Sentimental Intertextuality Between Salesman and The Kite Runner
There are numerous similarities between Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. However, most of the similarities readers identify are only surface deep, and essentially superficial. Sure, readers know that both Willy and Amir made decisions that they regret and wish they could reevaluate, and eventually said decisions shaped their respective lives, but it’s the job of the readers, and my job as a writer to delve deeper into the obvious similarities and go fearlessly into the layers that lie beneath. Usually when a character regrets a decision or action, it’s because they said the wrong thing at the wrong time. For Willy and Amir, though, their regret lies with the fact that they chose to say nothing. From this silence springs the major similarities of the texts: the succession of fear, guilt, and self-loathing Willy and Amir felt, produced by the prioritization of family.
Willy and Amir prioritize family over almost every aspect of their lives. For Willy, he prioritized Biff’s athletic ability, and Amir put his father before his friendship. In doing so, both characters make their most critical and pivotal mistakes. To Willy, the only member of his family that is worth anything is Biff. He hardly acknowledges Hap or Linda, and when he does, it is in fits of rage. Willy shouts at Linda when she speaks, asking “will you stop [interrupting]?” It’s obvious that there is very little affection left in Willy’s and Linda’s marriage, which Willy takes advantage of by having an affair. When Biff finds out about the affair, Willy becomes fearful that it will alter Biff’s image of him. A motif in Miller’s play is Willy worrying about being “well liked,” therefore the thought of Biff —his true pride and joy— not liking his own father strikes fear into Willy, which ultimately causes his behavior to become erratic, ending in a tragic suicide. Amir also struggles with his family and his prioritization of them. He holds Baba’s image of him in such high regards that he says “…the single greatest moment of my twelve years of life, seeing Baba on that roof, proud of me at last,” (Hosseini 66) insinuating that the only way he can be happy is if he pleases Baba. Even after winning the kite tournament, Amir doesn’t feel adequately loved. He still feels as though he is vying for his father’s love with Hassan, so Amir plants the watch under Hassan’s bed. Although Amir is not caught in the act the way Willy was caught by Biff, Baba’s perception of Amir changed, which went against Amir’s attempts at gaining his father’s love and respect. Willy and Amir put too much merit into how their loved one’s perceive them, and when their families no longer see them in the light the main characters want, they begin to act out of fear. Their initial fear is what drives their respective works forward and presents us with the major conflicts.
After the fear completely engulfs Willy and Amir, they begin to feel guilt rising up within them. Willy feels guilty about Biff witnessing his infidelity, though he may not show it in conventional terms. The flashback Willy has in the bathroom of the restaurant on page 1503 to 1505 of Death of A Salesman shows his obvious guilt because he continues to replay the scene in his head over and over again. When Ali and Hassan refuse to continue service for Amir’s family, Amir tells us that, “…I saw Baba do something I had never seen him do before: He cried…Fathers weren’t supposed to cry. “Please,”…I’ll never forget the way Baba said that, the pain in his plea, the fear” (Hosseini 107). Amir feels guilty for inadvertently Ali and Hassan leave and seeing his father cry, because he can detect fear in his father’s voice; the same fear he felt when he thought that he and Hassan were competing for Baba’s love. Amir knows the emotion coursing through his father, and because he thinks so highly of him, feels guilty for putting his father in such a position. The guilt follows both Willy and Amir for years to come. The guilt in both Willy and Amir trigger their need to right the wrongs they have committed. In Willy’s eyes, the best way to absolve himself is to kill himself. Now, not only is his family free of his violent tendencies and antics, but they may also receive life insurance money to help them through their momentary poverty. For Amir, he comes to peace with his life and with Hassan by giving Sohrab the life Hassan deserved.
Before the guilt is eradicated from either character, a feeling of self-loathing is present within them. Willy’s self-loathing presents itself in the form of suicidal tendencies, proven on page —— of Death of a Salesman when Linda finds the “little rubber pipe…connected to the gas heater.” Willy is trying to kill himself via asphyxiation because of the self-loathing due to his increasing delusion, yet also because of the guilt he feels from being fired from his job and not being able to support his family the way he once could. Amir experiences self-loathing from a young age, and it slowly eats away at him until his adulthood. He overhears Baba say, “Sometimes I look out this window and I see him playing on the street with the neighborhood boys. I see how they push him around, take his toys from him, give him a shove here, a whack there. And, you know, he never fights back. Never. He just… drops his head and…” (Hosseini 22), which instills within him the notion that he is a coward. And because he holds his father’s opinion and perception of his in such high regards, Amir completely convinces himself that he is, and will always be a coward. The self-loathing that each character feels is product of their families’ reactions to their actions, and is perhaps the biggest emotional similarity shared between the two works.
Fear and guilt are two of the more powerful emotions on the spectrum, and self-loathing can derail even the most powerful and confident people if it is based on the feeling of inadequacy. Both Willy and Amir feel as though they are failures in their families’ eyes. Willy can no longer provide for his family and is caught in the middle of an affair by his son, both which change Biff’s view of Willy. Amir is a coward and shares no similar traits with his father, which makes him feel inadequate and unloved. Both Willy and Amir worry far too much about how their families perceive them, that they both begin to act out of fear of losing their family, instead of the love they have for them.
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