57 Imagery and Opposites
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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The Textual Tapestry

No simple plot synopsis can do Rushdie's expressive prose justice. This wordsmith conveys meaning in sentences that amount to more than a combination of words; it's more like a textual tapestry. In this short fiction, the author contemplates the meaning of life and death through the eyes of two octogenarians, or people in their eighties. Through these two men, Senior and Junior, Rushdie explores dichotomies, or two things that contrast sharply or are entirely different, including:

  • Identity and community
  • Youth and old age
  • Hope and defeat
  • Success and mediocrity
  • Luck and misfortune

One sentence sums up Rushdie's point: ''Death and life were just adjacent verandas.''

Rushdie describes Senior and Junior as if they were two halves of the same whole, but they also couldn't be more different. New Year's Eve is approaching. In a few days, it will be 2005. Thoughts of the future make Senior depressed:

'' 'Either I will die in the next five days, meaning that there will be no new year for me,' he told Junior, 'or else a year will begin in which my end will surely come, which is hardly a thing to look forward to.' ''

Junior and Senior watch the youth on the street speeding about on their Vespa scooters. Senior observes, ''Life was cheap, like a garment idly flung away after a single use, like their music, like their thoughts.'' This is when life changes irrevocably for both men. The scooter races just a little too close to the curb, and Junior falls back onto the sidewalk. Junior dies instantly. At this moment, the story's thematic dichotomies come to fruition: youth and death butt heads.

Junior and Senior

Junior and Senior have a lot in common, but they couldn't be more different. They're practically attached at the hip, and they share a pleasure in bickering. They're both eighty-one years old, and they have the same first name. Rushdie never tells us more than the fact that their name starts with a V. Senior is seventeen days older than his Junior.

Senior has lived a full life, but this only makes the old man miss the good things. He traveled in his youth and became a successful athlete. He has a large family, but his nine brothers have all passed away. After his first wife passed away, Senior stubbornly remarried. His second wife, Aarthi, now annoys him more than anything else. They are passively aggressive toward each other. When his children and grandchildren visit, they shudder at his morbid comments. His losses and disappointments just make him feel lonely. He's tired, and he's ready to die.

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