The Corpse/Young Father

Although the Corpse and Young Father turn out to be the same character, we don’t know this until Act Two. Throughout Act One and much of Act Two we assume that they are two very different characters.

The Corpse

The Corpse is the first of the two we are introduced to, right at the start of the play. The impact on the audience of the Corpse’s hand appearing from the ground to straighten his headstone is a very visual reminder of the magical realist element of the play and sets us up (although we don’t know it) for the shock of the corpse responding to Jeremiah in Act One, Scene 6. The corpse can be read on two levels – literal and metaphorical.

Literal Reading
Metaphorical Reading
The Corpse is a very irritable character – he is very rude to Jeremiah for much of the play (‘GO!!!’) and refuses his help. He is particularly irritated by the ‘sound of construction’ – the constant booming sound, which was the same which topples his headstone in the Prologue.
The Corpse is a personification of history and represents all that is being lost in society by the constant construction. In particular, his irritation with the booming noise signifies all the Singaporeans who are concerned with what is happening.
The corpse has forgotten everything about his life (‘Can’t remember’) but doesn’t want to be forgotten (‘I just want to leave something behind’). Little does he know, he has – his son, who is still haunted by the memories of what his father did to him when he was a small boy.
When the past (e.g. en bloc housing, National Library, National Stadium) is destroyed, it is very quickly forgotten about. People forget the details, the location etc and it is gone from their memories. If something remains, it is very sketchy. However, in some senses it remains – in peoples’ memories.
Sympathetic character – although the corpse is an irritable character, we feel sorry for his dilemma – highlighted in his monologue in Act 1, Scene 14. This grows throughout the play, particularly when he begins to remember and we realize that he actually didn’t abandon his wife and child, but that he was actually killed.
We feel sorry for those who are losing their past (e.g. Mother and the many stories like hers) and the buildings being lost.
He is facing a very unpleasant situation – as he has reached his allotted 15 years in the ground, in line with the New Burial Policy, he needs to be dug up and re-buried.
He is an actual example of the effects of the New Burial Policy and is a ‘mouth piece’ for those affected by it. Jean Tay commented that she wanted to ‘show that its not just about the living, but also about the dead’ (en bloc sales & the NBP)

Jean Tay says she saw the role of the Corpse as ‘a voice narrating another strand of the story’ – that the past and the present are being affected by changes within Singapore. He could have been a highly unrealistic element to the play, but somehow we believe in his existence, partially as his situation is linked so closely with that of Mother and her forced removal from her home by the en-bloc sale.

Young Father

We don’t see much of Young Father, but his influence on the play is huge – he provides the major source of conflict for both Boon and Mother. We are first introduced to him in Act One, Scene 8 with Mother, introducing her to her new flat (the same flat Boon and Mother are arguing over), then in Act One, Scene 17 as he is letting her down again, then in Act One, Scene 20 as he beats his son. We do not develop a particularly positive view of him as a father, until the Corpse reveals his actual fate.

Young Father’s qualities
Ø Seen to promise a lot, but not deliver – ‘maybe we can go to the mountains, then you can see snow’, ‘you are going to live like a queen’
Ø Tries to pacify Mother with small promises – ‘you like that dried mango, right?’
Ø Very ambitious – ‘it’s an investment. Can still sell and make money’. This is very different from how his wife (Mother) sees the flat, which highlights a significant difference in their viewpoints. Mother even says ‘your dreams are too big for me.’
Ø A bit reckless with money in particular – ‘Not enough then borrow lor’

At times, we see many parallels between him and Boon – the promise of snow, the promise of a better house – but Boon actually delivers his promises by the end of the play, and clearly wants the best for his mother.

Mother often comments about and to father ‘Le si lang tau’ (you useless fellow) which proves to be very true as the play goes on.