Progress & Change
The idea of Progress is something central to both Singaporean society, and as a result, Boom. The natural process of change and progression is one which is accelerated in Singapore, to ensure rapid movement in society, the economy and globally. Although progress is often viewed positively, it also results in negative effects, and not everyone seems entirely convinced of its benefits.
The wider picture – what change and progress was happening in society?
Ø The en bloc sale – people getting rich & being able to move into new properties.
Ø The New Burial Policy – freeing up more space for development
Ø Replacement of historical landmarks like the National Library and Stadium, to be replaced with modern buildings
Ø People becoming richer as a result of the economic boom

What progress & change is happening in Boom?
Ø The proposed en bloc sale of Zion Mansions – Mother being pressurized to sell her home.
Ø Boon’s job as a property agent allows him to see the new condos being built all of the time
Ø The corpse’s relocation is as a result of the New Burial Policy
Ø Changes within characters – Boon wants to get on with his life free of the past, Jeremiah wants to leave his past behind and gain in confidence.
Ø Construction – the ever present ‘booming’ noise which irritates the corpse so much.

The concept of ‘boom’ relates to a number of different ideas, many linked with the idea of progress and change:
1. Economic boom
2. Similar sound to ‘Boon’ the character, who is one of the main proponents of change in the play
3. Property & construction boom
4. Onomatopoeic word which resembles the actual sound, giving the word an extra strength for its irritating qualities

Act One, Scene Six: ‘This is heaven or hell?’






Sound. That sound.

What sound?

That sound. Boom boom boom. Boom boom boom.

Oh that. They’re building castles.


That sound. The sound of construction. The sound of progress.

This is heaven or hell?

In this scene, the corpse complains about his irritation with the constant booming noise that is ever-present. His complaints indicate that progress affects people in different ways, as he finds it a physical irritation. Even Jeremiah’s response of ‘the sound of progress’ could be viewed in a sarcastic manner, that he actual doesn’t necessarily think the progress is a good thing. What is certain is that it is affecting some people within society, such as the corpse, in a negative way, and as such, it cannot be viewed as a totally positive thing. The corpse’s question; ‘This is heaven or hell’ indicates the massive gulf between peoples’ views on the idea of progress – either hugely positive or hugely negative. The difference between ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ is so huge, that conflict of ideas is sure to arise.
Is Progress negative or positive in Boom?
Jean Tay was prompted to write Boom from observing the effect it was having on society. Whilst she is not necessarily completely opposed to it – it is the natural process of things after all – she does express concern that ‘something is being lost’, and in much the same way as Jeremiah (who is perhaps being her voicepiece at the end of the play), that nothing is ever quite the same as before. Although there may be new buildings, memories can fade over time and thus something is lost from the process.

Positive Effects of progress & change
Negative effects of progress & change
Singapore becomes a stronger & more prosperous country
There will be more space and more property available for people. We see the agents with many properties to sell to people – ‘luxurious living’, ‘designer décor’ – although these aren’t all necessarily good things, it seems to be what people want.
Things are never quite the same as before
Jeremiah, one of the younger generation who is having to carry out much of the work necessary for progress (like his report on the corpse) comments in his monologue in the last scene that ‘it’s never quite the same, is it?’ Although things are made more ‘time saving’, ‘traffic-enhancing’, ‘newer, taller, posher’, it never replaces what was there before.
People can provide a better life for their loved ones
Boon’s reasons for moving to a new place is that he wants to provide a better life for his mother than the place she’s in now. Also, when Male Neighbour comes to speak to Mother, he emphasizes the fact that he wishes to make life better for his two young daughters – ‘they deserve better than this, can’t you see?’
It causes tension between people
Because not everyone wants to change and progress, there is much resistance to it – in the case of the Corpse and Mother. Mother argues with the Male Neighbour on the issue, requiring Boon to come in and defend her. Also, the Corpse is very resistant to Jeremiah’s moves to help him as he wants to stay where he is.
People are more wealthy
Boon frequently emphasizes the money to be made from the en bloc sale – obviously something his mother isn’t interested in – ‘I bet some of these uncles never even dreamed of earning that much money in their lifetime’.
Memories & shared history are lost – some things are worth more than money
Mother and Female Neighbour both speak about how their homes mean so much to them, ‘worth more than any amount of money’. They associate their homes with their children, the memories of the past, and for Mother, the only link she has to her disappeared husband.
Characters can move on and progress with their lives
Boon seems to be happy at the end of the play once he has left the old place and moved into the new condominium. He is described as having a ‘transcendental smile’ on his face, suggesting he has found some peace in progress. So too has Jeremiah, who has gained in confidence by standing up to the Director.
There is not always much choice for people – they are forced to adapt to changes
Those who are resistant to the change and progress happening must nevertheless be forced along with it. Both Female Neighbour and Mother find themselves having to move by the end of the play. Female Neighbour talks about how she is ‘too tired to go on fighting.’ The Director shows this process of force, when she tells Jeremiah (about the New Burial Policy) that ‘this is not a consultation process. This is an implementation process’.
Exemplar Boom essay:
‘This is heaven or hell?’ Is Progress seen as a positive or negative thing in Boom?
Progress in Boom is affected by the various events that were occurring during the period when Jean Tay wrote the play. In particular, there were a few factors which threw the play into what it is known now, one of which is the property market boom in 2007, the phenomenon known as the en bloc sale. Another is the destruction of historical and heritage icons, where icons such as the National Stadium were scheduled for redevelopment. Lastly, progress has also affected the dead. The New Burial Policy is the mass exhumation of graves and limited the burial period to only fifteen years. Characters in Boom were affected by such factors, creating a mixed impression of progress.

In Boom, the positive impression of progress is best reflected by Boon and the Director. Boon is the new and young generation of Singapore and is in the rat race for wealth. One way in which he hopes to acquire wealth from his mother’s old flat. This can be clearly reflected in Act 1, Scene 7, where Boon tries to persuade his mother to sign the en bloc contract; ‘but it’s the perfect solution! Only you would think otherwise. You sell it on the open market, you get peanuts. Nobody’s going to throw money into a place like this. But you get everyone to sell together, that’s when it happens. I tell you, this place got potential to becomes really classy.’ Besides Boon, there are other characters in the play who see progress as a good thing, a way to a better life. For example, the male neighbour in Act 2, Scene 7 is seeing the en bloc scheme as an opportunity to start a new life and provide a better life for his family; ‘this place may be good enough for you, but not for them, okay? They deserve better than this, can’t you see?’

Also, in the issue of the New Burial Policy, the Director is eager and supportive of the policy. She understands the need for progress which is clearly reflected in Act 1, Scene 3, ‘It is only natural that we should optimize our most precious resource. Why should the living have to suffer for the dead?’ The intrusion of progress in the dead can also be seen in Act 2, Scene 5, where even the morbid dead has been changed into a real estate business, giving the ‘dead’ a ‘choice’ of where they wish to ‘rot’ in; ‘I’m telling you, it’s all about location location location. Whether you’re flesh and blood. Meat and maggots. Dust and ashes. The best part of all is you can choose!’

However, progress is also viewed as a negative impact by the characters in Boom. In the case of the en bloc property boom, the minority of house owners had to sell their homes against their will. In which, it can even turn friendly neighbours into bitter enemies. The two conflicts can be seen in Act 2, Scene 15; ‘I’m staying here. This is my house. My walls, my ceilings, my floors, my windows, my doors, my door knobs, okay? And that. That is my tree. I swear to you, I’m not going to leave it behind.’ Also, in Act 2, Scene 7 and 8 where Boon fights and punches Male Neighbour over the signing of the en bloc contract.

The negative presentation of progress in Boom can also be seen from the fig tree. The fig tree is a metaphor of the redevelopment of the National Stadium, where it holds memories dear to the hearts of the older generation of Singaporeans. The fig tree in the play is something which holds dear memories for Mother. However, due to the redevelopment of Zion Mansions, Boon has to chop the tree down. This causes Mother to be angered in Act 2, Scene 18, much like the uproar stirred when the national stadium was scheduled for demolition.

On the whole, progress is Boom is presented as a very negative thing. Progress has caused conflict amongst Mother and Boon, her neighbours, even to the extent where Boon leaves Mother. However, despite all the negative products of progress, progress allowed Boon to move on with his life, give him a new start. It also allows Jeremiah to have a deeper understanding of life and how society works. In the focus of Male Neighbour, he gets to give his two daughters a better life. Progress also provides a sense of closure for Mother, where she finally knows what happens to her husband, allowing her to forget about him and move on. Progress, therefore is presented as both a positive and negative thing in Boom, with the process of it negative, but the final outcome of