The Social Convention Of Death In Literature Essay

This essay has a total of 1896 words and 8 pages.

The Social Convention Of Death In Literature


Our environment dictates how we live our lives and how we handle situations. Our
environment also dictates how the people around us handle our death. Death is one
important social convention of a society depicted in The Call of the Wild, Garden Party,
the Great Gatsby, Bone, and Dulce Et Decorum Est. Death and the handling of death is a
social convention portraying values and ways of living in two main ways: "respect" of the
body and acceptable manners to die such as through violence, illness, caring, etc.


In the Call of the Wild, by Jack London, death is a game where survival is a tactic, kill
or be killed (manner of death) and the body is a trophy ("respect" for the body). For
example, "He [Buck] was ranging at the head of the pack, running the wild thing down, the
living meat, to kill with his own teeth and wash his muzzle to the eyes in warm blood."
(London 49). This game Buck played with the other dogs was a challenge of who will catch
the snowshoe rabbit. It shows a twisted regard for life. Buck wanted to wash his nose in
the rabbit's blood to smell the kill. In this game, the only respect for life is the
trophy that the body will make in death. Another example of the game is "From then on,
night and day, Buck never left his prey, never gave it a moment's rest, never permitted it
to browse the leaves of trees… Nor did he give the wounded bull opportunity to slake his
burning thirst in the slender trickling stream they crossed." (London 95). Buck played
with the bull's fear and he showed no mercy. He showed no respect, he gave the bull no
honor and the bull finally died of exhaustion, falling over, only to become Buck's prize
that also fed him. "For a day and a night he remained by the kill [moose], eating and
sleeping, turn and turn about. Then rested, refreshed and strong," (London 96). Buck
nourished himself off the bull and became stronger and more resilient. To eat Buck must
hunt his food in the uncaring wild, it was his only choice for survival. The game that
Buck played with life did not always give respect to the dying, though this seemed
necessary to his survival, giving the deaths more acceptability as a source to nourish the
winner of the game.


In a Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield, death is not a game but a learning experience
about the division of classes ("respect" for the body) and an awakening (manner of death).
For example, Mansfield writes, "‘Oh Laura!' Jose began to be seriously annoyed. ‘If
you're going to stop a band playing every time someone has an accident you'll lead a very
strenuous life…You won't bring a drunken workman back to life by being sentimental,'"
(Mansfield 45-46). This shows the social convention of lack of respect for a body if he is
not of the same social standing, though he is their neighbor. The man was poor, a worker,
therefore according to Jose, not important enough to postpone the party in respect of his
death. In fact, Jose goes a step further in her open disrespect for the Mr. Scott, the
dead man, by suggesting that he was drunk and that implying that all paupers are
alcoholics. A further example, "‘Mother, a man has been killed,' began Laura. ‘Not in
the garden?" interrupted her mother. ‘No, no!' ‘Oh what a fright you gave me!' Mrs.
Sheridan sighed with relief" (Mansfield 46). Mrs. Sheridan only concerned herself with the
death, when she thought he died at her house and would inconvenience her. However since he
did not, he was no concern of hers either, showing the absence of respect for the man who
died because of his class. An instance of awakening is "‘Well, there's a young chap
living there [the cottages below], name of Scott, a carter. His horse shied at a
traction-engine, corner of Hawke Street this morning, and he was thrown out on the back of
his head.'" (Mansfield 44). This shocks Laura. As an upper class child, she is sheltered
from the harshness of life. Accidents came with hard physical work in those days because
of the lack of safety measures. She, as a child, also was not permitted to go near the
cottages. As said previously, she wanted to cancel the party in respect for the corpse,
showing her lack of understanding of the social norms of her class. The indifference to
the man's death teaches about class division and death, shown through Laura's shock.


In a similar manner related to social class, in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald,
death shows the snobbery of the society ("respect" for the body) and reflection on the
worth of the man, indirectly through the manner of death. We see this in the passage,
"When the butler brought back Wolfshiem's answer I began to have a feeling of defiance, of
scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all." (Fitzgerald 173). Gatsby had
thrown extravagant parties that all sorts of people claiming to be "friends" attended. Now
at his death, they retreat behind the wall of social class, by either leaving the area for
a "vacation" or saying associating themselves with Gatsby is not appropriate. One person
even had the nerve to call and say he will try then start into "What I called up about was
a pair of shoes I left there." (Fitzgerald 177). As if the shoes meant more than a man's
life. Another example, Tom said to Nick, "That fellow [Gatsby] had it coming to him… He
ran over Myrtle [Wilson, the garage mechanic's wife] like you'd run over a dog and never
even stopped his car." (187). The simple fact is that Gatsby did not run over Myrtle,
Daisy did. However, Gatsby took the blame to spare Daisy. Only a kind heart would put his
head on the block for another man (or woman). In addition, Myrtle ran out in front of the
car thinking she ran towards Tom, all the while shouting, "Beat me! Throw me down and beat
me you, you dirty little coward!" (144). Myrtle before her death reveals Tom's true
character, a little coward. He runs from Myrtles death, knowing he is partly to blame, and
sheds the entire burden upon another man. Also in all of his greatness of being rich,
acting the part of a big man, he acts like a child upon Myrtles and Gatsby's death,
basically saying that neither was his fault and that they had it coming. Tom scorned the
fact that Gatsby acted as a rich man, squandering his money on big parties, fancy cars,
clothes, and servants to impress Daisy, as if he was part of his social standing. Gatsby
in reality made his money through shady deals and for the most part was not wealthy.
Furthermore, Daisy ran over Myrtle like an animal, and sped up after impact. Daisy lacked
regard for life, as shown by the deaths. She sent nothing, no word or flower, to Gatsby's
funeral, after Gatsby ends up dying for taking up the blame, by the hand of Wilson. In
grief, Wilson shot Gatsby than himself, completing the circle to the eye of a normal
bystander, the husband, lover, and wife. This illustrates how Gatsby never plays himself.
In the instances shown, death was violent and caused by others. People could be concluded
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