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The Final Crossing

Death and Dying in Literature


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 Fifteen: Death-Defying Women: Art and Transcendence in Cather


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Death-Defying Women

Art and Transcendence in Cather


A quick glance through Willa Cather’s oeuvre indicates that there is no shortage of death throughout her novels and short stories. People die in myriad ways in her fiction, many of deaths quick, messy, and violent. In My Ántonia, a tramp gets sliced up in the thresher; Mr. Shimerda, Ántonia’s father, commits suicide by blowing his brains out all over the barn. In The Song of the Lark, a tramp throws himself into the community’s water supply; in the process, he contaminates the community’s water and kills many others, while Ray Kennedy gets smashed by a train. Paul in “Paul’s Case” commits suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. Emil and Marie in O Pioneers! are shot and killed by Marie’s jealous and controlling husband Frank; Claude in One of Ours is killed in France during World War I. Rosicky in “Neighbour Rosicky” dies of a heart attack. Bartley Alexander of Alexander’s Bridge drowns. In Cather’s fiction, death is an ever-present reality; Cather makes no attempt to sugarcoat it. Reading Cather, then, can give us a good idea of her attitudes towards life’s final, inevitable journey.

The characters listed here offer a few distinctions in their attitudes towards death. What they share is an acceptance of the inevitability of death. Where they differ is in how their approach to this inevitability...

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