Death in “The Appointment in Samarra” and “Godfather Death”
Maugham and the Grimm Brothers both pen classic stories, whichportray death. While both stories present death in their own uniqueways, there are a number of similarities and differences. One of thedistinguishing factors about the stories and their portrayal of deathis the authors’ unique use of language and plot. At the same time,while death is presented in the characteristically mysterious manner,the authors bring it to the human level of understanding by creatinga personal relationship between death and the characters. In therealistic world, no one has the ability to encounter death and have aconversation, leave alone reach an agreement. Similarly, theenigmatic approach that death takes at its victims is well depictedin these two stories. However, the form of death depicted in thesetwo stories show that death can be approached and people can havediscussions with it.
Maughamdepicts death in a different way than Grimm, specifically in anegative way. In order to do this, Maugham demonstrates the scarynature of death by choosing words, which the audience can identifywith. When the servant went to the market, she met death andexplained to her master “she looked at me and made a threateninggesture” (Maugham 1). Additionally, when she decides to escape, sheexplains to her master “she will not find me again” (1). Thesewords automatically set a scary mood in the reader, as he or shecreates a horrific image of death in mind. Additionally, Maughamdescribes the look of the servant when he initially comes back home.He describes her as “white and trembling”, because of the fearthat death instilled in her (1). This is yet another example of howscary death is.
However,in “Godfather Death”, death is presented in a lighter manner.Kennedy and Gioia say that the title of the story itself somehowportrays death a kind of guardian, who is out to take a fatherlyresponsibility (2). Similarly, the poor man’s search of someone totake care of his sick child, and consequent denial of offers from Godand Satan somehow demonstrate death as a better phenomenon. In thestory, the poor man rejects God saying that he condones poverty, andturns down Satan saying that he deceives people. This presents Satanin a friendly picture, given that the man furthermore says that Satancan take care of his sick child. To assert this, death himselfdeclares, “I am death, who makes all en equal” (Grimm 12a).Moreover, towards the end of the story, death is presented as anunderstanding man, because he gives the physician a chance even afterhe breaks the rules of death. The same friendliness is extended tothe physician when he almost accepts to light another candle toextend the physician’s life.
Anothermajor difference is the plot of the stories. In “the appointment inSamarra”, the woman runs away to hide from death (Zizek 198). Theescape is also well planned, as she attempts to hide from death, in aplace where he cannot locate him and take him away. When explainingto his master, he says, “I will ride away from this city and avoidmy fate” (Maugham 1). Similarly, she does not wish to meet withdeath again, as she seeks to run and hide in a place far away (60miles). However, in “The Godfather Death”, the old man goes outlooking for a solution to his problem, and feels that death is thebest option. Similarly, he invites death into his house, and explainsto him how he would wish him to help him, by being his sick child’sgodfather (Grimm 1b). The old man even welcomes death to his son’sbaptism, mainly because he believes that death treats all peopleequally (Grimm 9a). While death is discriminative in “theappointment in Samarra”, he is welcomed in “The Godfather Death”.
Anothermajor difference in the depiction of death in the two stories isgender. In “Appointment in Samarra”, death is a woman, while in“The Godfather Death”, death is a man. When the merchant comesback dashing after meeting death, he describes him as a “woman”.O’Hara has been described by Aune as an author who has the tendencyof pushing the limits of what is expected in literature (Aune 103).Living up to this description, he astonishes many by presenting deathas a woman, which is not expected by many, given death’sreputation. However, Grimm presents a male death, which perhaps isthe expectation of many. He also labels death a “godfather”, tofather assert his masculinity (Grimm 14a). Throughout the plots ofthe stories, the two authors use symbols that exhibit the femininityand masculinity of the female and male death, which furtherdistinguish the difference of the two depictions.
Despitethe differences of the depiction, there are a number of similarities.Death, in both stories, is not all knowing. According to Mohammad,creating a not all-knowing death is perhaps what makes this classicstories interesting and captivating, because they create suspense(7). In the appointment in Samarra”, death surprised to find theservant in Baghdad, yet they were supposed to meet in Samarra on thatsame day. This therefore depicts death as a less omniscient being,who just like the other characters, is not aware of everything thatis going on. In “The Godfather Death”, death is deceived by thephysician twice. In the first round, the physician turns the bedaround to place death at the feet of the sick king. Despite thewarning, death does not know that he will be deceived once more, asthe physician repeats the same trick when the king’s daughterbecomes sick.
Anothersimilar aspect of death in the two stories is the reality ofinescapability. According to Zizek, both stories present death as aninevitable fate which despite attempts to escape, nothing can be doneto avoid its way (190). In “appointment in Samarra”, the womanescapes Baghdad in order to evade death. However, surprisinglyenough, she has just escaped to the very place where death was tomeet her. After dashing with the horse, death tells the merchant “Iwas astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment withhim tonight in Samarra” (Maugham 1). This shows that despite theeffort to escape death, meeting him on that day was inevitable.Similarly, in “The Godfather Death”, the physician escapes beingkilled by deceiving death in the first round. However, he does itagain, and despite the effort by death to light another candle forhim, the fame goes out and the physician drops dead. An additionalsimilarity between these two plots in this line is the surety ofdeath whenever it strikes. In “appointment in Samarra”, death,despite being shocked by the fact that she was to take the servant,was somehow assuared that they would eventally meet on the same day.In “the Godfather Death”, despite wanting to show forgiveness tothe physician by taking another candle, waited until the flame in thefirst candle burnt out to take his chance at him. The fate of thesetwo characters creates a similar depiction of death in the two plots.
Aune, Bruce A. "Puzzles forthe Will." InternationalPhilosophical Quarterly40.1(2000): 103-105.
Grimm, Brothers (a). “Godfather Death”. New York, NY: MediaGalaxy, 2013. Print.
Grimm, Brothers (b) Thecomplete Grimm`s fairy tales.Digireads. com Publishing, 2009. Web. 14 July 2015
Kennedy, X. J., and Dana Gioia."Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama,10/e." (2007). Print.
Maugham, Somerset. The Appointment in Samarra. 1933. Web. 14July 2015.
Mohammad, Saif. "From once upon a time to happily ever after:Tracking emotions in novels and fairy tales." Proceedings of the5th ACL-HLT Workshop on Language Technology for Cultural Heritage,Social Sciences, and Humanities. Association for ComputationalLinguistics, 2011. Print.
Zizek, Slavoj. "The trutharises from misrecognition." Lacanand the Subject of Language, edited by Ellie Ragland-Sullivan andMark Bracher (2014):188-212. Print.