Appointment in Samarra
Uploaded by mhughes on Oct 20, 2004
In “Appointment in Samarra,” part of his last play Sheppy, 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...