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Death and Dying : The Different Treatment of Death

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 805
  • Category: Death

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Death is a shared human experience and therefore a universal theme in literature.  Poetry, fiction, and drama venture into the dark recesses of life by exploring the inevitable fate of everyone and everything that breathes.  Death differs from person to person and the treatment of death in literature differs from author to author.  There is only a small set of literary tools available to authors, of any genre, through which themes like death can be examined.  It is through the unique manipulation of these tools, and the intense expertise of great American authors that such a varied approach to death can be interrupted, demonstrated, and shared.  Through the use of similar literary devices the theme of death is explored differently in “The Story of an Hour”, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, and “The Glass Menagerie”.

            In “The Story of an Hour” irony is used to explore the theme of death.  It is an extremely concise piece prose- just over 1000 words.  Chopin offers her readers a single snapshot of a typical women’s life in 1894.  She did this succinctly but not at the expense of her eloquent and graceful writing.  In this brief work she describes the societal situation, emotional prison, and sacrifice of women.  An entire century of women’s history condensed into a single story.  It is a story about death, birth, and “re-dying”.  Louise Mallard died the day she entered into marriage with her husband.

            Tennessee Williams is one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.  His first successful play, “The Glass Menagerie”, embodies his grace and skill as an author and an interpretor of the human experience.  This intense drama ventures into familial relationships, societal situations, and the nature of memory.  The main character, Laura, has spent her life hiding from the world.  She suffers from a leg deformity and is extremely shy.  Laura inactivity in the world is similar to death. She seeks refuge not in the real world but within the house and a reality all her own.   T This is symbolic of everything that Jim destroyed and gave to Laura in that single evening. It was in those few brief moments Laura actually lived.

            It is the stealing of life, even moments worth, from the grasp of death that Dylan Thomas writes so passionately about, in “Do not go gentle into that good night”.      Dylan Thomas was born  in 1914 and grew up in Swansea, England.  He was a deeply reflective youth, and had severe lifelong problems with substance abuse, that eventually took his life in 1953.  He was man of the 20th century and his poetry embodies the intense,  aggressive, and truthful nature that this time period produced.

Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” exemplifies the characteristics that defined the 20th century literature.  Questioning traditional values and  redefining religion was a common theme throughout the 1900s.  Religion in the past offered reasons for why certain natural things occurred.  Darwin developed his theories on natural selection and the public was educated.  It was no longer God that chooses what happens it is nature .  In the past death was seen as a normal part of life, and that god is control of who and when death occurs.

                        Chopin, Thomas, and Williams develop and explore the theme of death in their prose through the use of similar literary devices.  Each of their approaches are different and offer a unique twist on the the universal treatment of death.  Chopin and Williams create characters, Louise and Laura, that are spiritually dead.  Laura ceases to exist with in the real world just as Louise did not exist in her male dominated society.  By offering each a few precious moments of life, Chopin and Williams tackle the vast subject of death.  Both use symbolism in different ways.  Chopin uses symbolism to represent life.  Williams uses symbolism to represents death and destruction.  It is Thomas who places their artistically rendered message about death and life into vivid, colorful, and inspiring poetry.   Through the use of meter, and repetition he demands the reader to grab life however brief, much like Louise and Laura, and hold it until it pried from their cold hearts.

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” The Portable Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing 5th. Ed.     Laurie G. Kirszner, Stephen R. Mandell. New York: Heinle, 2003. 71-73.

Thomas, Dylan. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” The Portable Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing 5th. Ed. Laurie G. Kirszner, Stephen R. Mandell. New York: Heinle, 2003.          531.

Williams, Tennessee. “The Glass Menagerie.” The Portable Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing 5th. Ed. Laurie G. Kirszner, Stephen R. Mandell. New York: Heinle, 2003. 1406-1455.

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