Disgraced Summary

Disgraced is a 2012 play by Ayad Akhtar about Amir, a successful American lawyer who struggles with his conflicted feelings about his Muslim heritage.

  • Amir has distanced himself from his Muslim upbringing, but his wife, Emily, is a painter inspired by Islamic art, and his nephew, Abe, encourages Amir to help Imam Fareed in court.
  • When Amir and Emily invite Isaac and Jory over for dinner, conversations around Islam grow heated. Amir, drunk, reveals that he feels a secret kinship with militant Islamists. When he learns that Emily had an affair with Isaac, Amir beats her.

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Last Updated on February 17, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1132

The play opens in Amir and Emily’s luxurious apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the late summer of 2011. Emily is sketching Amir, and as she does so, she refers to a portrait by Velázquez of his Moorish servant, Juan de Pareja, which has inspired her to make a similar study. As she draws, Amir, who is a successful corporate lawyer, makes business-related calls on his cellphone.

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Amir’s nephew, Abe, comes to the apartment to try to persuade his uncle to join the legal defense team of Imam Fareed, who has been charged under the Patriot Act with collecting funds for Hamas. Amir is reluctant, pointing out that he is no longer a practicing Muslim. He tells a story about how he had a crush on a Jewish girl at school; he recounts the anger with which his mother reacted, turning him against the girl. Now, he works for a Jewish law firm and is repelled by Muslim bigotry against Jews. Emily reminds Amir that he has sometimes responded spiritually to Islamic art and architecture and tries to persuade him to help the Imam. After Abe has left the apartment, the couple have a brief and inconclusive argument, in which Emily complains that they never really discuss Amir’s conflicted feelings about his Muslim background.

Two weeks later, Emily is reading the newspaper. There is a report on Imam Fareed’s trial, which includes a quotation from Amir saying that the Department of Justice has failed to make its case. The report gives the impression that Amir is the Imam’s lawyer, though he is not, and also mentions the name of the firm where he works as an associate. Amir is concerned about possible repercussions, and Emily’s attempts to reassure him only lead to further conflict between them.

As Amir leaves the apartment, Isaac, a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, arrives to see Emily. They look at her paintings together, and Emily explains how she has been influenced by Islamic art, which she feels is underrated in America. Isaac warns her that critics will view her work as Orientalist, appropriating the art of another culture. However, Emily continues to insist that Islamic art is central to her own artistic vision and even says that she derives a sense of inner peace from submitting to its intricate formal rules.

Three months later, in the fall, Amir and Emily are having Isaac and his wife Jory, a lawyer who works with Amir, to dinner. Beforehand, Amir is concerned about a meeting he had with two of the partners that day, in which they inquired about his background, having discovered that he comes from Pakistan, not India, and is Muslim, not Hindu.

Isaac and Jory arrive, and Isaac soon reveals that Emily’s paintings will be an important part of a new exhibition he is curating. Everyone congratulates Emily, but Isaac and Amir disagree about the centrality of Islam in her art, and Amir says he preferred her work before she started incorporating Islamic elements into it. The two men soon begin to discuss Islam more broadly. Isaac objects to Amir’s sweeping statements about Muslim bigotry, while Amir says that Isaac does not understand Islam, never having read the Quran or considered the origins of the religion. He talks about the Quran’s sanction for wife-beating and says that even the most sophisticated Muslims are really fighting for a harsher, more primitive world. At that point, he admits that he himself felt pride at the success of the attacks on September 11th, though he recognizes that this emotion was savage and tribal.

After a brief talk with Emily in the kitchen, Amir announces that he is going out to buy some champagne, and Jory volunteers to go with him. While Amir and Jory are away, Emily alludes to a brief affair she had with Isaac in London as a mistake. Isaac tells her that he believes she will continue to be unfaithful to Amir, either with him or someone else. He also reveals that Jory went with Amir to buy the champagne because she wanted a chance to tell him that she has been given a partnership at the firm, despite the fact that Amir has worked there twice as long. He tells Emily that he is in love with her and moves to kiss her.

Jory and Amir return, and Jory sees that Isaac was about to kiss Emily. She demands to know if they are having an affair. Amir is furious that he has been passed over for partnership in favor of Jory. He and Isaac begin to fight, and he spits in Isaac’s face. After Isaac and Jory leave, Amir asks Emily if she is sleeping with Isaac, and she admits to their affair in London. Amir beats Emily viciously, and the scene ends when Abe enters the apartment to find Emily on the floor, her face covered in blood.

Six months later, Amir is in the apartment, packing up his possessions to leave. Unexpectedly, Emily and Abe enter. Emily asks Abe to tell Amir what has just happened to him. Abe was in Starbucks with his friend Tariq, and some comments Tariq made about Al-Qaeda upset one of the baristas, who called the police. The police took both of them to the station, where they were questioned by FBI agents, who noted that Abe’s immigration status was due to be renewed soon. Abe believes that they were trying to pressure him into working as a spy for the FBI.

Amir calls another lawyer, who represented Imam Fareed, and leaves a message. Abe speaks to him angrily, saying that Amir has tried too hard to fit into American society and has failed to be true to himself or his culture. The Prophet Muhammad, he points out, never copied anyone. Others imitated him as he went his own way, and he conquered the world. Now it is for Muslims like Abe to take back the world for Islam, but Amir, who has abandoned his own people, will not be among these warriors. Abe then apologizes to Emily, who was listening to the end of his remarks, and leaves.

Amir tries to speak to Emily, but she is distant and reserved. She says she does not hate him and that she does not want to take his apartment, which he has offered to her in one of his letters. She believes that she was partly to blame for what happened between them, as she was naïve and selfish. Before she leaves, she asks him not to write to her again. After she has gone, Amir picks up a picture she painted and looks searchingly at it for a long time.

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