A Friend In Need Somerset Maugham Retelling
This is the possibility of meeting a stranger and making a friend. Right there, right then. Forever . . . It is because we are not needed any more. No one has any use for us. They do not see trips abroad in our eyes. These trips are something they can themselves afford. And there are so many of us. We have become common . . . I am speaking of regretting imperialism, I know. I ought to rejoice that Japan is no longer subject to it, but I do not want to. It was too much fun being treated as someone quite special.
In Appointment in Samarra, part of his last play Sheep, Maugham retells an ancient Arabic fable. W. Somerset Maugham was one of the greatest storytellers of all time. In the simplest form, he ties together the basic elements of a story: setting, plot, characters, and theme with amazing perfection. The setting is Baghdad, an advanced city of the time. Maugham takes us through the transition of the servant in the marketplace, to his Master and then leaves us with the assumption that the story closes in Samarra, where the servant meets his fate. Why was Death strolling the marketplace? Did she have an earlier appointment? The marketplace is bustling with life. Maybe Death was there to show us that where there is life, there is Death. Samarra has long been a city plagued with death, from the time of this ancient tale to Maugham's retelling and still today. A civilized city of the time, even Baghdad cannot escape Death. Is the plot woven around the theme of destiny, as commonly interpreted? The servant is trying to escape Death. He runs. However, he runs right to the place where Death has an appointment with him that very night. The plot of any story must have a beginning, middle and an end. A good suspense story contains a sense of foreshadowing, a crisis, a turning point and, finally, a resolution. In the beginning of the tale, the reader can feel darkness. Who is it that speaks? Death. The very thought of death is dark, foreboding. There is urgency in Maugham's prose. Sentences run into each other, piling up like blocks that are about to come tumbling down. He chooses urgent words: trembling, jostled, threatening. The servant believes Death made a threatening gesture to him, creating a crisis. Is Death here for him? The exact middle of the story is the turning point - The merchant lent him his horse The servant makes his fateful decision and the plot reaches a point of no return. The tale closes with Death speaking, I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra. As if tying the loose ends of a noose, Maugham ties the last word of the title, Samarra, with the closing word of the story, Samarra. This knot gives us our resolution. We know now that the servant will meet his fate in Samarra. Although the story is short and the character descriptions absent, it is not difficult to imagine Death, the servant or the merchant. This is a tale narrated by Death, depicted as a woman. Did the original teller of the tale intend to make Death female or was it merely a disguise? There are more women in the marketplace than men. Had the servant been having a morning nip with his friends would Death had been in the form of a man? Then again, maybe the mysterious nature of a woman covered in a black burke, resembling the cloak of death, better personifies the supernatural appearance of Death. The servant arrives to the merchant trembling with fear and leaves for Samarra as fast as the horse could gallop. As the dust settles, the image left behind is that of cowardice and fright. However, the merchant does not hesitate to immediately confront Death, suggesting power and boldness, traits inherent for such an occupation. Though the idea of fate or destiny is clear, the theme may not be as simple as it appears. Had the servant not met Death in the morning, he likely would have ended up in Samarra by evening for some other task and met Death right on time for his appointment. Today, there is a certain irony in the tale as our soldiers meet death not only in Baghdad, but also just to the north in Samarra. It is the very decision of our country, like that of the servant, which takes so many to the door of death by decision of our leadership. Appointment in Samarra is too often interpreted as simply a tale of fate or destiny. It is possible it could be just the opposite we are responsible, solely, for the consequences of our actions.