Death Speaks

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?  That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra. 

-W. Somerset Maugham

The subject of “Death Speaks” is fate and its relationship with death.  Fate is shown to be undetermined but inevitable and outside the exact knowledge of death.  The theme in this story is the inevitability of death and the fate that brings death to one’s door.  Death is detached from this notion of inevitability because she is not aware of the path leading to the servant’s death.  Death is even surprised by the path the servant follows to his.  The Servant, however, is unaware of death’s ignorance and can not avoid his fate.  The actions of Death and the servant at the marketplace point to the predestined nature of fate.  Death would have met the servant in Samarra in any event but the marketplace had to be a stop along the way.

                Looking at the concept of fate in this story raises some questions about weather fate is an active force or a passive one.  The immediate question is why does fate have such a complicated plan?  It would be a lot easier for death to come to the servant’s house instead of meeting him Samarra.  Fate determines the end result but is still subject to the greater force that is life.  The seemingly random collisions that make up our world propel these two characters towards each other, both unaware of the undercurrent that drives them.




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