Self and Other in Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced play

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Khaled Ahmed Hmoud Al-Amro, Dr Mohd Nazri Latiff Azmi, Ali Mahmoud Ali Alshwayyat


This study argues that Ayad Akhtar’s play Disgraced (2012) falls into the trap of the prejudiced post-9/11 propagandist media in presenting a colonialist, over- deterministic view of the Muslim identity, irrespective of its hybridity. This misrepresentation, achieved by means of intertextual relations to Shakespeare’s Othello, is argued to be consistent with the typical demonic representation of Muslims as racial others, and in satisfaction of the US transition to the Homeland Security State and the pertaining foreign policy towards the Muslim world. This trajectory, it is believed, guarantees for Akhtar a good deal of popularity and artistic recognition. The argument is grounded on both Stuart Hall‟s notions of „cultural identity‟ in his essay “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” and Gilbert and Tompkins‟ strategies of a canonical counter-discursive text in Post-colonial Drama: Theory, Practice, and Politics. The study draws on a set of postcolonial concepts such as „mimicry‟, „the beyond space‟ and „hybridity‟, among others, as renegotiated by Homi Bhabha.

Ayad Akhtar’s play Disgraced asks its audience to examine the “place” of minorities in the United States. This essay argues that the play deliberately invokes certain stereotypes about Islam and Muslim men in order to interrogate essentialized notions of identity. Akhtar persuasively demonstrates how Amir simultaneously believes his identity to be a performance he can script, but also an inheritance and imposition over which he has little control. Amir’s reliance upon essentializations about others, however, underscores the irony that he cannot escape from participating in the very system he tries to subvert. Disgraced demands that viewers confront their own worldviews and possible prejudices about Islam and Muslim men, race and racial identity, and asks whether we can fashion our own identities or whether our identities are inextricably linked to race, religion, or nation-state.

This study analyses the three essential elements of the interracial relationship between Amir and Emily in Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Disgraced. They are: Emily’s painting of Amir, her husband, in the style of Portrait of Juan de Pareja by Diego Velázquez; Emily’s White Saviour Complex; and the violence she suffered in the hands of Amir. The first two parts of the analysis will utilise the combination of Identity Construction theory by Stuart Hall, Edward Said’s Orientalism, and the post 9/11 discourse of Neo-Orientalism. The last part of the analysis will foreground the entire elements by utilising Stuart Hall’s theory of Articulation. It will be proved that Amir’s violence is an act of retaliation towards Emily’s domination over the production of his identity through representation and her influence in his crucial decisions concerning his relationship with his family. Emily’s victimisation and the emphasis on Amir’s ‘tribalistic bond’ risk a reductionist Neo-Orientalist reading of the text. By acknowledging Emily’s White Saviour Complex, the text can be read as a re-articulation of the Neo-Orientalist stereotypes of ‘barbaric brown man’ and ‘free white woman.

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