In this assignment I will discuss the choice of genre; comedy or tragedy? In the play Death of a Salesman (2000) by Arthur Miller and the movie east is east (1999) by Ayub Khan-Din. I will suggest Willy Loman within the play Death of a Salesman (2000) actually is the architect of his own failure. I will put forward Loman’s ideal of the American Dream and show while he strived to achieve this goal, this ultimately proved to be the cause of his demise. While this play shows the audience that Willy is not a failure, his refusal to accept reality only helps to add to the tragedy of Death of a Salesman (2000).
On the other hand east is east (1999) has elements of tragedy, but ultimately the genre is comedy. I will demonstrate how the use of humour helps to vanquish the tragic elements of the film and along with George Khan, a prominent character for most of the movie and I will show the audience is encouraged to laugh with him. Terwin (1949, cited in Page, 2003,) described Willy Lowman as “the little salesman with a pathetic belief in his worthless son. ” Willy Lowman could be viewed as a father trying to give his son who has lost his way in life some direction by assisting to get “him a job in selling” (Miller, 2000, 1. 1). However, Willy Lowman could be seen as a man having failed to achieve his own ambition who decides to superimpose his pipe dreams upon his son Biff. Willy believes; if Biff applies himself as a salesman he “could be big in no time” (Miller, 2000,1. 11), Willy measures success in monitory terms and believes it is easily achievable to the deserved and to achieve this you have to “be well liked and you would never want” (Miller,2000, 1. 26). Unfortunately reality does not support Willy’s philosophy on achievement.
The tragedy is in fact that Willy has locked himself into a belief system which forces him to work harder and harder for thirty eight years in order to feed his conviction that the achievement of financial freedom is possible. Willy prefers to deny real life which undermines his thinking, thus causing him to withdraw into a fantasy world as a coping mechanism to help preserve his fantasy. The corner stone in which Willy’s success formula is built upon is the American Dream, a cultural belief which defines success as an inheritance just laying in wait to be claimed similar to King Arthur’s sword in the stone.
Therefore, confirming to America’s reputation as the land of opportunity. Guaranteeing that every little boy will grow up to become the director of his own company, “that’s the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds on the basis of being liked” (Miller, 2000, 1. 33). Willy Loman’s personal circumstances are the proof that the American Dream is a mirage. That financial independence is not guaranteed on the basis that you are hard working or even well liked. For Willy Loman, the real tragedy is; not that the American Dream is a big lie, but the realisation that his failed ambition is actually Willy’s own fault.
For Willy Loman, the thought that he has failed to realise what he believes his true fate is, therefore is, too much for him to bear. The reality is so frightening to him; he would rather kill himself than face the actuality of his failure. Yet, Willy believes his death would help to facilitate his family to achieve the dream with the money from his insurance policy. Further tragedy for the life of Willy Loman is; the fantasy which is so alluring, there appears to be no alternative for him, thus blinding him to the true successes in life. Whilst Willy finally has the “last payment to pay on the mortgage” (Miller, 2000, 2. 7) he continues to fail to see that this is an accomplishment. He furthermore, cannot see the value of his loving and supporting wife who turns a blind eye to the fact that her husband borrows money and “pretend that it is his pay” (Miller,2000, 1. 45) Willy does this in order to protect his sense of self respect. Willy appears oblivious to the true gems in his life and spends much of his time regretting not following his brother into the jungle in search of diamonds. In Willy’s mind true success is only countable in huge unobtainable amounts of money.
Berkowitz (1992), writes; “a salesman’s life is constructed entirely on faith and fantasy”, this ideal could be applied to Willy’s mind set, as he always delivers to his customers what he himself promises. Therefore, the promise of Willy’s culture of success to the hardworking is yet another tragic aspect to his life. Can he be really blamed for believing in what American society promised him? Willy had no choice but to believe in the American Dream and cultural beliefs aside, his profession cannot afford failure because “Willy was a salesman.
And for a salesman there is no rock bottom” (Miller, 2000, 1. 11). It was an interesting choice for Miller to make, Willy a salesman selling products to the public. This vendor to customer relationship is inverted with Willy’s association with the American Dream. Willy is the client who has been figuratively sold a success policy stamped; made in America, but fails to deliver on its promises. If the American Dream was one of Willy’s products he would have been sued for breach of contract.
A further facet of the tragedy of Willy Loman is; he is not alone in his definition of success and failure. Willy has inducted his son Biff to follow this American promise of success and it is because of his father that Biff feels all he has “done is waste his life” (Miller, 2000, 1. 17) Willy has enslaved his son into the same belief system. Biff has found his version of success working on a farm. This is illustrated when he himself comments “there’s nothing more inspiring than the sight of a mare and a new colt” (Miller,2000, 1. 0) but because his father has taught Biff to believe in the dollar as a true symbol of success, Biff cannot see that happiness and contentment is the genuine measure of achievement, this occurs when he adds; “I suddenly get the feeling, my God, I’m not getting anywhere” (Miller, 2000, 1. 25). Biff’s belief system can mirrors his father’s yet, Biff continues to choose the belief of being true to himself and pursues happiness rather than opting for an unobtainable dream. Biff to a point still believes in the dream.
Willy has conditioned his son to be a follower of this, in spite the fact of Biff escaping his father’s ideology which is the acceptance of his own perceived inadequacy. Biff, exactly like Willy, is unable to see the American Dream as the false idol it is, he just accepts that the pursuit of wealth as something which is not for him. Biff considers this belief, as an acceptance of his own short comings and sees himself as a failure and as a direct result of this, he decides to look in other areas of the world to find true enrichment and a deserved personal happiness from; “the things that he loves in this world” (Miller, 2000, 1. 5). Roger Ebert (2003) argues “What George Khan is fighting in the Britain of 1971 is the seduction of his children by the secular religion of pop music and fashion. ” Seventies music and fashion were defiantly attractive to the older brothers in east is east and especially for Tarig, who sneaks out under the cover of darkness to the local disco.
His father George demands he should cut his hair as he believes his son “looks like a hippy” (east is east, 1999) Yet, George Khan’s actions are an attempt to recover self respect from shame and anger he feels about the news of the division of Pakistan. George Khan’s association with cutting are littered throughout the movie, obviously highlighted by the circumcision of the unwilling Sajid, in which his parka is a visual representation of the “tickle tackle” (east is east, 1999) which he is not allowed to have when George Demands “this thing need cutting” (east is east, 1999).
Further images of cutting connected to George are littered throughout the film, for example when George buys an old barber’s chair to bribe his wife into taking a trip to Bradford suggesting his desire to cut himself along with his family far away from British culture, in attempt to unify his family under Islam to console himself over his war torn Pakistan. This highlights George’s hypocrisy he is fully prepared to exploit British culture for commercial reasons owning a shop called Georges English Fish and Chips a business venture he is extremely proud of yet he thinks he and his family should opt out of British culture.
Ironically, George’s attempts to create unity through the Muslim faith actually begin to bring about the disintegration of his family. George’s family split starts when Nazir, the eldest son, absconds from his arranged marriage resulting in him being declared dead by George, therefore, the fragmentation of Pakistan is paralleled within the Khan household. However, it is via these tragic events to which the comedy is realised. George’s desperation to gain social acceptance within the Pakistani community is so strong, he is willing to marry off Tarig and Abdul to the comically grotesque daughters of another respectable Pakistani family.
This comedy scene helps to offset the darker upsetting scene of a white woman who, unlike Ella Khan has assimilated herself into Pakistani culture and whose daughter has been married off to a man in Pakistan. When Meenah asks “when will she be back from Pakistan” the mother cries “My baby” (east is east, 1999). This scene also foretells Meenah’s possible future if her father is allowed to marry his children off into orthodox Muslim families. These elements of light scenes counterbalancing moments of darker subject content helps to propel the comedy thread throughout the movie.
The next scene involving the ugly prospective daughter in laws which should be a fraught event owing to Tariq’s and Abul’s resistance to the arranged marriage, is immediately made lighter when the parka clad Sajid runs into the living room announcing the arrival of their visitors with “the pakis are here” (east is east, 1999), thus highlighting the Khan family do not recognise their cultural link to Pakistan and consider themselves one hundred percent British. The Khan hildren’s British identity is reinforced by the acceptance of the neighbours. Stella and Tariq’s Romeo and Juliet style relationship epitomise their community acceptance when Stella comments “I won’t let the colour of your dad come between us” (east is east, 1999). This is mirrored when the local racist’s granddaughter shows her refusal to see Tariq is of colour, exactly as his Dad helps to defeat the racist element of the film by adding comedy into the situation.
This colour blindness theme is touched on again during the night club scene that obviously operate a colour bar when two Pakistani boys are turned away with the excuse “sorry members only” yet, Tariq and Abdul gain admittance under the assumed names Tony and Arthur. This could have been potentially disturbing especially when the bouncer challenges Abdul commenting “where are you going smiler” (east is east, 1999), the term smiler being a reference to the “smiling piccaninnies” mentioned in Enoch Powell’s 1971 Rivers of Blood speech.
This racist attack is vanquished and transformed into comedy by the bouncer’s sudden failure to see that Abdul is Pakistani, because he told the bouncers his name is Arthur thus illustrating the fragile thread their racist philosophy hangs on. Peterson (1999) writes “the real problem for the Khan children is not how to fit in with their English neighbours, but how to fit in with their own family. The irony is that the neighbourhood accepts the Khan family for who they are unlike their father George who has convinced himself that the route to true happiness for him and his family is to assimilate themselves into Pakistani culture with arranged marriages. George’s final plan to marry off Tariq and Abdul to the unbecoming brides to be, is defeated by Saleem’s vulval sculpture landing on the brides mother’s lap causing her embarrassment and humiliation, thus, bringing to a head the misgivings both families have about the weddings.
This scene re-establishes the comedy after George’s brutal attack of his wife for mistakenly calling him “pig headed” (east is east, 1999) and creating some laughs before the final fracas, when the Khan children prevent George from beating their mother again, therefore, the real tragedy of forcing westernised children into arranged marriages has been averted with George’s silent acceptance as he flees the house and his realisation that the respect he craves in the Pakistani community, he has already earned within British society especially when Earnest, the white British racist’s grandson, wishes George “Salaam Alacum” (east is east, 999) peace be unto you. In Conclusion Willy Loman’s story in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a tragic one as; for him there is no alternative to his dream. Willy has spent his whole life believing in the ideal of the American Dream to the exclusion of everything in his life. Willy fails to see the accomplishment in paying off the mortgage to his house. This is in contrast to George Khan in the 1999 film East is East who similar to Willy Loman and has personal ideals.
George believes; true success can only be achieved through true acceptance in the Pakistani community, although similar to Willy he does not achieve his ideals. George does recognise his personal achievement in owning his own business allowing him to earn money, thus allowing him to pay the rent. George is also very proud as his business helps to clothe and feed his family.
George’s sense of pride plus moments of comedy during East Is East is obvious, no matter how unintentional in may appear this prevents George Khan’s life from becoming a tragedy and George’s sense of achievement contrasts to Willy’s feelings of failure as he fails to see his domestic success he has achieved. Willy’s perception of failure is replicated within his son Biff who does manage to find an alternative goal to the American Dream but still cannot exorcise the feeling that he is wasting his life.
This again, unlike the Khan children, who try to protect their father’s feelings by pretending to conform to Muslim standards are ultimately forced to make their father George, realise his ideals will never be replicated through his children, but unlike Willy Loman George reluctantly accepts his failure and agrees to his family living by western standards and reject the custom of arranged marriage. George is willing to compromise and meets his western family halfway putting one foot in British society but the other will always remain in Pakistani culture.
This willing to compromise prevents George’s story from becoming a tragedy and allows the audience to laugh with him during his journey. Unlike Willy Loman who’s denies reality to such a degree he withdraws into a fantasy world which is heartbreaking to watch for Willy as there appears to be no such compromise upon his realisation that he has truly failed and for Willy Loman there is only one answer, which is to commit suicide in the vain hope his death will help to facilitate his family to achieve success with the help of an insurance policy. Once again, this highlights the tragedy of the play rather than the comedy of the film.