Western Attitude Toward And Experience Of Death And Dying

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Both Philippe Aries and Tony Walter have argued: Western attitudes toward and experience of death and dying have undergone significant change in the modern period.

What is distinct about the modern approach to death and dying in the West?

What has changed about how people thought about and experienced death from the pre-modern/traditional to the modern period? Why?

Be sure to use explicit examples from assigned readings and lectures. Don't rely exclusively on Aries and Walter. Use examples from earlier in the course to support your answer as well.

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The Reversal of Death: Changes in Attitudes Toward Death in Western Societies Author(s): Philippe Aries Source: American Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 5, Special Issue: Death in America (Dec., 1974), pp. 536-560 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2711889 Accessed: 19-07-2018 15:46 UTC JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://about.jstor.org/terms The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Quarterly This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms THE REVERSAL OF DEATH: CHANGES IN ATTITUDES TOWARD DEATH IN WESTERN SOCIETIES* PHILIPPE ARIES Translated by Valerie M. Stannard THIS STUDY COULD HAVE BEEN ENTITLED "THE CONTEMPORARY crisis of death," if Edgar Morin had not already given this title to one of the chapters in his book L'homme et la mort devant l'histoire. 1 Indeed, Morin's very words and ideas apply here: "Panic-stricken confrontation in an at- mosphere of anguish, neurosis, and nihilism," which takes "the form of a veritable crisis of individuality in the face of death" and probably also, as we shall see infine, a crisis of individuality itself. Edgar Morin intentionally limited himself to "death in books": "literature, poetry, philosophy, that is, . . . the non-specialized sector of civilization, or more correctly, the sector specialized in generalities." In this case the subject matter was evident: literature and philosophy have never been completely silent on the subject of death and dying, and have sometimes been known to be extremely loquacious; today we know how any discourse on the subject of death becomes confused and expresses one of the many forms of a pervasive anxiety. Since Edgar Morin's book was published in 1951, a new literature has appeared, the history and sociology of death, which is no longer general but specialized, and is no longer merely a discourse on death. To be sure, in those days there were a few pages by Emile Male and art historians on the iconography of death, there was the excellent book by Huizinga on the decline of the Middle Ages, and there was Roger Caillois' essay on American attitudes toward death, but there was as yet really no history or sociology of death.2 *Translation of Philippe Aries, "La mort invers6e. Le changement des attitudes devant l mort dans les soci6tes occidentales," Archives Europeennes de Sociologie, 8 (1967), 169-195. IL'homme et la mort . . . (Paris: Correa, 1951). 2Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1954); Roger Caillois, Quatre essais de sociologie contemporaine (Paris: Perrin, 195 1). This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 537 It is strange how the human sciences, so outspoken regarding family, work, politics, leisure, religion and sex, have been so reserved on the subject of death. Scholars have kept silent, acting like the men that they are and like the men that they study. Their silence is only a part of this great silence that has settled on the subject of death in the 20th century. Although literature has continued its discourse on death, with, for example, Sartre or Genet's "mort sale," ordinary men have become mute and behave as though death no longer existed. The chasm between the discussion of death in books, which is still prolific, and actual death, which is shameful and not to be talked about, is one of the strange but significant signs of our times. This silence is the main subject of this essay. As is usually the case with silence, it has gone unnoticed and therefore unknown; only during the past few years has it been the subject of discussion. A history of death was begun with Alberto Tenenti's two books, La vie et la mort a travers 'art du XVesiecle, which appeared in 1952, one year after Edgar Morin's essay, and II senso delta morte e l'amore delta vita net Rinascimento.3 A sociology of death was begun in 1955 with Geoffrey Gorer's comprehensive article, "The Pornography of Death."4 Next came the collection of interdisciplinary studies (anthropology, art, literature, medicine, philosophy, psychiatry, religion, etc.), edited by Herman Feifel under the title The Meaning of Death, which had been presented at a colloquium organized by the American Psychological Association in 1956. The mere idea of a colloquium on death testifies to the awakening interest in this hitherto forbidden topic. Indeed it seems that, with regard to the forbidden topic of death, today's sociologists are following the example of Freud concerning the forbidden topic of sex. Thus it is that the current taboo regarding death is being threatened in an indirect way by social scientists. Literature remains conservative and continues with the old themes, even when it takes the form of their opposites. On the other hand, sociology and psychology are supplying the first signs that contemporary man is rediscovering death. And far from suppressing these scholarly works, newspapers and popular weekly magazines have given them a great deal of attention. A literature of social criticism has followed, which first became popular with Jessica Mitford's book, The American Way of Death.5 Today hardly a month passes without the French, British or American press reporting on a book concerned with death, or some observed curiosity regarding it. Death is now becoming what 3La vie et la mort ... (Paris: Colin, 1952); II senso della morte ... (Turin: Einaudi, 1957). 'Reprinted as an appendix to his book, Death, Grief, and Mourning (New York: Doubleday, 1965). 5 The American Way of Death (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963). This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 538 American Quarterly it had ceased to be since the very end of the Romantic era, the subject of an inexhaustible supply of anecdotes a fact which would lead one to suspect that the newspaper-reading public is becoming interested in death, perhaps initially because of its seemingly forbidden and somewhat obscene nature. The new sociology of death, then, marks not only the beginning of a scientific bibliography on death, but very likely also a turning point in the history of attitudes toward death. Sociology, however, is not very conscious of history: Edgar Morin was led to treat the death of philosophers as his- tory, because his philosophic and literary documents were already a part of history-for a long time of the history of ideas, for only a few decades, of social history. On the other hand, common attitudes toward death, such as are being discovered today by sociologists, psychologists and doctors, seem so unprecedented, so bewildering, that as yet it has been impossible for observers to take them out of their modern context and put them into historical perspective. Nevertheless, that is what this article proposes to do, around three themes: the dispossession of the dying person, the denial of mourning, and the invention in the United States of a new funerary ritual. 1. The Dying Man is Deprived of His Death For thousands of years man was lord and master of his death, and the circumstances surrounding it. Today this has ceased to be so. It used to be understood and accepted that a man knew when he was dying, whether he became spontaneously aware of the fact or whether he had to be told. It seemed reasonable to our old storytellers that, as the plowman in La Fontaine says, man would feel his approaching death. In those days death was rarely sudden, even in the case of an accident or a war, and sudden death was much feared, not only because there was no time for repentance, but because it deprived a man of the experience of death. Thus death was almost always presaged, especially since even minor illnesses often turned out to be fatal. One would have had to be mad not to see the signs, and moralists and satirists made it their job to ridicule those foolish enough to deny the evidence. Roland "feels that death is taking all of him," Tristam "felt that his life was draining away, he realized that he was dying." Tolstoy's peasant replied to the goodwoman who asked him if he were all right: "Death is here"; for Tolstoy's peasants died like Tristam or like La Fontaine's plowman, having the same resigned, comfortable attitude toward it. This is not to say that the attitude toward death was the same throughout all this long period of time, but that it survived in some social strata from one generation to the next despite competition from other styles of death. When the person involved was not the first to become aware of his fate, others were expected to warn him. A papal document of the Middle Ages This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 539 made this a task of the doctor, a task he for a long time carried out unflinch- ingly. We find him at Don Quixote's bedside: "He took his pulse, and was not happy with the results. He therefore told him that whatever he did, he should think of saving his soul, as his body was in grave danger." The artes moriendi of the 15th century also charged with this task the "spiritual" friend (as opposed to "carnal" friends), who went by the name so repugnant to our modern fastidiousness of nuncius mortis. As man progressed through time, the higher up the social and urban ladder he climbed, the less he himself was aware of his approaching death, and the more he had to be prepared for it; consequently, the more he had to depend on those around him. The doctor renounced the role that for so long had been his, probably in the 18th century. In the 19th century he spoke only when questioned, and then somewhat reticently. Friends no longer had to intervene, as in the time of Gerson or even Cervantes, because from the 17th century on, it was the family that took care of this a sign of development in family feeling. An example of this can be seen in the de La Fer- ronnays household in 1848. Mme. de La Ferronnays had fallen ill. The doctor announced that her condition was dangerous, and "one hour later, hopeless." Her daughter wrote: "When she came out of the bath . . . she suddenly said to me, while I was thinking of a good way to tell her what the doctor thought: 'but I can't see anything any more, I think I'm going to die.' She immediately recited an ejaculatory prayer. 'Oh, Jesus,' " the daughter then remarked, "'what a strange joy I felt from those calm words at such a terrible time."' She was relieved because she had been spared the distress of making a nevertheless indispensable disclosure. The relief is a modern characteristic, the necessity to disclose the truth is ancient. Not only was the dying man not to be deprived of his death, he also had to preside over it. As people were born in public, so did they die in public, and not only the king, as is well known from Saint-Simon's famous pages on the death of Louis XIV, but everyone. Countless engravings and paintings depict that scene for us. As soon as someone "was helplessly sick in bed," his room filled with people parents, children, friends, neighbors, fellow guild members. The windows and shutters were closed. Candles were lit. When passersby in the streets met a priest carrying the viaticum, custom and piety demanded that they follow him into the dying man's room, even if he was a stranger. The approach of death transformed the room of a dying man into a sort of public place. Pascal's remark, "man will die alone," which has lost much of its impact on us since today man almost always dies alone, can only be understood in this context. For what Pascal meant was that in spite of all the people crowded around his bed, the dying man was alone. The enlightened doctors of the end of the 18th century, who believed in the qualities of fresh air, complained a great deal about this bad habit of This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 540 American Quarterly crowding into the rooms of sick people. They tried to have the windows opened, the candles snuffed, and the crowd of people turned out. We should not make the mistake of thinking that to be present at these last moments was a devout custom prescribed by the Church. The enlightened or reformed priests had tried, long before the doctors, to do away with this crowd so that they could better prepare the sick person for a virtuous end. As early as the artes moriendi of the 15th century it had been recommended that the dying man be left alone with God so that he should not be distracted from the care of his soul. And again, in the 19th century, it sometimes happened that very pious people, after yielding to the custom, asked the numerous onlookers to leave the room, all except the priest, so that nothing would disturb their private conversation with God. But these were rare examples of extreme devotion. Custom prescribed that death was to be marked by a ritual ceremony in which the priest would have his place, but only as one of many participants. The leading role went to the dying man himself. He presided over the affair with hardly a misstep, for he knew how to conduct himself, having previously witnessed so many similar scenes. He called to him one by one his relatives, his friends, his servants, "feven down to the lowliest," Saint-Simon said, describing the death of Mime. de Montespan. He said farewell to them, asked their pardon, gave them his blessing. Invested with sovereign authority by the approach of death, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, the dying person gave orders and advice, even when this dying person was a very young girl, almost a child. Today nothing remains either of the sense that everyone has or should have of his impending death, or of the public solemnity surrounding the moment of death. What used to be appreciated is now hidden; what used to be solemn is now avoided. It is understood that the primary duty of the family and the doctor is to conceal the seriousness of his condition from the person who is to die. The sick person must no longer ever know (except in very rare cases) that his end is near. The new custom dictates that he die in ignorance. This is not merely a habit that has innocently crept into the customs-it has become a moral requirement. Vladimir Jankelevitch confirmed this unequivocally during a recent colloquium of doctors on the subject: "Should we lie to the patient?" "The liar," he stated, "is the one who tells the truth.... I am against the truth, passionately against the truth.... For me, the most important law of all is the law of love and charity."6 Was this quality then lacking prior to the 20th century, since ethics made it obligatory to inform the patient? In such opposition we see the extent of this extraordinary reversal of feelings, and then of ideas. How did this come about? It would be 6Medecine de France, 177 (1966), 3-16, repr. in Jankeldvitch, La mort (Paris: Flammarion, 1966). This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 541 too hasty to say that in a society of happiness and well-being there is no longer any room for suffering, sadness and death. To say this is to mistake the result for the cause. It is strange that this change is linked to the development in family feelings, and to the emotional centrality of the family in our world. In fact, the cause for the change must be sought in the relationship between a sick person and his family. The family has no longer been able to tolerate the blow it had to deal to a loved one, and the blow it also had to deal to itself, in bringing death closer and making it more certain, in forbidding all deception and illusion. How many times have we heard it said of a spouse or a parent: "At least I had the satisfaction of knowing that he never felt he was dying"? This "not feeling oneself dying" has in our everyday language replaced the "feeling one's impending death" of the 17th century. In point of fact, it must happen quite often-but the dead never tell-that the sick person knows quite well what is happening, and pretends not to know for the sake of those around him. For if the family has loathed to play nuncius mortis, a role which in the Middle Ages and at the beginning of modern times it was not asked to play, the main actor has also abdicated. Through fear of death? But death has always existed. Only it used to be laughed at "What haste you are in, 0 cruel goddess!" while society compelled the terrified dying man nevertheless to act out the great scene of farewells and departure. Some say this fear is innate, but its suppression is equally innate. The fear of death does not explain why the dying man turns his back on his own death. Again we must seek for the explanation in the history of the family. The man of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance (as opposed to the man of the early Middle Ages, like Roland, who still lives in Tolstoy's peasants) insisted on participating in his own death, because he saw in his death the moment when his individuality received its ultimate form. He was master over his life only insofar as he was master over his death. His death was his, and his alone. However, beginning with the 17th century he no longer had sole sovereignty over his own life and, consequently, over his death. He shared his death with his family, whereas previously his family had been isolated from the serious decisions he, and he alone, had to make regarding his death. Last wills and testaments are a case in point. From the 14th century to the beginning of the 18th century, the will was one way for each person to express himself freely while at the same time it was a token of defiance-or lack of confidence-with regard to his family. Thus, when in the 18th century family affection triumphed over the traditional mistrust by the tes tator of his inheritors, the last will and testament lost its character of moral necessity and personal warm testimony. This was, on the contrary, replaced This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 542 American Quarterly by such an absolute trust that there was no longer any need for written wills. The last spoken wishes became at long last sacred to the survivors, and they considered themselves to be committed from then on to respect these wishes to the letter. For his part, the dying man was satisfied that he could rest in peace on the word of his close ones. This trust that began in the 17th and 18th centuries and was developed in the 19th century, has in the 20th century turned into alienation. As soon as serious danger threatens one member of a family, the family immediately conspires to deprive him of information and thus his freedom. The patient then becomes a minor, like a child or a mental defective, to be taken into charge and separated from the rest of the world by his spouse or parents. They know better than he what he should do and know. He is deprived of his rights, specifically the formerly essential right of knowing about his death, of preparing for it, of organizing it. And he lets this happen because he is convinced that it is for his own good. He relies on the affection of his family. If, in spite of everything, he does guess the truth, he will pretend to not know it. Death used to be a tragedy-often comic-acted out for the benefit of a man who was about to die. Today, death is a comedy-always tragicacted out for the benefit of a man who does not know he is about to die. Without the progress of medicine the pressure of family feeling would probably not have been sufficient to make death disappear so quickly and so completely. Not so much because of the real conquests made by medicine as because, as a result of medicine, in the mind of the sick man death has been replaced by illness. This substitution first appeared in the second half of the 19th century. When the dying peasant in Tolstoy's Three Deaths (1859) was asked where he hurt, he replied: "I hurt all over, death is here; that's what it is." On the other hand Ivan Ilych (1886), after overhearing a conversation that could leave him in no doubt, continues to think obstinately of his floating kidney, of his infected appendix, which can be cured by the doctor or the surgeon. The illness has become the focus of illusion. His wife treats him like a child who is disobeying the doctor's orders: he is not taking his medicine properly, that is why he is not getting better. Moreover, it is clear that, with the advancements in therapeutics and surgery, it has become increasingly more difficult to be certain that a serious illness is fatal; the chances of recovering from it have increased so much. Even with diminished capacities, one can still live. Thus, in our world where everyone acts as though medicine is the answer to everything-where even though Caesar must die one day, there is absolutely no reason for oneself to die incurable diseases, particularly cancer, have taken on the hideous, terrifying aspects of the old representations of death. More than the skeleton or mummy of the macabres of the 14th and 15th centuries, more than the leper with his bell, cancer today is death. However, the disease must be in- This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 543 curable (or thought to be so) in order for death to be allowed to come forward and take on its name. The anguish this releases forces society to hur- riedly intensify its customary demands of silence, and thus to bring this overly dramatic situation to the banal level of an afternoon walk. People die, then, in secret more alone than Pascal ever imagined. This secrecy results from refusing to admit the imminent death of a love one by concealing it beneath the veil of a persistent disease. There is another aspect of this secrecy that American sociologists have succeeded in interpreting. What we have been inclined to view as avoidance, they have shown to be the empirical establishment of a style of dying in which discretion appears as the modern form of dignity. It is, with less poetry, the death of M6lisande, a death of which Jankelevitch would approve. A study has been made by Barney G. Glaser and Anselm L. Strauss in six hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area of the reactions toward death of the interdependent group of the patient, his family and the medical person- nel (doctors and nurses).7 What happens when it is known that the patient is nearing his end? Should the family be notified, or the patient himself, and when? For how long should life be prolonged by artificial means, and at what point should the individual be permitted to die? How does the medical staff behave toward a patient who does not know, or who pretends not to know, or who does know that he is dying? These problems no doubt arise in every modern family, but within the confines of a hospital, a new authority intervenes: the medical authority. Today people are dying less and less at home, more and more in hospitals; indeed, the hospital has become the modern place for dying, which is why Glaser and Strauss' observations are important. However, the scope of their book goes beyond empirical analyses of attitudes. The authors have discovered a new ideal way of dying which has replaced the theatrical ceremonies of the Romantic era and, in a more general way, of the traditional public nature of death. There is a new model for dying which they explain almost naively, comparing it with their concrete observations. Thus we see taking shape a "style of dying," or rather an "acceptable style of living while dying," an "acceptable style of facing death." The accent is placed on the word "acceptable." It is essential, indeed, that the death be such that it can be accepted or tolera by the survivors. If doctors and nurses (the nurses with more reticence) delay for as long possible notifying the family, if they are reluctant ever to notify the pat himself, the reason is that they are afraid of becoming caught up in a chain of sentimental reactions that would bring about a loss of self-control, their own as much as that of the patient or the family. To dare to speak of death, 7A wareness of Dying (Chicago: Aldine, 1965). This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 544 American Quarterly to admit death into social relations, is no longer, as in former times, to leave the everyday world undisturbed; it brings about an exceptional, outrageous and always dramatic situation. Death used to be a familiar figure, and moralists had to make him hideous in order to create fear. Now the word has only to be mentioned to provoke an emotive tension incompatible with the equilibrium of everyday life. "An acceptable style of dying," then, is one that avoids "status-forcing scenes," scenes that tear the person out of his social role, that violate his social role. These scenes are patients' crises of despair, their cries, their tears, and in general, any demonstrations that are too impassioned, too noisy or even too moving, that might upset the serenity of the hospital. This would be the "embarrassingly graceless dying," the style of dying that would embarrass the survivors, the opposite of the acceptable style of dying. It is in order to avoid this that nothing is said to the patient. Basically, however, what is essential is less whether the patient does or does not know, but rather, that if he does know he should have the good taste and the courage to be discreet. He should behave in such a manner that the hospital staff can forget that he knows, and can communicate with him as though death were not hovering about them. Communication is, in fact, an equally necessary factor. It is not enough for the patient to be discreet, he must also be open and receptive to messages. His indifference might set up the same "embarrassment" among the medical personnel as would an excess of demonstration. There are, then, two ways to die badly: one consists of seeking an exchange of emotions; the other is to refuse to communicate. The authors very earnestly cite the case of an old woman who conducted herself very well at first, according to convention: she cooperated with the doctors and nurses, and fought bravely against her illness. Then one day she decided that she had fought enough, the time had come to give up. She closed her eyes and did not open them again; in this way she was signifying that she was withdrawing from the world, and was awaiting her end alone. Formerly this sign of introspection would have surprised no one and would have been respected. In the California hospital, it drove the doctors and nurses to despair, and they quickly sent for one of the patient's sons to come by plane, he being the only person capable of persuading her to open her eyes and not to go on "hurting everybody." Patients also sometimes turn toward the wall and remain in that position. This is recognizable, not without emotion, as one of man's oldest gestures when he feels death approaching. The Jews of the Old Testament died this way and, even in the 16th century, the Spanish Inquisition recognized by this sign an unconverted Marrano. Tristam died in this way: "He turned toward the wall and said: 'I can hold on to my life no longer."' Nevertheless, in our time the doctors and nurses of a California hospital saw in this ancient This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 545 gesture nothing but an antisocial refusal to communicate, an unpardonable renouncement of the vital struggle. We should realize that the surrender of the patient is censured not only because it demoralizes the medical personnel, representing as it does a failure to meet a moral obligation, but also because it supposedly reduces the capacity for resistance of the patient himself. It thus becomes as much to be feared as the "status-forcing scenes." This is why, today, American and British doctors are less often hiding the seriousness of their case from terminal patients. This year British television broadcast a program on cancer patients who had been apprised very accurately of their situation; this broadcast was intended as an encouragement to tell the truth. The doctors probably think that a man who has been told, if he is stable, will be more willing to undergo treatment in the hope of living to the full his last remaining days and, when all is said and done, will die just as discreetly and with as much dignity as if he had known nothing. This is the death of the good American, as described by Jacques Maritain in a book designed for the American public: he is led by the medical personnel "to think in a sort of dream, that the act of dying amid happy smiles, amid white garments like angels' wings would be a veritable pleasure, a moment of no consequence: relax, take it easy, it's nothing." This is also, with a little less of the commercial smile and a little more music, the humanistic, dignified death of the contemporary philosopher: to disappear "pianissimo and, so to speak, on tiptoe" (Janke16vitch). 2. The Denial of Mourning We have seen how modern society deprives man of his death, and how it allows him this privilege only if he does not use it to upset the living. In a reciprocal way, society forbids the living to appear moved by the death of others; it does not allow them either to weep for the deceased or to seem to miss them. Mourning was, nevertheless, until our time the supreme form of grief, and it was both right and necessary to express it. The old word for grief (in French douleur), dol or doel, has remained in our language, but with the restricted meaning of mourning (in French deuil). But even before it had been given a name, grief over the death of a loved one was the most violent expression of the most spontaneous feelings. During the height of the Middle Ages, the most hardened warriors or the most illustrious sovereigns broke down before the bodies of their friends or relatives, like-as we would say today-women, and hysterical women at that. Here we see King Arthur swoon several times in succession, beat his chest, claw at his face "so that the blood gushed forth." There, on the battlefield, we see the same king who This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 546 A merican Quarterly "fell from his horse in a faint" before the body of his nephew, "then, crying all the while he began to search for the bodies of his friends," like Charlemagne at Roncevaux. Finding- one of them, "he struck his palms against one another, crying that he had lived long enough.... Removing the helmet from the dead man, and looking at him for a long time, he then kissed his eyes and his frozen mouth." So many spasms and fainting fits! So many passionate embraces of already cold cadavers! So many desperate clawings, so many torn clothes! But aside from a very few inconsolable spirits who retreated into monasteries, once the great demonstrations of grief were over, the survivors took up their lives where they had left off. Beginning in the 13th century, the demonstrations of mourning lost their spontaneity and became ritualized. The great displays of the early Middle Ages were from then on simulated by professional mourners. Such mourning is still carried on today in the southern and Mediterranean areas of France. Romancero's Le Cid demands in his will that there be no mourners at his funeral, as was the custom, nor flowers nor wreaths. The iconography of tombs from the 14th and 15th centuries shows processions of mourners in black robes around the exposed body, their heads hidden under cowls and penitents' hoods. Later, we can learn from last wills and testaments in the 16th and 17th centuries that the funeral corteges were mainly composed of a crowd similar to the professional mourners: mendi- cant friars, paupers, children from the almshouses, all of whom were dressed for the occasion in black robes supplied by the inheritors, and who received some bread and a small amount of money following the ceremony. One might wonder whether the closest relatives took part in the obse- quies. Friends were given a banquet an occasion for carousing and overindulgence, which the Church tried to abolish; in time these banquets became mentioned less often in the wills, except in cases where they were specifically forbidden. One notices in the last wills and testaments that sometimes the testator insisted on the presence of a brother or a son usually a child in his funeral procession. He would offer a special legacy as a reward for this much sought after attendance. Would this have been the case if the family always followed the procession? We know without doubt that women never attended funerals in the ancien regime. It seems most likely that, beginning with the late Middle Ages and the ritualization of mourning, society imposed a period of seclusion on the family, even keeping it away from the funeral, and replacing it by numerous priests and by professional mourners, monks and nuns, members of guilds, or ordinary people attracted by the distribution of alms. This seclusion had two purposes: firstly, to allow the truly unhappy survivors to shelter their grief from the world, to allow them to wait, like a sick man who rests, for their pain to be alleviated. Henri de Campion mentions This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 547 this in his Memoires. In June 1659, de Campion's wife "gave up . . . the ghost, having delivered to the world a daughter who died five or six days after her. I was heart-broken and fell into a pitiable state. My brother ... and my sister . .. brought me to Conches; I stayed there for seventeen days and then returned to Baxferei to put my affairs in order.... Being unable to remain in my house, which constantly reminded me of my sorrows, I took a house in Conches where I remained until 2 June 1660 [that is to say, until the bout de l'an, until the first anniversary of his wife's death], at which time, seeing that my sorrow would not leave me, I returned to my home in Baxferei with my children and lived there in great sadness." The second reason for the seclusion was to prevent the survivors from forgetting the departed too soon; it excluded them, during a period of penitence, from the social relations and pleasures of secular life. This precaution was helpful in defending the unfortunate dead from being replaced too hastily. Nicolas Versoris, a Parisian bourgeois, lost his wife from the plague "the third day of September [1522] one hour after midnight." The next-tolast day of December in the same year, he was betrothed to a doctor's widow, whom he married as soon as he was able, on January 13, 1523, "the first festal day after Christmas." The 19th century brought no softening in the severity of seclusion. In houses where there was a death, men, women, children, servants, and even horses and bees were separated from the outside world by a screen of crapes, veils and black cloth. However, this seclusion was more voluntary than forced and no longer were close friends and family forbidden to take part in the dramatic obsequies, to make pilgrimages to the graves, or to take part in the cult of remembrance so characteristic of the Romantic era. It was no longer obligatory for women to be excluded from the funeral services. They were accepted first by the bourgeoisie; the nobility remained faithful to the customs of exclusion for a longer period of time, and it was many years before the well-bred wife could participate in her husband's death. Nevertheless, even among the nobility, the women began attending their husband's, son's or father's burial, at first in secret, hidden in a corner of the church or in the gallery, with the approval of the Church. The tradi- tional customs of seclusion were forced to come to terms with the new feelings of glorifying the dead and worshiping their tombs. The woman's presence, nonetheless, did not in any way alter the concept of seclusion in mourning: entirely veiled in black-a mater dolorosa-in the eyes of the world she was merely a symbol of inconsolable sorrow. However, seclusion was transferred from the physical level to the moral level. It served less to protect the dead from oblivion than to emphasize how impossible it was for the living to forget them and to live as they had before. The dead no longer required society's protection against the indifference of their close ones, any This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 548 A merican Quarterly more than, as we saw earlier, the dying needed last wills and testaments to enforce their final wishes. So we see that the increase in family feeling had, by the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, combined with the traditional concept of seclusion to make mourning not so much an enforced quarantine as a right to demonstrate extreme grief, in defiance of conventional proprieties. This was, then, a return to the spontaneity of the high Middle Ages while maintaining the ritual constraints that followed in the 12th century. If one were to draw a "mourning curve," there would first be a peak stage of frank, violent spontaneity until somewhere around the 13th century, then a long phase of ritualization until the 18th century, and then in the 19th century a period of impassioned, self-indulgent grief, dramatic demonstration and funereal mythology. It is not inconceivable that the paroxysm of mourning in the 19th century is connected to its prohibition in the 20th, in the same way that in the postwar years the mort sale of Remarque, Sartre and Genet seems to be a reaction against the extremely noble death of the Romantic era. This is the meaning of Sartre's gesture, more ridiculous than scandalous, of "passing water" on Chateaubriand's tomb. There had to be a Chateaubriand in order for there to be a Sartre. It is the same kind of rela- tionship that links contemporary eroticism to Victorian sexual taboos. In the mid 20th century the ancient necessity for mourning-more or less spontaneous, or enforced, depending on the century-has been succeeded by its prohibition. During the course of one generation the situation has been reversed: what had always been required by individual conscience or social obligation is now forbidden; what had always been forbidden is now required. It is no longer correct to display one's grief, nor even to appear to feel any. The British sociologist Geoffrey Gorer deserves the credit for having unearthed this unwritten law of our civilization. He was the first to understand that certain facts which had been neglected or misinterpreted by humanists were in fact part of an overall attitude toward death that was characteristic of industrial societies. In the autobiographical introduction to his book, Gorer tells of the personal way he discovered that death had become the principal taboo of the modern world. The sociological investigation that he organized in 1963 on the subject of attitudes toward death and mourning in England only confirmed, clarified and enriched the ideas he had already outlined in his noteworthy article, based on personal experience, "The Pornography of Death." Gorer was born in 1910. He recalls that his entire family went into mourning at the death of Edward VII. He was taught to take off his hat when funeral processions passed by in the street, and to treat people in mourning with special consideration. Such practices seem very strange to This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 549 British people today! But when in 1915 his father perished in the wreck of the Lusitania, he in his turn was treated like a special person, with unusual gentleness. People spoke to him softly, or became silent in his presence as though they were dealing with an invalid. However, when, encouraged by the feeling of importance this mourning gave him, he told his schoolteacher that he would never be able to play again nor to look at flowers, she shook him and ordered him to stop being "morbid." The war permitted his mother to take a job where she found relief from her sorrow. Before the war, social convention would not have allowed her to work, "but later," remarks Gorer, "she would not have had the support of the ritual of mourning," which she had respected and which protected her. So Gorer came into contact with the traditional manifestations of mourning in his childhood, and they must have made an impact on him for he was to remember them later. After the war, when he was a young man, he had no further experiences of death. Once only, and then by chance, he saw a corpse in a Russian hospital he was visiting in 1931, and this unusual sight made an impression on him. This lack of familiarity with death is very definitely a general phenomenon, a long-unnoticed result of increased longevity: J. Fourcassie has shown how the youth of today can reach adulthood without ever seeing anyone die. Nevertheless, Gorer was surprised to find that, among the subjects of his investigation, more people than he would have suspected had in fact seen a dead person. Those who had already seen a corpse hastened to forget the fact and spontaneously adopted the behavior of those who had never seen one. After the death of his sister-in-law, he was surprised that his brother, a noted physician, sank into such a state of depression. At that time intellectuals were already beginning to abandon the traditional funeral ceremonies and outward manifestations of mourning, which they considered superstitious, archaic practices. However, Gorer did not then see the connection between his brother's pathological despair and the absence of ritual mourning. This was to change in 1948, when he lost a friend, who left behind a wife and three children. "When I went to see her, two months after John's death, she told me, with tears of gratitude, that I was the first man to stay in the house since she had become a widow .. . she had been almost completely abandoned to loneliness, although the town was full of acquaintances who considered themselves friends." Gorer then understood that the changes that had taken place in the ritual of mourning were not in- significant, anecdotal occurrences. He realized the importance of the phenomenon and its serious effects. It was a few years later, in 1955, that he wrote his well-known article. The final, decisive proof came a few years later. In 1961 his own brother, the physician, who had remarried, became ill-he was stricken with cancer. This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 550 American Quarterly Naturally, the truth was hidden from him, and it was only decided to inform his wife Elizabeth because she, not knowing that her husband was ill, might be annoyed with his behavior and impatient with him for pampering himself. Contrary to all expectations, the cancer spread quickly, and Gorer's brother died quite suddenly in his sleep. Everyone was pleased that he had been fortunate enough to die without knowing what was happening to him. And since this was a family of intellectuals, there was no wake, no displaying of the body. Because the death had taken place at home, the body had to be laid out. There were specialists to do this, former nurses who thus occupied their days of retirement. When these two old women arrived, it was "Where is the patient?" There was no longer any death, or any corpse only a patient who kept his status as patient in spite of the biological change he had undergone, at least so long as he could be seen and be recognized. The laying out of a body is a traditional rite; however, its meaning has changed. Formerly the purpose was to arrange the body in the position representing that era's ideal image of death, that of a recumbent effigy, its hands crossed, waiting for its life in the afterworld. It was in the Romantic era that men discovered the special beauty that death imposes on a human face, and the purpose of the final solicitudes was to free this beauty from the death agonies that spoiled it. But in either case, the intention was to retain an image of death-a beautiful corpse, but a corpse. When the two old women had finished with their "patient" they were so pleased with their work that they invited the family to come and admire it: "the patient looks lovely now." This is not a dead person you see here, this is an almost-living person. Our fairy fingers have given him back the appearance of life. We have taken away the ugliness of the death agony from him, but have not replaced it with the majesty of a recumbent effigy or with the saintly beauty of the dead; he still has the charm of life, he is still nice, "lovely." In these days the purpose of laying out a body is to hide the appearance of death and to retain the body's familiar, cheerful attitude of life. It should be noted that this tendency was not very pronounced in Gorer's England, and that this family of intellectuals did not share in the nurses' enthusiasm. However, in the United States, the laying out of a corpse has gone as far as embalming and displaying in "funeral homes." This family of British intellectuals was not seduced either by the beliefs of another age or by the gaudy ostentation of American modernism. The body was to be cremated. However, in England and no doubt also in Northern Europe, cremation has taken on a particular meaning, which is made very clear in Gorer's investigation. The choice for cremation is no longer made, as it was for so many years, to defy the Church and ancient Christian customs. Nor is the choice made solely for reasons of convenience and saving space: the Church being inclined to accept these reasons in memory of a This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 55 1 time when ashes, as for example those of Antigone's brother, were respected as much as human bones. In modern England cremation suggests more a sign of one's modernity, an assurance of rationality, and finally a denial of the afterlife. However, these reasons are not immediately or clearly apparent from the spontaneous statements given by the subjects of the investigation. Out of 67 cases in the investigation there were 40 cremations against 27 burials. The reasons for the choice of cremation came down to two. Firstly, cremation was considered to be the most complete method of disposing of the dead. This is why one woman, whose mother had been cremated and who thought the process was "cleaner, more hygienic," nevertheless rejected it for her husband because it was "too final"; she had him buried. The second reason is an offshoot of the first: cremation does away with the cult of cemeteries and the making of pilgrimages to graves. This is not a necessary consequence of cremation. Indeed, crematorium administrators have done their best to permit families to venerate their dead just as in traditional cemeteries; there is a remembrance room where one can place a memorial tablet to serve the same purpose as a tombstone. However, of the 40 cases in the investigation, there was only one case with a name engraved on such a tablet, and only 14 with a name written in the memory book, whose pages are turned every day to permit commemoration of deaths oc- curring on that date-an intermediate solution between complete obliteration and the perpetuity of a memorial tablet. For the other 25 no visible trace was left. The reason that the families did not use the facilities at their disposal is that they saw cremation as a sure means of escaping from the cult of the dead. It would be a serious mistake to attribute this refusal to worship and remember the dead to indifference or insensitivity. On the contrary, the results of the investigation and Gorer's autobiographical testimony indicate how much the survivors suffer and how long they remain distressed. In order to be convinced of this, let us go back to Gorer's narrative, to the time of his brother Peter's cremation. The widow, Elizabeth, attended neither the cremation nor the Anglican service that preceded it a concession to convention, since the deceased had no religion. Her absence was not due to the ritual interdictions of the old style of mourning, nor to lack of feeling, but to the fear of "cracking" and to a new form of modesty. "She could not bear the thought that she might lose control and other people observe her grief." The new conventions required that one hide that which formerly had to be shown, even simulated: one's grief. There were even more imperative reasons for keeping the children away from such a traumatizing ceremony. Already in France, where old customs die hard, children of the bourgeoisie and the middle classes (families of This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 552 A merican Quarterly white-collar workers) scarcely ever take part any more in the burials of their grandparents; old people, grandparents several times over, are sent out of this world, without the presence of any little grandchildren, by adults who are as rushed and ill at ease as they are emotionally upset. This sight struck me forcefully after I had just finished reading, in the central archives, some 17th century documents in which the testator, who was often still indifferent regarding the presence of his close relatives, insistently demanded that a grandchild follow his funeral procession. During the same period a portion of all mourners was recruited from among foundlings or children aided by almshouses. And in the numerous representations of the dying man in his bedchamber surrounded by a crowd, the painter or engraver never forgot to include a small child. So Elizabeth and the children stayed at home in the country on the day of the cremation. Geoffrey joined them in the evening, broken from fatigue and emotion. His sister-in-law, very much in control of herself, met him and told him that she had spent a very good day with the children, that they had picnicked in the fields and watched the grass being mown. Elizabeth, who was an American from New England, spontaneously and courageously adopted the behavior that her fellow-countrymen had taught her and that the English expected of her. She was supposed to act as if nothing had happened so that everyone else could act the same way, and social life could continue without being interrupted, even for a single moment, by death. If she had dared to show any signs of grief in public she would have been ostracized by society, as a loose woman would have been in former times. But in any case, in spite of these safeguards Elizabeth's friends had, as a precautionary measure, so to speak, avoided her at the beginning of her be- reavement. She confided to her brother-in-law that at first she had been kept at a distance "as though she were a leper." She was accepted only when it was safe to assume that she would not betray any emotion. In fact, this isolation led her to the brink of a nervous breakdown: "at the period when she most needed help and comfort from society she was left alone." It was then that Geoffrey Gorer conceived the idea of his investigation into the modern denial of mourning and its traumatizing effects. It is easy to see how these things happened. According to Gorer, it began with the disappearance of the social rules, which laid down the ritual con- duct to be observed during mourning and which awarded a special status during this time, both to the family and to society in its relations with the family. The author gives perhaps too much importance to the role of the two world wars in accelerating the change. Little by little the new social conventions took hold, in a spontaneous way, however, and without anyone being aware of their newness. Even today, in fact, they have not been formalized in the same way that the old customs were, though their power is no This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 553 less constraining for that. Death has become a taboo, an unnameable thing (the expression appears in a completely different context in Jankelevitch's book on death), and, as formerly with sex, it must not be mentioned in public. Nor must other people be forced to mention it. Gorer shows force- fully how, in the 20th century, death has replaced sex as the principal prohibition. Children used to be told that they were born in a cabbage leaf, but they took part in the great farewell scenes in the bedroom or by the bedside of a dying man. However, by the second half of the 19th century, the presence of children was beginning to make people feel uneasy and they tended, not to forbid it but to shorten it. At the deaths of Emma Bovary and Ivan Ilych, the old custom of presenting the children was definitely respected, but they were made to leave the room immediately afterward because it was thought that the distortions of the death agony would inspire them with too much horror. Although removed from the deathbed, the children still had their place at the funeral ceremonies, clothed in black from head to toe. Today even the youngest children are acquainted with the facts of love and birth, but when they no longer see their grandfather and they ask why, they are told in France that he has gone on a very long trip, and in England that he is resting in a beautiful garden filled with honeysuckle. It is no longer the children who are born in cabbages, but the dead who disappear among the flowers. The relatives of the dead are thus forced to feign indifference. Society demands from them a self-control corresponding to the propriety or dignity that it imposes upon the dying. The essential thing both for the dying man and the survivors is to not let any emotion show through. Society as a whole behaves in the same manner as the hospital staff. If the dying man must overcome his anxiety and collaborate obligingly with the doctors and nurses, the unhappy survivor must hide his grief, refuse to withdraw into a solitude which would betray him, and must continue without a pause his life of social contacts, work and leisure otherwise he would be avoided, and this avoidance would have an entirely different consequence from the ritual seclusion of traditional mourning. This seclusion was accepted by all as a necessary transition, and included such equally ritualized behavior as obligatory visits of condolence, "letters of consolation," the "succor" of religion. Today this exclusion carries the implication of a reproof, similar to the treatment accorded those who have lost social status, the contagiously ill or sexual deviants: those who insist on grieving are shunned in the same way as those who are social misfits. He who wishes to be spared this ordeal must therefore wear a mask in public and take it off only in the utmost privacy: "one does not cry," says Gorer, "except in private, as one undresses or goes to bed in private," in secret, "as if it were an analogue of masturbation." Today's society refuses to accept the bereaved as a sick man to be This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 554 American Quarterly comforted. It refuses to associate the idea of mourning with that of sickness. The old-style courtesy was more understanding, perhaps more "modern" in this regard, more sensitive to the pathological effects of repressed mental suffering. In our cruel times Gorer recognizes the beneficial effects of the ancestral customs which protected a man stricken by the death of a loved one. During his mourning "he has more need of society's help than at any other period of his life since his childhood and early youth, and yet it is then that society withdraws its aid and refuses him assistance. The price of this failure in misery, loneliness, despair, and morbidity is extremely high." The prohibition of mourning pushes the survivor into losing himself in his work or, on the contrary, to the brink of insanity, into pretending to live with the dead person as if he were still there, or, further, into taking his place, imitating his gestures, his words, his eccen- tricities, and sometimes, in the height of neurosis, into copying the symptoms of the disease that carried him off. Thus we see the reappearance of strange manifestations of extreme grief, which seem new and modern to Gorer, but which are nevertheless familiar to a historian of customs. He will have met them before as the excessive demonstrations which were ac- cepted, recommended, even simulated, during the ritual period of mourning in traditional societies. However, he must admit that the demonstrations are similar in appearance only. Formerly, the purpose of these demonstrations was to liberate; and even when, as happened very frequently in the Romantic era, they overstepped the bounds of convention and became pathological, they were not rejected as shocking, but were tolerated kindly. A striking example of this indulgence appears in one of Mark Twain's novels, where all the friends of the deceased willingly agree to support the illusions of the widow, who has not accepted the death and who, at every anniversary, imagines and acts out the impossible return. In a current context, these friends would refuse to participate in such an unhealthy comedy. Where Mark Twain's rough heroes showed tenderness and indulgence, modern society can see only embarrassing, shameful morbidity, or mental illness to be cured. One comes to wonder then, with Gorer, whether a large part of today's social pathology is not rooted in the removal of death from everyday life, in the prohibition of mourning and of the right to weep for one's dead. 3. The Invention of New Funerary Rites in the United States From the preceding analyses, it would be tempting to conclude that the prohibition surrounding death today is a structural characteristic of contemporary civilization. The elimination of death from speech and other familiar forms of communication, along with the high priority given well- being and material consumption would thus be part of the pattern of in- This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 555 dustrial societies. One might say that this is generally true of the vast area of modern society that covers Northern Europe and America, but that it meets with resistance wherever the old ways of thinking still exist, such as in Catholic countries like France or Italy, in Protestant countries like Presby- terian Scotland, and among the populace of technocratic countries. The concern for total modernity, in fact, depends as much on social as geographic conditions and, even in the most developed regions, it is still restricted to the educated classes, whether believers or atheists. Wherever this concern has not penetrated one finds the continued presence of the romantic attitudes toward death that were born in the 18th century and developed in the 19th-the cult of the dead and the veneration of cemeteries. Nevertheless, one might say, these survivals are deceptive, because even though they still affect the largest segment of the population, they are doomed: as the outdated thinking to which they are tied declines, so inevitably will they. The pattern of future society will be imposed on them and will complete the elimination of death that has already begun in bourgeois families, both progressive and reactionary. This evolutionist sketch of death is not entirely false, and it is probable that the denial of death is too much a part of the pattern of industrial civilization not to expand along with it. On the other hand the sketch is not completely true, for pockets of resistance have occurred where they were least expected, not in the archaic religious fervors of the old countries, but in the most fertile center of modernity, the United States of America. And yet America was the first country to lessen the tragic sense of death. It was in America that observations could first be made on the new attitudes toward death. They inspired the satirical humor of the English Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh in The Loved One, which was published in 1948.8 In 1951 they attracted the attention of Roger Caillois, who interpreted these attitudes as a hedonistic avoidance of the issue. "Death is not to be feared, not because of any moral obligation to overcome the fear it causes, but because it is inevitable and because in fact there is no reason to dread it-only it must absolutely not be thought about, much less spoken about."9 Everything that we have described in the preceding pages is true of America: the alienation of the dying person, the suppression of mourning, everything except the actual burial itself. Americans have been loath to simplify the ritual of the funeral ceremony and the burial to the extent of Gorer's English model. In order to understand this peculiarity of American society, we should go back in our earlier account of the death of modern 8The Loved One (London: Chapman and Hall, 1948). 9Caillois, Quatre essais ... This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 556 A merican Quarterly man to the moment of the last breath. Up to the last breath and after the burial, that is, during the so-called mourning period, everything happens the same way in both England and America. This is not so during the intermediate period. The enthusiastic attitude noted earlier of the ex-nurses who laid out the body ("it looks lovely now") died out almost immediately in English circles since it was not shared by the family nor encouraged by society. The main thing, in England, is to make the body disappear, in a respectable way, of course, but quickly and completely, thanks to cremation. In America quite the opposite is true. The laying out of the body is the beginning of a series of complicated and sumptuous rites: embalming the body in order to restore to it the appearance of life; laying the body out for viewing in the room of a funeral home where the deceased, surrounded by flowers and music, receives a last visit from his relatives and friends; solemn funeral ceremonies; burials in cemeteries designed like parks, adorned with monuments and intended for the moral edification of visitors who are more tourists than pilgrims. There is no need here to go into a long description of these funerary customs, so well known from Waugh's caricature that has recently been made into a film, and from the criticism of Jessica Mitford in her book The A merican Way of Death. However, there is a danger that this literature, that is both moralistic and polemical, will lead to a false interpretation. By suggesting either commercial exploitation and pressure of interests, or a perversion of the cult of happiness, it conceals from us the real meaning, which is the denial of the absolute finality of death and the repugnance of physical destruction without ritual and solemnity. This is why cremation is so rare in the United States. American society is very attached to its new funerary rites, which its own intellectuals (Jessica Mitford is a voice of the intellectual circles) and Europeans see as ridiculous; they are so attached to them that the taboo on death is at this point broken. In American buses there are advertisements that read: "The dignity and integrity of N... Funeral costs no more.... Easy access. Private parking for over 100 cars." Obviously, death here is also an article of consumption. But what is remarkable is that it could become one-as well as a subject for advertising-in spite of the prohibition that is operative in all other facets of social life. The American does not treat the deceased, once they are dead, in the same way that he treats death in general, or in the same way that he treats the dying or the survivor. In this one respect he does not follow the general path of modernity. He leaves the dead their special place in society that traditional civilizations had always kept for them but which industrial societies have reduced to almost nothing. He maintains the solemn farewell to the dead, which, in the other countries of the technological modern world is carried out with suspicious haste. One factor that has probably accelerated this nonconformist This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 557 reaction is the fact that people in America today die more and more frequently in hospitals and less and less frequently at home. The French, whose hospitals still bear traces of the 17th century, when patients were subjected to the humiliating and coarse treatment of vagrants and criminals, are familiar with the coldrooms where bodies are preserved like meat; they are in a good position to understand why the increasing use of hospitals would make it even more necessary to have a period of contemplation and solemnity between the mass morgue and the final burial. This ceremonial solemnity could take place in the home, as in former times. But the new prohibitions on death conflict with the idea of bringing the body back into excessively close contact with the living: European intellectuals are showing less and less desire to keep the body when the death occurs at home, either for reasons of hygiene or, more usually, for fear of not being able to bear the nearness of the body and therefore of emotionally "cracking." So in the United States they have devised the plan of putting the body in a neutral place, which would have neither the anonymity of the hospital nor the excessively personal nature of the house in other words, the funeral home, run by the funeral director somewhat like a hotel specializing in dead guests. The stay at the funeral home is a compromise between the respectable but hasty and radical deritualization of Northern Europe and the archaic ceremonies of traditional mourning. In the same way the new funeral rites created by the Americans are a compromise between their repugnance for having no solemn time for reflection after death and their general respect for the taboo on death. This is why these rites seem so different from any we have known before and, as a result, seem so ridiculous. The Americans have, however, rediscovered some of the traditional elements. The half-closed coffin showing the upper half of the body (the head and bust) is not an invention of American morticians. They borrowed it from the Mediterranean customs that are still observed in Marseilles and Italy, and that date back at least to the Middle Ages: a 15th century fresco in the Saint-Petrone Church in Bologna depicts the relics of Saint Mark preserved in a coffin of this type. However, the meaning of the funeral-home rites has completely changed. In the "slumber rooms" of the funeral homes it is not the dead who are being glorified, but the dead transformed by the mortician's art into the almost-living. The old embalming procedures were used mainly to pass on a little of the incorruptibility of saints to illustrious, respected men who had died. Since one of the miracles that proves the saintliness of a man is the extraordinary incorruptibility of his corpse, by helping to make a body incor- ruptible one was setting it on the road to sainthood, participating in the sanctification. In modern America the purpose of the chemical preservation techniques This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 558 American Quarterly is to play down the death of the person and to create the illusion of a living being. This almost-living person will receive his friends one last time, in a flower-laden room and to the sound of sweet or serious never gloomymusic. The idea of death, as well as of any sadness or pathos, has been banished from this farewell ceremony. As Roger Caillois saw it: "Dead bodies completely dressed from head to toe, who continued to have a physical personality and who came there as though for a walk along the river." The fact remains, however, that this last illusion could be dispensed with, that the sectors of English society described by Gorer have dispensed with it, and that American intellectuals as represented by Jessica Mitford would like to dispense with it. The resistance in America probably stems from very deeply rooted characteristics. The idea of turning a deceased person into a living one in order to pay tribute to him one last time may seem to us to be childish and ridiculous, in- tertwined, as it often is in America, with commercial concerns and advertising jargon. It is, however, proof of a rapid and precise adjustment to complex and contradictory feelings. It is the first time that a society has in a general way honored its dead while refusing them the status of death. It was done during the 15th to 17th centuries, but only for a single category of death that of the king of France. Upon his death, the embalmed king was clothed in his coronation purple and laid on a ceremonial bed similar to a judge's couch, as though he would wake up at any moment. Banquet tables were set up in the chamber, no doubt connected with funeral banquets, but primarily they served as a sign of the denial of mourning. The king had not died; he was receiving his court for the last time, dressed in his ceremonial garb, like a rich Californian in the slumber room of a funeral home. The idea of the continuity of the crown imposed a funerary ritual which, in spite of the time that has passed, is on the whole similar to that in contemporary America a compromise between the respect that is due the deceased and the refusal to accept the unnamable idea of death. Americans, as convinced of the legitimacy of their "way of death" as they are of their "way of life," and of course of their funeral directors, have given their rituals a second justification which is very interesting because, in an unexpected way, it deals with Gorer's hypotheses on the traumatizing effects of the denial of mourning. This fact is reported by Jessica Mitford: "Recently a funeral director told me of a woman who needed psychiatric treatment because her husband's funeral was with a closed casket [the word "coffin" is not used any more], no visitation and burial in another state with her not present." In other words, the funeral of a British intellectual. The psychiatrist confided to the funeral director that this case had taught him a great deal about the consequences of a lack of ceremony at funerals. ""The patient was treated and has recovered and has vowed never to be part of This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms The Reversal of Death 559 another memorial type service," that is, a service that is simply a short commemoration of the deceased. Funeral directors, whose profits are threatened by the movement toward more simple funeral ceremonies, have taken refuge in the opinions of psychologists, who have deemed that elegant, flowery funerals dissipate the grief, replacing it with gentle serenity. The funeral and cemetery businesses, they say, have a moral and social function, that of "softening" the sorrow of the bereaved, and preparing monuments and memorial parks to bring hap- piness to the living. Modern American cemeteries fulfill the same role as the planned necropolises of French designers at the end of the 18th century, after a royal edict had forbidden burials to take place within cities. New cemeteries had to be planned and there was a profusion of literature describing what they should be like (and what Pere Lachaise the model for modern cemeteries in Europe and America would be like): one is struck by the resemblance between these 18th century texts and the prose, cited by Jessica Mitford, of both modern funeral directors and the American moralists who support them. America is rediscovering the style and tone of the Enlightenment or has it always kept them? American historians such as Philip May believe that Puritanism in the 18th century never permitted the development of a hedonist attitude toward death, and that the contemporary optimism goes back no further than the beginning of this century. Whether direct influence or repetition with a century's interval, the similarity is no less striking. Romanticism is the reason that Pere Lachaise no longer resembles Forest Lawn, the famous Los Angeles cemetery caricatured by Waugh. Romanticism distorted its features and the effects of Romanticism are still present in popular representations of death and in tomb worship. America, on the other hand, seems to have gone quickly through the period of Romanticism to rediscover intact the spirit of the Enlightenment, delayed by Puritanism. Puritanism in America might have had the same restraining influence that Romanticism had in Europe, but it yielded sooner and more rapidly, leaving the way clear for the not-yet-faded Enlightenment attitudes, the harbingers of modernity. One cannot help feeling that, in this area as in so many others (constitutional law, for instance), America is closer than Europe to the 18th century. Thus, during the last third of a century, a major phenomenon has oc- curred that is only beginning to be perceived: death, that familiar friend, has disappeared from the language, its name has become taboo. In place of the many words and signs our ancestors had developed is a widespread anonymous grief. Literature, with the help of Malraux and Ionesco, is learning to give it back its old name, which has been erased from everyday use, from This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms 560 A merican Quarterly the spoken language, from social mores. In everyday life death, once so much talked about and so often depicted, has lost all positive meaning; it has become merely the opposite or reverse of what is actually seen, understood, spoken of. This a profound change. Although it is true that during the early Middle Ages, and later among the common people, death occupied no more of a prominent place than it does now, it was absent not because of a taboo, as it is today, but because the extreme familiarity with death deadened its power. Then, in the 12th and 13th centuries, death became the overwhelming preoccupation, at least among clerics and the litterati. It came about in two stages, that is to say, it centered about two themes: the theme of the Last Judgment in the 12th and 13th centuries, and the theme of the art of dying in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the chamber of the dying man, depicted in the artes moriendi, the entire universe is united: the living of this world gathered about the bed, and the spirits of heaven and hell fighting over the soul of Moriens in the presence of Christ and all the heavenly host. The life of the dying man is compressed into this small space and this short moment, and, whatever kind of life it may be, it is then the center of the natural and supernatural world. Death is the place for the realization of self. Moreover, we know that during the late Middle Ages man began to break away from the old collective representations, and individualism asserted itself in all its forms: religious, economic (the beginning of capitalism), cultural, etc. In my opinion, the most striking evidence of this individualism is the last will and testament. It turned into a kind of literary genre and became the individual's means of expression, the testimony to his self-realization. When it was reduced to playing a purely financial role, this signaled a decline, or at the very least a change. The advances in science, the assertion of the rights of man, the development of the bourgeoisie in the 18th century are all definite signs of an advanced stage of individualism; but they are the fruits of autumn, for, in the unnoticed privacy of daily life, man's selfdetermination was already being threatened, first by the restrictions of the family, then by his job or profession. The clear correspondence between the triumph over death and the triumph of the individual during the late Middle Ages makes one wonder whether a similar but reverse situation does not exist today between "the crisis of death" and the crisis of individuality. This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:46:25 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms Chapter 1 The dying of death RATIONALISATION For millennia, death has disrupted communities and the language of death has been the communal language of religion. In the modern era, however, the human encounter with death has been split—on the one hand into expert medical discourse and associated bureaucratic procedures, and on the other hand into an intensely personal sense of loss. This chapter describes the historical and contemporary development of this split. From the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, a common artistic image depicted a man or woman going about their daily business but with a skeleton, personifying Death, tugging at their coat tail or tapping them on the shoulder. In the image of death and the maiden, the living embraced the skeleton. Mortal illness could strike anyone, not only in times of plague, with little warning and with death ensuing in a matter of days; death was capricious, determined only by the inscrutable will of the Lord. This changed with the arrival in the 1680s of the mathematical notion of probability (Hacking 1975; Prior 1989; Prior and Bloor 1992). Though no one could predict exactly when the Grim Reaper would call your name, the new science of statistics made it possible to calculate the chance of your dying in any given year or living to a particular age. In the gaze of the statistician, death takes not individuals but populations and subpopulations. By 1837 in England, all deaths had to be registered, thus making possible the systematic compilation of mortality statistics. The image of Death tugging at the coat of a unique individual is replaced by the life table that enables actuaries to calculate pension premiums and by statistics that enable health care planners to correlate mortality with environment, nutrition, income and so forth. The Age of Reason shifted death from the frame of religion into the frame of reason, from the frame of sin and fate to the frame of statistical 10 Doing it my way probability. The job of the public official is not to pray over the corpse, but to register, categorise and sanitise it. The rise of medicine and science replaced the basic category moral/immoral with normal/abnormal and healthy/unhealthy, in death as in life—the word normality appearing first in 1759, and normalised in 1834 (Arney and Bergen 1984:21; Canguilhem 1978:151). Exit the good death, enter the normal death. Exit the bad death, enter the abnormal death. Modern law cannot allow a death not to be rationalised. If there is any doubt about the circumstances or causes of death, the body becomes the property of the pathology lab or the coroner so that a post-mortem can be conducted and a cause determined, often to the considerable distress of relatives who are not able to view, let alone care for, the body (Naylor 1989:238). In post-mortems, scientific examination of the body (often necessitating considerable mutilation) takes precedence over the personal sensibilities of survivors or (in the case of some minority religions) the requirements of religious ritual. Statistical rationalism has now colonised even the emotions of the dying and their survivors. The basic category in the psychology of grief since the 1950s has been that of normal grief/abnormal grief. Worden, one of the authors most widely recommended on both sides of the Atlantic in the training of bereavement counsellors, makes it clear that ‘normal’ gets its meaning from the discourses of medicine and of statistics: I am using the word normal in both a clinical and a statistical sense. ‘Clinical’ defines what the clinician calls normal mourning behavior while ‘statistical’ refers to the frequency with which a behavior is found among a randomized bereaved population. The more frequent the behavior, the more it is defined as normal. (Worden 1991:21) In the seventeenth century the religious event of Death taking a soul became a medical event; in the twentieth century human emotion has been shifted into that same rational medical realm. Kübler-Ross’s (1970) classification of the emotions of the dying in terms of five universal psychological stages completes the 300-year rationalisation of death. The dying join the living in being judged by those experts in normality whom Foucault has argued are major wielders of power in modern society. The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the social worker judge; it is on them the universal reign of the normative is The dying of death 11 based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behaviour, his aptitudes, his achievements. (Foucault 1977:304) The rationalisation of death is well illustrated in the Consumers’ Association book What To Do When Someone Dies. This tells you nothing about what you should do to prepare the soul for the next life, nothing even about the emotions you may feel, but is entirely about the forms that have to be filled in, the bureaucratic procedures that have to be gone through in order legally to dispose of the body. If you live at the margins of society, you can get through most of life without paperwork, but you cannot get through death without paperwork (Prior 1989). This much is all too apparent to the survivors. So much so that they willingly move from the medical arena into the arms of a funeral director to help them through the maze of bureaucracy. One book on etiquette describes how the doctor hands you over to the undertaker and: ‘In this way, the person who is perfectly ignorant of the proper procedure is passed on from one authority to another and is guided throughout with valuable information’ (Willoughby 1936). Bureaucratic rationality permeates behind the scenes as well. The American practice of holding the funeral in the funeral parlour began because of the organisational nightmare of transporting coffin and mourners together along the crowded highways of Los Angeles to the often distant cemetery. A more efficient ‘funeral’ is held at the funeral home: the casket bathed in light, the family around it, the eulogy spoken, the casket lowered into the darkness, tears shed, and the family departing. Once in the basement, caskets can be stacked and driven, singly or in multiples, out to the appropriate cemeteries according to the work schedules of those cemeteries. Deaths and the accompanying cemetery work, formerly unpredictable, can now be brought under rational control. (Kamerman 1988:80) In the UK where cremation is the norm, the scheduling of funerals to fit into a time slot available at the crematorium rather than for the convenience of mourners is another example of bureaucratic rationalisation. The rapid expansion of cremation in the mid-twentieth century was largely driven by local authorities as a way of solving their financial and administrative problems (Jupp 1993), so the actual layout of British crematoria is determined neither by the requirements of religious ritual nor by a careful study of the needs of mourners, but by ease of operation and by Department of the Environment guidelines. In some other countries, however, such as 12 Doing it my way Finland and to some extent the USA, cremation developed not for reasons of rationality but to enable families to place remains in a family grave when there was no room left in the grave for a farther body. In France, the rationalisation of cemeteries goes back to the Revolution (McManners 1981); in Britain it began in earnest in 1843 with Chadwick’s report and Loudon’s influential treatise on cemetery management, both of which recommended that the chaos of burial in the rapidly expanding industrial towns be solved by constructing out-of-town cemeteries with rational layouts, clear numbering of graves, no re-use of graves, and (in Chadwick’s report) only one grave per person (Prior 1989: ch. 5). With ownership of the new cemeteries in the hands not of the church but of municipalities and private companies, the corpse could be cared for in the efficient hands of Reason rather than in the ritual hands of Religion. MEDICALISATION At the late eighteenth-century deathbed the doctor took control from the dying man or woman and from the priest. Previously, doctors had seen their role as predicting the timing of death so that the dying person could organise their last hours. But then the doctor remained until the moment of death, administering opium to relieve the pain and sometimes keeping knowledge of imminent death from the patient in order to relieve suffering. Thomas Sheridan, writing in the 1760s, observed this shift and didn’t like it: ‘Very few now die. Physicians take care to conceal people’s danger from them. So they are carried off, properly speaking, without dying; that is to say, without being sensible of it’ (Porter 1989:89). Death ceased to be a spiritual passage, and became a natural process overseen by doctors. ‘We have seen death turn from God’s call into a ‘natural’ event and later into a “force of nature”…. Death had paled from a metaphorical figure, and killer diseases had taken its place’ (Philippe Ariès, quoted in Arney and Bergen 1984:31). This deconstruction of death into discrete, identifiable diseases is seen by Bauman (1992) as the hallmark of death in the modern era. The human being is no longer shadowed by a single skeleton personifying Death, but by any number of germs and diseases which attack medically identifiable organs of the body. In medical practice, these vulnerable organs have a double relationship to the corpse. It is not only that the corpse is explained by the presence of one or more failed organs, but also that in medical training the organs are identified by means of the corpse. The role of the anatomy class, in which pairs of students learn anatomy The dying of death 13 through dissecting a corpse, has been revealed in the past two decades by some of the most intriguing of sociological and historical research. Whereas in life all the doctor can witness are symptoms, under the scalpel death reveals to the student’s gaze what the body is really made of. In this medical gaze, the human body becomes objectified, no longer a person but a constellation of objects to be subjected to medical scrutiny (Foucault 1973). The patient’s own experience of his or her body is inferior to the objective knowledge of the doctor. Richardson (1989) has shown the extreme lengths to which unscrupulous characters (who dug up fresh corpses and even murdered unsuspecting victims) and, after 1834, even the state (which made available the bodies of paupers) would go in order to meet the insatiable demand of the anatomy schools for corpses in good condition. Though voluntary donation now meets the demand, the anatomy class remains a key part of medical training, even if it is a process that some students find distressing (Coombs and Powers 1976; Hafferty 1991). Not only are dead and dying bodies medicalised, but dead bodies enable the medicalisation of living bodies. Death is medicalised in other ways too. The deathbed itself has moved from home to hospital, where two-thirds of Britons now draw their last breath. Cases of serious stroke and heart attacks are rushed to hospital; those with a lingering illness may spend most of their time at home, but are likely to be transferred to hospital for their last days. Once the body has been buried or burned, medicalisation is extended to the survivors. Lindemann (1944) wrote about the ‘symptomatology and management’ of grief, and Engel suggested that grief is comparable to a disease and should become ‘a legitimate and proper subject for study by medical scientists’ (1961:20). These two widely quoted articles reflect what was in any case happening: psychiatrists were, from the 1950s, laying successful claim to be the experts on grief, while the bereaved themselves were more likely to go and see a doctor than a priest or social worker. Along with death’s rationalisation and medicalisation went its masculinisation, for rationalist and medical discourses have, until very recently, been largely the preserve of men. It is significant that those in the 1960s who first challenged the appropriateness of these discourses for describing the dying person’s experience and who began instead to pay close attention to what the dying themselves had to say, have been in large measure women—notably Cicely Saunders and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. 14 Doing it my way SECULARISATION 1 If medicalisation forms one side of the dying of death, the other side is secularisation. Although the oldest forms of some world religions, such as early Judaism, have not been concerned with the problem of death, it has been central to later religions, notably Buddhism and Christianity (Bowker 1991). Christianity has historically been a defence against death, offering a place in heaven for the righteous and defining death as a spiritual passage. This was a particular feature of the late Middle Ages, with fear of going to the wrong place becoming a major cause for devotion, art, prayer, and the increasing power of the church. Theologically, the Reformation rejected such trading on fear (though there have subsequently been hell-fire preachers enough who have traded in a very similar line). The paid-for prayers of the church were denounced as ineffective; all that mattered now was the faith of the person while alive and the grace of God. If the dying person was a believer, there was no need for a priest at their bedside—leaving an empty chair ready to be filled some two centuries later by the doctor. In the decades immediately after the Reformation, funerals were spartan affairs, as any prayers over the body could be interpreted as popish and even lead to the arrest of mourners. John Knox’s Genevan Service Book of 1556 simply stated that the corps is reuerently brought to the graue, accompagnied with the congregation withe owte any further ceremonies, which beyng buriede the minister goethe to the church, if it be not farre off, and maketh some comfortable exhortation to the people, touching deathe and resurrection. (quoted in Rowell 1974:82) The Scottish Book of Common Order of 1564, said much the same, adding after the words concerning the minister ‘if he be present and required’. Just as the Reformed deathbed left a space to be filled later by the doctor, so the Reformed funeral left a space to be filled later by the undertaker—who first appeared in London in the 1680s. If Protestantism allowed dying to become medicalised, it allowed the funeral to become commercialised. Even before that, in the seventeenth century, mourners filled the gap left by Reformed religion with feasting, so that the funeral became more a social than a religious ritual (Gittings 1984). Philippe Ariès’ (1981) magisterial survey of Western attitudes to death is written from a largely French perspective and therefore underplays the effect of the Reformation compared with English historians such as Gittings or Americans such as Stannard (1977).2 But Ariès does highlight The dying of death 15 another feature of secularisation, namely what he terms the shift from my death to thy death. In the high Middle Ages people were concerned with what would happen to their souls, but in the Renaissance the concern was more what would happen after death to their reputation on earth. The Renaissance man hoped that the art, architecture and literature produced or patronised by him would survive and so guarantee immortality. By the nineteenth century, however, people became concerned less with what would happen to their soul or name when they died than with how they would manage when their loved ones died. Thy death came to be feared as much as my death, bereavement as much as my own demise. In the romantic age of the holy Victorian family in which identity was increasingly found within the private family, the question became: how will I cope when death tears my family apart? ‘One person is absent, and the whole world is empty’ (Ariès 1981:472). This in turn undermined religious narratives. At the deathbed, the survivors’ grief eclipsed any concern with the spiritual destination of the departing soul; the hope of an afterlife was not union with God but reunion with the beloved—still the major form of afterlife belief in Britain today (Walter 1990: ch. 21). Paradoxically it was the First World War, hell on earth, that finally killed off hell below— no field chaplain could even so much as hint that the brave lad he was burying might be going to the wrong place, and thereafter hell disappeared off the agenda in all but the most conservative of churches. And without hell, death lost any spiritual risk, and became a medical and psychological affair.3 All these changes are expressed in the final resting place of the earthly remains (Davies 1990:31f). In early Christianity, believers were buried in mass graves awaiting the resurrection, with only the richest and holiest resting in individual tombs near the high altar. The Renaissance created the individual tomb that celebrated the earthly works of the male and the fertility and maternal qualities of the female. By the nineteenth century, these individual tombs began to express the grief of the survivor as well as, or instead of, the achievements of the deceased; the patriarch’s tomb was adorned by his weeping spouse, symbolised by a drooping nude or less daringly by a weeping willow. By the late twentieth century it is becoming fashionable in some circles to scatter cremation ashes in a special place known only to close family. Communal resurrection has thus given way via the family tomb to private memories—a process not only of secularisation, but also of ever growing individualism and privacy. 16 Doing it my way INDIVIDUALISM In societies where identity is bound up largely with the group, what is feared is the demise of the group. But the more individualistic a culture, the more my own personal demise becomes problematic: ‘In death, we fear we will lose our “I”, our “me-ness”. And the stronger this idea of “I”, the more distinct is the feeling of a separation from life and a fear of death’ (Levine 1988:14). This Achilles’ heel of individualism has been been traced historically by Burckhardt (1960:128–34) in his classic study of the Renaissance and by Gittings (1984) in her study of funeral customs in the early modern period, and has been noted by commentators on the present day such as Elias (1985) and Lasch in his study of narcissism in America (1978: ch. 9).4 In an individualistic Western culture, it is still possible to live in a settled community. I take for my measure of community how long people have lived together in the same neighbourhood.5 All communities develop patterned ways of doing things—not least in relation to their dying, dead and bereaved—which become traditions, and out of these develop rituals. Moreover, if you live in a settled community and know every member of it, you become aware of the death not just of personal friends but of anyone in the locality who dies. You encounter death rather often, even if you live in the twentieth century with its low death rate. Leaman (1993) found that schoolchildren living in settled workingclass communities in Liverpool encountered death more often than their mobile middle-class teachers; it was the teachers who were out of touch with patterned ways of handling death. The decline of settled communities and their communal ways of death has occurred in two stages in the past two centuries. First there was the move from village life to the new industrial towns of Victorian Britain and to the booming cities of the New World. Cut off from long-established norms, people no longer knew what to do at death and all too willingly took the advice of the proliferating undertakers. Ownership of burial ground shifted substantially to (in the UK) the urban municipality and (in the USA) private enterprise (Farrell 1980: ch. 4; Sloane 1991). Now, in the late twentieth century, the automobile has made possible the professional and commercial handling of death even in remote villages. Clark’s study of the once isolated Yorkshire fishing village of Staithes (1982: 134–5) notes that people are now more likely to die in hospital or nursing home far away, while the local carpenter has given way to the Co-op funeral director and final disposal of the body is often at the crematorium in the industrial town of Middlesbrough, 22 miles away. The dying of death 17 The decline of communal rural death was not, however, the end of communal death. Many of the migrants to industrial cities created their own communities, of the kind studied by the Chicago School from the 1920s and by Young and Willmott (1957) in London’s East End in the 1950s. Many of these created their own folk death cultures—I caught a glimpse of this in Bethnal Green, where in summer 1992 I found on the side of one house a memorial to those from the street killed in the First World War, still adorned with fresh flowers. The definitive embracing of privacy came with the move from inner city out to the suburbs. Without poverty to bind people together ...
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What is distinct about the modern approach to death and dying in the west?

What has changed about how people thought about and experienced death from the premodern/traditional to modern period?

Reasons for the changes



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What is distinct about the modern approach to death and dying in the west?
In modern times, people prepare very well for their death since unlike ancient times, people
are now less aware of their deaths and when their deaths approach. The doctor no longer plays the
role of compulsorily telling dying people of their death that is approaching them especially around
the eighteenth century (Aries, 1974). During the nineteenth century, doctors talk about the situa...

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