Discuss the differences in the portrayal of Death in Appointment in Samarra and Godfather Death
Death and its inevitability is the main theme of both the short stories, Appointment in Samarra and Godfather Death. However the portrayal of Death in the stories differs to some extent. The reality and inescapability of death is evident in both the stories as they both end with the hapless man involved being taken by Death in the end, even though both the servant and the godson try to cheat Death, either by running away or trying to beg for mercy.
In fact there are many similarities in the authors representations of the character of Death. The most notable one is to endow Death with emotion or feeling, though the degree to which this is done varies in the stories. Another similarity is in their portrayal of Death as not entirely all-knowing; the Death in Appointment in Samarra is surprised to find the servant in Baghdad that implies a less than omniscient being.
Godfather Death himself is not in complete control of the fates of his victims, being unable to control the candle flames or to override his godson’s breaches of trust. They are both represented in some measure as simply custodians of a greater will. However even within these apparent similarities differences arise on comparison of the two stories. Firstly, the most evident difference is in the physical portrayal of the two Deaths. In Appointment, Death is described as a woman.
It is also clear that the figure of Death is not frightening in appearance as a stereotypically ugly and withered creature; the servant says only that a woman jostled him and when he turned she made a threatening gesture at him. It is the gesture and not the appearance that inspires fear in him. The Grimm brothers portray Death in a more stereotypical way, describing him first, clearly as a man and in addition describe him with adjectives such as “bony”, conjuring up a picture of a skeletal forming a tattered robe.
His figure itself is suggestively fearful. Another difference arises when we compare the personalities of the two Deaths. Maugham’s Death is more impersonal than Godfather Death. She does not appear to be capable of great emotion or feeling but is certainly endowed with some measure of it; she says, “That was not a threatening gesture, it was a start of surprise…” This clearly implies the ability to feel; after all, surprise is an emotion.
However it is not accompanied by rage at his attempt to escape or any other deep emotion. Rather, there is a quiet confidence in her own inevitability, which is clear by the very nature of the tale. In contrast Godfather Death is volatile and exhibits far more human reactions; there is pride in his statements that he makes “all men equal” and “whoever has me for friend shall lack nothing”. He is also vengeful as is clear by his final revenge on his godson and brooks no attack on his authority and power.
Though both are inevitable Godfather Death seems to be less secure in his power than the quieter but equally merciless Death in Appointment. A third difference lies within their similarities and is a little more complex; not quite so evident. As previously noted, the Deaths in the two stories are simply instruments of fate. They both lack absolute power and complete knowledge but they differ in this respect too. In Appointment in Samarra, the Death seems to have more power over the fate of men than Godfather Death.
It is clear from the story that Death was in the marketplace to claim another victim (perhaps the merchant as he was able to see her and Death would presumably not be visible to everyone or the servant would not have been so panicked at the sight of her. ) She was surprised to see her next victim there when she knew before hand that he was to die in Samarra, implying a foreknowledge of her duty but not omniscience in general or she would have known that he would be in the marketplace and be scared into running.
Therefore she was confident in her power over men’s lives. Godfather Death does not seem to be endowed with the same sort of surety. If he was that powerful he could simply have overridden the doctor’s predictions and taken the king and his daughter. However he allowed himself to be thwarted twice. Even when his godson begs him not to let the candle go out and to light him a new one he says that he is unable to do that, that it must go out before a new one can be lit.
And though it is clear too that in the end he cannot be cheated of his victims, he is not portrayed with as much inexorability as in Appointment. On the whole, though the Deaths are different in gender and temperament, they both are portrayed as an inescapable reality. The difference of Godfather Death and Death in their performance of their duties is evident as Death does not brook any escape and is merciless in an impersonal way while Godfather Death is merciless in heat and anger. However in both stories it is clear that Death is what awaits us all.