Behind the Formeldyhyde Curtain

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When getting down to reading “Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain” by Jessica Mitford, I was not expecting to face an essay of such a dark content. From the very first lines, I felt both excited and pushed away by the evident originality of the topic being discussed. Perfectly alive and feeling happy about it, I did not feel like reading about the dreadful details of modern funeral practices. Provoked by curiosity I, however, did. The essay was first published in 1967 in The American Way of Death, a collection of texts primarily focused on mortuary profession criticism. Mitford’s focus is quite obvious from the very start of the essay. She confidently and harshly communicates her resistance to the procedures performed when handling the human body after death. The author describes in detail the process of embalming, refers to its illogical confidentiality, and, in addition, analyzes the American funeral practice and attitude to death. What Mitford attempt to do here is to inform the general public of how the procedure of embalming is performed, attract attention to the widespread practices of the funeral industry, their obvious absurdity and irrationality, hoping that if more people finally realize what a barbaric happening occurs behind a so called “formaldehyde curtain,” they might not allow embalming quite so enthusiastically. Mitford creates a dramatic portrayal of the funeral business in the essay. She goes into numerous ghastly details in order to impress, or even shock. Mitford positions herself as a specialist in decease and dying. She analyzes the traditional attitude to death, and criticizes what seems nonsensical to her with untypical, somehow shocking sobriety and scientific rationalism. Her language is sophisticated, while her manner of communication is deeply ironical. She is not ironic about death, however, it is more that she judges those who turns it into a set of routine responsibilities. Mitford frequently questions the actual...
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