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The Final Crossing

Death and Dying in Literature

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Edited By John J. Han and Clark C. Triplett

Since ancient times, writers and poets have grappled with death, dying, grief, and mourning in their works. The Final Crossing: Death and Dying in Literature compiles fifteen in-depth, scholarly, and original essays on death and dying in literature from around the globe and from different time periods. Written from a variety of critical perspectives, the essays target both scholars and serious students. Death and dying is an important area of study for a variety of disciplines, including psychology, psychiatry, sociology, gerontology, medical ethics, healthcare science, health law, and literary studies. The Final Crossing is a landmark compendium of academic essays on death and dying in literary texts, such as the Iliad, Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, Hamlet, The Secret Garden, and The Grapes of Wrath. This collection of essays not only brings an international flavor, but also a unique angularity to the discourse on thanatology. The novelty of perspectives reflects the diverse cultural and intellectual backgrounds of the contributors. This diversity opens up a fresh conversation on a number of age-old questions related to «the final crossing.» In this volume, readers will find an intriguing array of topics for further reflection and research.
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Chapter Thirteen: Tears and the Art of Grief

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Tears AND THE Art OF Grief

JAMES BROWN



We all die and feel the loss of those that go before us. This universal experience, however, is registered in different ways. Virtually all people are capable of weeping, but the meaning of tears varies from culture to culture. Darwin noted that once the capacity to weep has been achieved in infancy, it becomes “the primary and natural expression […] of suffering of any kind.” However, habit may restrain or encourage weeping so that cultural variations in weeping may develop (Darwin 156). This essay reflects upon this combination of near universality and cultural specificity. It considers the representation of tears and mourning in a handful of literary works, and explores some problems relating to the public expression of emotion and the shaping of its forms.

A standard sociological/anthropological model of mourning posits three phases: the passivity of being bereaved; the private, but active work of grief; and public and communal rituals of mourning (Watkin 6). One might suppose that the last of these phases becomes problematic with the advent of modernity. As communal social bonds weaken and certain kinds of individualism gain ground, it might seem that we moderns are cut off from the sustaining power of ritualized myth. If this were so, it would generate a certain kind of historical meta-narrative, albeit one capable of running in two ways: as lament for lost meaningfulness and community, or...

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