The image of human bodies covered with a thin skin of glass which recurs in the novel in various contexts may have been inspired by a passage from one of Rushdie’s favorite novels: Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.. In Vol. 1, Chapter 23, the narrator speculates upon the existence of glass-covered beings. He begins by referring to a myth that Momus, the Greek god of satire, thought that humans should have windows into their hearts so that their secret feelings could be discerned. The reference to “window-money” refers to the fact that houses used to be taxed according to the number of windows they possessed.
If the fixture of Momus’s glass, in the human breast, according to the proposed emendation of that arch-critick, had taken place,–first, This foolish consequence would certainly have followed,–That the very wisest and the very gravest of us all, in one coin or other, must have paid window-money every day of our lives. And, secondly, That had the said glass been there set up, nothing more would have been wanting, in order to have taken a man’s character, but to have taken a chair and gone softly, as you would to a dioptrical beehive, and look’d in–view’d the soul stark naked;–observ’d all her motions,–her machinations;–traced all her maggots from their first engendering to their crawling forth;–watched her loose in her frisks, her gambols, her capricios; and after some notice of her more solemn deportment, consequent upon such frisks, &c.–then taken your pen and ink and set down nothing but what you had seen, and could have sworn to:–But this is an advantage not to be had by the biographer in this planet,–in the planet Mercury (belike) it may be so, if not better still for him;–for there the intense heat of the country, which is proved by computators, from its vicinity to the sun, to be more than equal to that of red hot iron,–must, I think, long ago have vitrified the bodies of the inhabitants, (as the efficient cause) to suit them for the climate (which is the final cause); so that, betwixt them both, all the tenements of their souls, from top to bottom, may be nothing else, for aught the soundest philosophy can shew to the contrary, but one fine transparent body of clear glass (bating [excepting] the umbilical knot);–so, that till the inhabitants grow old and tolerably wrinkled, whereby the rays of light, in passing through them, become so monstrously refracted,–or return reflected from their surfaces in such transverse lines to the eye, that a man cannot be seen thro’;–his soul might as well, unless, for more ceremony,–or the trifling advantage which the umbilical point gave her,–might, upon all other accounts, I say, as well play the fool out o’doors as in her own house.
But this, as I said above, is not the case of the inhabitants of this earth;–our minds shine not through the body, but are wrapt up here in a dark covering of uncrystalized flesh and blood; so that if would come to the specifick characters of them, we must go some other way to work.