Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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in Western Literature

An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood, 1952


Death of Mr. Motes

Death of Mr. Motes:

That night a driving icy rain came up and lying in her bed, awake at midnight, Mrs. Flood, the landlady, began to weep. She wanted to run out into the rain and cold and hunt him and find him huddled in some half-sheltered place and bring him back and say, Mr. Motes, you can stay here forever, or the two of us will go where you are going, the two of us will go. She had had a hard life, without pain and without pleasure, and she thought that now that she was coming to the last part of it, she deserved a friend. If she was going to be blind when she was dead, who better to guide her than a blind man? Who better to lead the blind than the blind, who knew what it was like?

As soon as it was daylight, she went out in the rain and searched the five or six blocks he knew and went from door to door, asking for him, but no one had seen him. She came back and called the police and described him and asked for him to be picked up and brought back to her to pay his rent. She waited all day for them to bring him in the squad car, or for him to come back of his own accord, but he didn’t come. The rain and wind continued and she thought he was probably drowned in some alley by now. She paced up and down in her room, walking faster and faster, thinking of his eyes without any bottom in them and the blindness of death.

Two days later, two young policemen cruising in a squad car found him lying in a drainage ditch near an abandoned construction project. The driver drew the squad car up to the edge of the ditch and looked into it for some time. "Ain’t we been looking for a blind one?" he asked.

"Yonder he is," the first one said, and pointed into the ditch. The other moved up closer and looked out of the window too.

"His suit ain’t blue," he said.

"Yes it is blue," the first one said. "Quit pushing up so close to me. Get out and I’ll show you it’s blue." They got out and walked around the car and squatted down on the edge of the ditch. They both had on tall new boots and new policemen’s clothes; they both had yellow hair with sideburns, and they both were fat, but one was much fatter than the other.

"It might have uster been blue," the fatter one admitted.

"You reckon he’s daid?" the first one asked.

"Ast him," the other said.

"No, he ain’t daid. He’s moving.

"Maybe he’s just unconscious," the fatter one said, taking out his new billy. They watched him for a few seconds. His hand was moving along the edge of the ditch as if it were hunting for something to grip. He asked them in a hoarse whisper where he was and if it was day or night.

"It’s day," the thinner one said, looking at the sky. "We got to take you back to pay your rent."

"I want to go on where I’m going," the blind man said.

"You got to pay your rent first," the policeman said, "Ever’ bit of it!"

The other, perceiving that he was conscious, hit him over the head with his new billy. "We don’t want to have no trouble with him," he said. "You take his feet."

He died in the squad car but they didn’t notice and took him on to the landlady’s. She had them put him on her bed and when she had pushed them out the door, she locked it behind them and drew up a straight chair and sat down close to his face where she could talk to him. "Well, Mr. Motes," she said, " I see you’ve come home!"

His face was stern and tranquil. "I knew you’d come back," she said. "And I’ve been waiting for you. And you needn’t to pay any more rent but have it free here, any way you like, upstairs or down. Just however you want it and with me to wait on you, or if you want to go on somewhere, we’ll both go."

She had never observed his face more composed and she grabbed his hand and held it to her heart. It was resistless and dry. The outline of his skull was plain under his skin and the deep burned eye sockets seemed to lead into the dark tunnel where he had disappeared. She leaned closer and closer to his face, looking deep into them, trying to see how she had been cheated or what had cheated her, but she couldn’t see anything. She shut her eyes and saw the pin point of light but so far away that she could not hold it steady in her mind. She felt as if she were blocked at the entrance of something. She sat staring with her eyes shut, into his eyes, and felt as if she had finally got to the beginning of something she couldn’t begin, and she saw him moving farther and farther away, farther and farther into the darkness until he was the pin point of light.



Adrienne Nater, 2008

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