Monday, October 25, 2010

Countercultural Perspectives on Death

The readings for this class conveyed many different views on death, its purpose, and its value in everyday life. At once these works display it as something good and beneficial and also as an opportunity to reflect, rather than the inevitable depressing ending to life that is so often presented in our society. Overall then, death is presented in these stories and poems from a much different perspective than that which most people are used to.

In “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”, the title serves as a metaphor for the brief moments of happiness Macomber enjoys when he overcomes his fears and cowardice. His relationship with his wife is greatly strained until he comes to face his fear and decides to take on the buffalo at the end of the story. This seminal moment in the story also serves as a sort of rebirth for Macomber: “Macomber felt a wild unreasonable happiness that he had never known before” (502). This line is the completion of a vast emotional swing over the course of a page or two that gives Macomber a new, happy life. Death, in this case, arrives at the most enjoyable time of his life, allowing him to die a happy man instead of the coward he seems to have always been. The title, then, recounts the brief life that Macomber actually lived as a happy man, instead of the long miserable life he replaced.

In Dickinson’s poems, she presents many differing viewpoints on death. In “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—“, Dickinson presents a rather nonchalant approach to death and dying. Although she is very aware of the fact that she is dying, as evinced by the fact that she has written a will and given away all she could, she still notices little things, like a fly in the room. Death doesn’t seem to faze her, really. I feel this perspective is one of the most valuable that can be presented about death. I suppose the fact that I feel this way makes me somewhat biased, but I feel as though people spend incredible amounts of time worrying about death instead of focusing on what’s around. Not to sound, morbid, but everyone dies eventually, so considering that fact a nonplussed attitude towards death would seem rational to me—focus on what you can change, not what is set in stone. In “Because I could not stop for Death”, the combination of death and immortality is presented very interestingly. Immortality is, from a certain perspective, a constant avoidance of death. Yet here they are presented as riding in the same carriage. Dickinson uses this contrast to once again harp on the fact that people are far too concerned with death. Avoiding death just isn’t an option, as even immortality has been claimed by death in this poem. Again Dickinson uses her poetry to convey the message that death is something unavoidable, and that life should be of greater concern than death.

The works of Hemingway and Dickinson present very interesting views of death. Both writers present it not as something bad, but rather something that is just a part of life that should not be our primary concern.

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