Filial Piety & Heroism

Filial Piety means the act of being a good son or daughter.

Filial Piety is one of the central themes of the play and is something which is closely linked with the central conflicts of the play. Whether or not you should be filial is a debate which is set up very early on in the play, in Act One, Scene 4, and it is something which resonates across Singaporean society.

To Be, Or Not to Be

In Act One, Scene 4 we see the merits and demerits of being a filial child discussed by the agents. Boon is ridiculed for being a filial son by Agent 1 (‘He is still staying with his mother!’), but is defended by Agent 2 (‘People filial son, okay. Not like you’). It turns out that Agent 1 has put his father into an old folks’ home, whilst he lives the life of luxury (‘stay in posh condo while your father stay in tai ping lao ren yuan’). There seems to be a conflict at the heart of being filial – are you a filial child but risk damaging your own chances (like Boon) or do you do what you want, which may not be the best for your parents (like Agent 1)?

Boon the Filial Son

Overall, Boon wants the best for his mother, and tries to reason with her as much as possible. He wants to provide the life for her that his father didn’t, and so constantly tries to negotiate with her (‘We can find a new condo around here if you like this area’). He sees that both of them are trapped by the past in the house they are in, something which even his mother recognizes (‘the past is here’).

Being a filial son is not an easy thing for Boon – although he is trying to do the best for her, she does not make it easy for him at all and doesn’t seem to understand his motivation (‘I don’t know what’s wrong with him’). She is stubborn, she says that he should leave her be and part way through (Act One, Scene 19) she forces him away as he reaches the end of his patience with her. His life should be easier once he leaves her, but his conscience (in the voice of his father) drives him back to her and even gets him into a fight to defend his mother’s honour.

By the end of the play, his mother seems to have finally recognized the fact that Boon is trying very hard to make her happy, even if she is still unhappy (‘I know he’s trying. I know he’s trying very hard’). He wanted to rescue her – which he has slightly, but not completely, as she is still mourning the loss of her home and her tree.

Jeremiah the Filial Son

Jeremiah’s parents are dead, but his sense of filial piety towards them is still very strong. We discover that he was able to speak to his mother’s corpse at her funeral. He was eight when they were killed in a car accident, so much of his early life was marked by the fact that he lost his parents early on, and he is clearly still affected by it. We realize that his need to help the corpse is somehow linked with it when he says ‘please, you’ve got to tell me [….] about dying’.