Curiosity is the ever spinning propeller of human questioning. We ask questions because we want to know something. Yet sometimes, these answers aren’t enough, forcing us to ask more and more questions. We can question ourselves to death, asking “What if this...” or “What if that...” never coming to any conclusion. In The Harmony of the Spheres, Salman Rushdie’s narrator struggles with his own questions after the death of his best friend. Rushdie’s persistent use of questions, both within and outside of the characters’ dialogue, makes the narrator and the reader contemplate what is important in their lives.
Eliot Crane, the mentally disturbed friend of the narrator, is the source of the story’s many questions. While driving recklessly, Eliot stops suddenly and points out a place where he’d like to be buried. The narrator, indulging in his little game, yet cautioning him to be careful asks “‘If you wipe us out,...who’ll be left to remember you when you’re gone?’” (134). Though seemingly not to Eliot, this question is haunting. Rushdie hands us a challenge to make a meaningful impact in the world; or else no one will care enough to remember us when we die.
After hearing of his friend’s death, the narrator begins to think about why they were friends in the first place, considering how obscure Eliot was. Though not part of the dialogue, the narrator asks, “Who knows what makes people friends? Something in the way they move. They way they sing off-key” (136). His question is rhetorical, he is not literally asking what makes a friendship, but rather emphasizes the point that friendship cannot be articulated into words. There are no definitive reasons as to why we love our best friends, we just do. This question engages us as readers to think about our own friendships, and contemplate the eccentricities that make them special.
Finally, the narrator poses a simple question, just one word to really make us think. As he goes through Eliot’s belongings, he asks, “Harmony?” (142). He doubts Eliot’s favorite word considering his life was anything but harmonious. However, the narrator muses that perhaps everyone have their own definition of harmony, and our goal in life is to find that very definition. The simple word posed as a question is powerful. It makes us think about harmony in our own, imperfect lives. Looking at the discord of Eliot’s life from the perspective of harmony invites the reader to begin thinking of all life as harmonious. Just the fact that we are living, breathing, human beings is harmonious in itself, we do not need to strive for greatness in order to live fully.
Thinking about our impact on the world at large, our friendships, and the inner harmony in our lives makes for a very introspective reading of Rushdie’s first chapter of the East, West segment of his novel. By asking these questions, Rushdie captures the readers‘ attention and draws them in, making them a truly active part of the story.