Monday, October 25, 2010

Perspectives on Death

The short story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” by Ernest Hemingway and the poems “Because I could not stop for Death,” “I Heard a Fly Buzz when I Died,” and “Success is Counted Sweetest,” by Emily Dickinson all share a common theme of death. In these readings, death is portrayed in different ways, whether it is instantaneous or relatively slow and perceivable.
In the short story, the husband, Francis Macomber, is shown as a coward. He is afraid of hunting big game. His wife does not respect him and also makes fun of him for it. This is shown by his wallowing in the flashback of the moment that he was terrified of the lion. Finally, Macomber comes to terms with his fear, and not only doesn’t run away, but stands his ground firmly until he kills the buffalo that was after him. Unfortunately, directly after his newfound confidence and assurance, his wife shoots him, trying to make it seem accidental. Hemmingway describes his death as instantaneous except for the fraction of the second that he feels the searing sensation of the bullet entering his head. The whole while, he was worrying about being killed by and animal, and it ended up to be his wife that killed him. This puts a feel of futility on all of Macomber’s efforts and gives delivers an odd and instantaneous perception pertaining to life and death.
In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I could not stop for Death,” she describes the journey from life to death. She shows how the narrator was able to go through a journey before she died, passing by different stages of life. She went from children “stroving” at recess, to a setting sun, which signifies the end of her life. Through Dickinson’s slow description of death, she portrays death as a peaceful experience.
In Dickinson’s poem, “I heard a fly buzz when I died,” she mentions a fly in the first stanza in a way that makes it seem somewhat insignificant. She then describes the death of the narrator as completely still and motionless saying, “The stillness round my form/ Was like the stillness in the air.” This strengthens the significance of the fly, showing that it is the only thing that isn’t motionless in the scene. By the end of the poem, the fly becomes a gruesome focus of the person dying, being the last thing to come between the dying narrator and the light of life. By describing in such vivid detail, Emily Dickinson shows how something that is as unimportant as a fly could become the final sight of someone’s life.
In the last poem of the reading, “Success is Counted Sweetest,” Emily Dickinson discusses the relativity of success. She says that success to those who are successful often is not as sweet as it is to those who fail. She argues that the person who can define success is not the one who achieves it, but is the one who doesn’t. In her final stanza, she says that no one can define success in such an absolute way as well as someone who is dying. It is only through death, which signifies utter failure, that someone can truly understand success.

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