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Facing Mortality

By bgillam24 Feb 07, 2012 2565 Words
Facing Mortality
Brad Gillam
ENG 125
October 10, 2011

In this paper I have been asked to compare and contrast literary works involving the topic of my choosing. For this paper I chose the topic of death. Death can be told in many different ways, and looked at the same. This paper is going to decide how you feel about death, is it a lonely long road that ends in sorrow, or a happy journey that ends at the heart of the soul? You decide as we take different literary works to determine which way you may feel. First I am going to give a little bit of overview about how people other than myself feel about death and what they think death really is. “The word death comes from Old English deað, which in turn comes from Proto-Germanic *dauþaz (reconstructed by etymological analysis). This comes from the Proto-Indo-European stem *dheu- meaning the 'Process, act, condition of dying'.” ( There are also said to be many different processes that actually consider someone dead. Physiological death is seen as a process not just an event. In this process there is a dividing line between life and death that depends on factors beyond the presence or absence of vital signs. Clinical death is not necessary or sufficient for a determination of legal death. Someone that has a working heart and lungs determined to be brain dead can be pronounced legally dead without clinical death occurring. The medical definition of death becomes more problematic, paradoxically, as scientific knowledge and medicine advance. There are also different signs of death or strong indications that a person is no longer alive such as cessation of breathing, cardiac arrest, pallor mortis, livor mortis, algor mortis, rigor mortis, and decomposition. Cardiac arrest is having no pulse, pallor mortis is paleness which happens in the 15-120 minutes after death, livor mortis is a settling of the blood in the lower portion of the body, algor mortis is the reduction in body temperature following death which is generally a steady decline until matching ambient temperature, rigor mortis is where the limbs of the corpse become stiff and difficult to more or manipulate, and finally decomposition which is the reduction into simpler forms of matter, accompanied by a strong, unpleasant odor. Brain death defines death as a point in time at which brain activity ceases. One of the challenges in defining death is in distinguishing it from life. As a point in time, death would seem to refer to the moment at which life ends. Determining when death has occurred requires drawing precise boundaries between life and death. In the United States, a person is only dead by law if a Statement of Death also called a Death certificate is approved by a licensed medical practitioner. There are various legal consequences follow death, including the removal from the person of what in legal terminology is called personhood. Having brain activity or capability to resume brain activity, is a necessary condition to legal personhood in the United States. “It appears that once brain death has been determined…no criminal or civil liability will result from disconnecting the life-support devices.” (Dority v. Superior Court of San Bernardino County, 193 Cal. Rptr. 228, 291 (1983)) ( Another website says that death is life’s ending. Vital processes are those by which organisms develop or maintain themselves. These processes include chemosynthesis, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, cell generation, and maintenance of homeostasis. Death is the ending of the vital processes by which an organism sustains itself. Life’s ending is one thing, and the condition of having life over is another and death can refer to either. One hand the end of life might be a process where our lives are progressively extinguished, until finally they are gone. On the other it might be a momentary even and this event might be understood in three ways. First, it might be the ending of the dying process and the loss of the very last trace of life, this is called denouement death. Second, it might be the point in the dying process when extinction is assured, no matter what is done to stop it and this is called threshold death. The third possibility is that life ends when the physiological systems of the body irreversibly cease to function as an integrated whole (defended, for example, by Belshaw 2009) and this is called integration death. Therefore death can be a state (being dead), the process of extinction (dying), or one of the three events that occur during the dying process. Death in any of these senses can be further distinguished from events, such as being shot with an arrow, that causes death. ( With this information I have given you about death, dying and the different processes of dying and death I am going to discuss the literary works that I have chosen. The first literary work that we are going to discuss is a poem written by Emily Dickinson titled “Because I could not stop for death”. Within this work Emily discusses what I feel as a human being who felt that life was too short to slow down and enjoy it. In her poem she describes things seen from her point of view that allow us to understand that she doesn’t feel as if she has enjoyed her life, that things pass her by so quickly that there is no time to just stand still and really reap the benefits that can be presented to us through our travels and struggles. The main part of the poem that really allows me to believe this is what Emily was trying to achieve is a part that states “We passed the setting sun. Or rather, he passed us”. That shows that as she continues on her journey she still feels that no matter what the sun is going to set on our life, and no matter how hard we try to stop it or even postpone it that it will never be enough time. As she passed all these different things on her journey, she reminisces of the things that she forgot too easily and of the things she wishes she could do again. In her poem another line stands out to me which states “We slowly drove, he knew no haste, and I had put away my labor, and my leisure too, for his civility. “ Now within that phrase I feel as if the character feels like she doesn’t have control of her life, that death comes so quickly that it almost seems like time stands almost motionless as you try to remember things past, and wish of things that never happened. So what is it that makes us strive to be remembered instead of those lost and forgotten? To help get a better understanding I will now bring a second literary work into that picture to allow for a more even understanding of how most of humanity may feel and believe as far as death is concerned. The second work that I have chosen is by Jean Rhys and this work is entitled “Used to live here once”. Within this work Mrs. Rhys has chosen to speak of death and also has enabled us to see an alternate view and opinion related to death. Mrs. Rhys speaks of a woman’s struggle within herself to find the proper and correct path across the river, but once the path is laid out for the woman she doesn’t alter from that path any other time that she decides to cross the river. The woman then sees what she feels is her life in front of her house, and as she approaches she feels that she is alone, and that nobody is there for her. Once she reaches the house and the child acknowledges that she is there, he is the symbol to show that no matter how alive she may feel she is actually already dead. Now within this work it shows the no matter what path we may take, and even if we stick to a very strict routine, we still can’t stop the process of death.

I have chosen to write about these two because I think about death on an almost daily basis and am always asking myself if there is anything I would like to do today just in case I were to die and not be able to do it tomorrow. I have come to realize that at only 24 years old that I could not wake up tomorrow and try to live everyday like it is my last one here on earth. I do have two young children and one of them has been diagnosed with the same disorder that I have which is a form of dwarfism and I always wonder how life is going to be for my children once I am gone. I have also been thinking lately about choices that I have made in my life that I have asked myself if I regret. I don’t regret anything I have done and if I could go back I would not change anything that I have done because I would not be the person that I am today without making the mistakes that I have when I was younger. Also if I was able to go back in time and change anything I probably would not have my beautiful kids that are the reason for me doing everything I am doing now such as going back to school.

I have come to realize after reading these two stories that I am more like the character in the story by Mrs. Dickenson in the way of thinking that life is just passing too quickly and I am wanting to regain the time that I have lost and live everyday to its fullest. When I was a child I used to always think that I can’t wait until I’m 16 so that I can drive, then 18 so I could buy cigarettes, and then 21 so I could drink. Now that I have passed all of those milestones in time the only thing that I am now looking forward to is turning 25 so my insurance rates will decrease and other than that I still wish I could be young again. I know that everyone says that I am still young and that I have so much life ahead of me but with the medical issues I have the average life expectancy is only 35 years old. I just think that I am not ready to die and I know that I won’t be in the next 11 years either. One thing I have always wanted is to have children, watch them grow up as I have, see them graduate, get married and have kids of their own. Knowing that I might not be able to live to see them even graduate high school is something that I try not to think about. I am now on the though process that I just want to be happy, try to do everything that I want before I do die, and be a great mom. So far I know that I am happy and I know that I am a great mom so the only thing I have to work on is being able to do everything that I want to before I die.

Since we have taken these two literary works and examined what they are about and what the writers are trying to portray, we can compare the two works. First off what is the first thing they have in common? I feel the first thing they have in common is showing the each individual person struggles with their own humanity and mortality. This isn’t an uncommon thing at all. Every person struggles with their own mortality and to not struggle with this is to almost not be human. Secondly as they struggle with their mortality, they find out and decide what may have been done wrong in their lives. I am here to help people understand that these are just literary works, and in each work it shows two people who lived very conservative and routine lives, women that never strayed from a path of safety and comfort. These works can help a person to understand that if they have any regrets in life, then they may want to take a risk, yet on the other hand you have to follow your heart. A person is as happy as they feel, and if you allow your heart to control your happiness then do what it feels.

Now as we compared the two literary works lets work on the contrasting of the literary elements. As the themes of death seem to be the same, there are key differences in the works. The first key difference being that the work by Mrs. Dickenson portrays a woman who is alive and well, but realizes that her life is passing her by and she doesn’t know if there is anything she can do about it. The woman strives to feel something that she hasn’t felt in a long time, and strives to want to live like the kids in the playground and that is without a care or worry in the world. The work by Mrs. Rhys portrays a woman who is already dead who doesn’t realize that she could have taken a different path in life. Through this story it shows that even if you live a life that was set out for you, you may still also regret things you never could do. In Mrs. Dickenson’s poem the woman realizes that her life is flying by, but she has the choice to change what she is doing, and be able to enjoy the life that she feels she is meant to live. In the story by Mrs. Rhys she portrays a woman that can’t change what has happened, but has to accept that she was a person who stuck to a routine and never strayed from what she knew, which shows that she was regretful, when she realized that her life was over.

Now within these two works we see a lot of similarities, which is where I am going to ask the question now. Do you feel you have lived life to the fullest thus far, or are you a creature of habit and routine that only sticks to the familiar? If you can would you change anything or have done, maybe take a different path, take more risks, or whatever it is you feel that would have made life more enjoyable for you? Are you faced with the difficult choice of confronting your own mortality, because I know I am. Every person and everything wants to be remembered and enshrined with a legacy of no regrets. I ask you now, where do you fit in?

Reference Page

Belshaw 2009
Dority v. Superior Court of San Bernardino County, 193 Cal. Rptr. 228, 291 (1983) Emily Dickenson “Because I couldn’t stop for death”
Jean Rhys “Used to live here once”

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