When writing a short story or poem an author aims to draw in their readers by connecting to their human emotions. They want to write about something that their reader can relate to. One thing that all of mankind has in common is death. It is something we all will have to face someday and we all look at death in a different way. Some people that reflect on death get a feeling of fear or anxiety. Others who reflect on death may have a feeling of peace and calmness. Everyone has that question in their mind, “What happens after death?” It seems to be one of the biggest mysteries in life. When reading an author’s short story or poem their feelings regarding death will often be reflected in their work. Some literary works that have death as a common element within their pages include: “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”, “The Raven”, “The Story Of An Hour”, and “A Raisin In The Sun.” You will see that each of the authors reflect death in completely different ways.
In the poem “Because I could not stop for death” Emily Dickinson is creating a picture of her own death. It is apparent that Emily Dickinson is not afraid or fearful of death. Actually she seems to be saying that she was always too busy in life to ever worry about what was going to happen when she died. “Because I could not stop for Death- He kindly stopped for me- The Carriage held but just ourselves- And Immortality.” (DiYanni, 2007, p.810) When death approaches for her she has you picturing her as a bride whose groom has come for her as she describes her gown. “For only Gossamer my Gown” (DiYanni, 2007, p.810). “We slowly drove- He knew no haste and I had put away my labor and my leisure too, for his civility.” (DiYanni, 2007, p. 810) I believe this means that she has completed her purpose in life and it is time for her to go. Dickinson continues to describe her ride into immortality. She seems to be looking back on various stages in her life. It begins with her childhood, “We passed the school where children strove at recess in the ring.”(DiYanni, 2007, p.810) to adulthood, “We passed the fields of grazing grain” (DiYanni, 2007, p.810) and finally old age. “We passed the setting Sun.” (DiYanni, 2007, p.810) When they pass the setting sun this is the symbol of the end of Dickinson’s life. This is when she arrives at her new home in the afterlife. What she is describing in the poem is her grave or final resting place. “We paused before a house that seemed a swelling of the ground” (DiYanni, 2007, p.810) “Since then- ’tis centuries- and yet feels shorter than the day I first surmised the horse’s heads were toward eternity.” ( DiYanni, 2007, p.810) After her death it is as if time ceases to exist. Of course time no longer exists because where she is dwelling there is no time. It is eternity. This poem is reflective of Dickinson’s strong religious beliefs. Dickinson’s poem leaves you feeling like death is just a natural part of life. In a way, she finds a certain ironic beauty within death. Why would you be afraid of death when such a beautiful journey awaits you and the ending reward is eternal life?
In “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, we see a different view of death. The portrait that Poe creates seems to be dark, dreary, and depressing. Where Emily Dickinson’s poem gives you a feeling of peace, Poe’s poem gives you a feeling of darkness and despair. He appeared to be afraid of death, looking at it like a thief that is going to come in the night to take those he loves. The narrator has recently lost a beloved friend by the name of Lenore. He begins the poem by saying “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.” (DiYanni, 2007, p.1173) The author is setting the mood for the poem. It is clear that it is going to be dark, dreary, and depressing. Next, the narrator hears a knock on his door and he is apparently afraid of it. However, he then tries to reassure himself. “Tis some visitor, I muttered, tapping at my chamber door only this and nothing more.” (DiYanni, 2007, p. 1173) He gets up to check the door and there is no one there. He goes back to his place inside and says, “Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,” “Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before, and the word there spoken was the whispered word Lenore.”(DiYanni, 2007, p1173) Its appears that he wants his beloved Lenore to be standing on the other side of the door but she is not there. Then he begins to hear tapping even louder than before. He whispers, “Tis the wind and nothing more.” (DiYanni, 2007, p.1173) He gets up and flings the window open to find a raven. A raven is known to be symbolic of death. It appears that death has come to visit the narrator in the form of a raven. This raven repeats one word to the narrator over and over again. That word is “nevermore.” The author believes this means he will nevermore see his beloved Lenore. So he asks the raven if he will ever see Lenore again and of course the raven responds, “Nevermore.” (DiYanni, 2007, p. 1175) The narrator has what appears to be a struggle within his own soul. He wants to kill himself so he can see Lenore again but he is afraid if he does he will be barred from both heaven and Lenore. This is how the poem ends. “And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted-nevermore.” (DiYanni, 2007, p1175) In the end the author does not appear to me afraid of death. He instead leads you to believe that he is very angry with death. Death takes his loved ones away from him and the prospect of never seeing them again drives him to the point of insanity.
In “The Story Of An Hour” death would bring about a sense of liberation to the main character, Mrs. Mallard. (DiYanni, 2007, p. 34) The story opens as Mrs. Mallard is informed that her husband has been killed in a horrible train accident. At first, Mrs. Mallard appears to be the typical grieving wife. “She wept at once, with sudden wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms.” (DiYanni, 2007, p.38) She goes up to her room where she wants to grieve alone. This is when the author paints a picture of a woman who has more than likely endured years of emotional and possibly even physical abuse. Her husband is described as being a very controlling man. “He bent her to his will.” (DiYanni, 2007, p.40) The narrator goes from a feeling of grief to a feeling of joy when she realizes her new found life. Her husband’s death has brought her a sense of freedom that she has never before experienced. We read that she looks out the window and sees signs of new spring life. (DiYanni, 2007, p.39) I believe that the author is using this as a symbolism of her new life free of abuse. Her sister comes and knocks on her door and asks her to come out. Her sister then calls her by her first name. Her name is Louise. Again, I believe this is symbolic of her finally being free from her abusive controlling husband. She is no longer Mrs. Mallard. Her name is Louise. She is free from her husband and the life of sorrow she has led. The author then reflects that sense of freedom in their writing. They use quotes such as,” She walks down the stairs like a goddess of Victory.” “With a feverish triumph in her eyes.” (DiYanni, 2007, p.40) The end is almost somewhat of a tragedy. You would expect the reader to be happy as Mr. Mallard walks through the door happy and well. However, you feel sorry for Mrs. Mallard that the moment he walks through the door she loses that sense of freedom that she had been so excited about. Upon seeing her husband standing alive and well in the doorway Mrs. Mallard falls dead suddenly. She could not stand the thought of living one day longer in her abusive marriage. In an ironic twist, death did in a way set her free.
In the play “A Raisin In The Sun” (DiYanni, 2007 p. 1870) I believe the author reflects a sense of strength after death. The main characters in the play include Mama and her two children Beneatha and Walter. Walter is married to Ruth and they have a son named Travis. This family is waiting for an insurance check from Mama’s husband’s death, and each member has their own ideas for spending the money. Beneatha is trying to learn about herself and wants to be a doctor so of course she would like the money for medical school. Walter was a chauffeur for a rich white man, and he wanted to use the money for an investment in a liquor store to be able to make more money. Mama decides to use the money to purchase a three bedroom house for her family. They have out grown their small house and mama knows this is something they can all benefit from. She tells Walter to put three thousand into an account for Beneatha for school and to place the remainder of the money in a savings account for the family. Mama does not want Walter investing in the liquor store due to religious convictions. Instead of placing the money into an account for the family he invests in the liquor store against his mama’s wishes. His partner in the business deal takes off with the family’s money. A man from the Home Improvement Association where they bought their house had offered them money to leave because they did not want black people in their neighborhood. Mama had quickly sent the people packing. However, Walter considered taking the offer because of his mistake. Mama convinced him that their family was worth more than any amount of money. (DiYanni, 2007 p. 1870) The reason I believe this play reflects strength after death is because this family is going through so much after losing a key member in their family. They are facing all of these hardships and trials yet they still stick together as a family no matter what happens. Mama brings the family back together throughout this play despite grieving over the death of her late husband. In Poe’s “The Raven” we see the opposite standpoint. The narrator in “The Raven cannot stand the thought of living without his beloved Lenore.
All of the literary works we have talked about share the theme of death. Each author portrays death in their own unique individual ways. In The Story of an hour (DiYanni, 2007, p.38) Mrs. Mallard saw death as a liberator. Death would set her free from years of emotional and possibly even physical abuse. In The Raven (DiYanni, 2007, p.1174) the narrator had a dark and dreary picture of death. He was not necessarily afraid of death. He was angry at death for taking his loved ones away. The raven continuing to recite “Nevermore” paints a photo of death being a black void. In “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” ( DiYanni, 2007, p.810) Dickinson paints a picture of death that is the opposite of Poe’s. Her picture of death seems to be one of beauty. Death was just the next cycle of life in Dickinson’s eyes. In “A Raisin In The Sun” (DiYanni, 2007 p. 1870) we meet a family that teaches you to remain strong even though you are dealing with the painful tragedy of the death of a loved one.
Death is something that we all have in common. At some point in life we will all have to face death. Some people fear it, others get angry with it, while some look forward to it. Death is something that will always capture a reader’s attention because of the mystery that surrounds it. Someday we will all experience death. It is only then that we will know what truly happens once our physical body expires. Until then Authors will continue to reflect all the different viewpoints of death giving you ideas of what lies beyond this life we are living now.
DiYanni, R. (2007). Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.