Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Arts and Science)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Doctor Angeline O'Neill

Second Supervisor

Professor Joan Wardrop


This thesis examines how ideologies such as feminism and patriarchy operate within language by providing a detailed analysis of five of Salman Rushdie’s novels, Midnight’s Children, Shame, The Satanic Verses, The Ground Beneath Her Feet and The Enchantress of Florence. It is concerned with the changes in Rushdie’s use of language and the effect of this on the way gender is constructed in the selected texts. His novels offer a critique of contemporary Western culture’s understanding of gender, identity, politics, philosophy and religion. Although Rushdean scholarship is often concerned with identity politics, this thesis expands the discussion by critically engaging with the gender politics in his texts. Language is a powerful and flexible tool of communication; it is changeable in nature and is ideologically driven. It can be used to oppress and liberate both the speaker and those spoken for. Language and ideology share a profound relationship. By looking at how ideologies operate within language we can call attention to some dominant cultural discourses that make up a culture’s norms, values and attitudes.

Rushdie’s novels are an uncomfortable meeting place of patriarchal and anti-patriarchal sentiments. Critics have acknowledged the ambiguity and ambivalence found in Rushdie’s female characters to the point where some of the characters become destructive towards the male protagonists. This thesis concerns itself with the ways in which his use of language exhibits patriarchal norms and values in our discourse. Despite his best efforts Rushdie’s experimentation with language reveals how deeply ingrained patriarchal ideology is in language. As such, it is not surprising to find characters such as Arjumand ‘Virgin Ironpants’ Harappa in Shame and Ayesha the Prophetess in The Satanic Verses who seemingly reinforce patriarchal ideology. These characters are masculinised as powerful and strong women who become destructive towards the male protagonists and 3 eventually themselves and those around them at the conclusion of their narratives. Yet, Rani Harappa and Zeeny Vakil from the aforementioned texts are represented in such a way that they reject patriarchal stereotypes and proceed to reveal the patriarchal oppression which they are working within and against. Rushdie’s writings of women’s stories in the selected five texts is an attempt to portray a variety of women, depicting their strengths and struggles as well as how they cope living within the bounds of a patriarchal culture. Rather than pigeonholing Rushdie’s texts and his female characters as portraying sexist tropes, it is more useful to approach his works by examining how feminist and patriarchal ideologies operate within the language he uses.