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Cremation

CREMATION

In a written exerpt from a letter about the cremation of his mother, George

Bernard Shaw recalls her "passage" with humor and understanding. The dark humor

associated with the horrid details of disposing of his mother's physical body are eventually

reconciled with an understanding that her spirit lives on. He imagines how she would find

humor in the bizarre event of her own cremation. The quality of humor unites Shaw and

his mother in a bond that transcends the event of death and helps Shaw understand that

her spirit will never die. The reader is also released from the horror of facing the

mechanics of the cremation process when "Mama's" own comments lead us to understand

that her personality and spirit will live on.

Shaw's diction is effective in conveying his mood and dramatizing the process of

cremation. The traditional words of a burial service "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" are not

altered for the cremation, the interior chamber "looked cool, clean, and sunny" as by a

graveside, and the coffin was presented "feet first" as in a ground burial. In selecting

aspects of a traditional burial service, Shaw's mood is revealed as ambivalent toward

cremation by imposing recalled fragments of ground burial for contrast. Strangely

fascinated, he begins to wonder exactly what happens when one is cremated. This mood

of awe is dramatized as he encounters several doors to observe in his chronological

investigation. He sees "a door opened in the wall," and follows the coffin as it "passed out

through it and vanished as it closed," but this is not "the door of the furnace." He finds

the coffin "opposite another door, a real unmistakable furnace door," but as the coffin

became engulfed in flame, "the door fell" and the mystery only continues an hour later as

he gazes "through an opening in the floor." As he observes two "cooks" picking through

"Mama's dainty little heap of ashes and samples of bone" the mood of dark humor is the

only way he can handle the horror of his mother's death and cremated body. He has

remained an unemotional observer on a journey through the crematorium with humor as

the buffer between reporting the event and expressing raw emotion. Humor is the device

to release himself and the reader to a new level of understanding.

Plentiful details provide insight into the thoughts of the narrator as well as a time

schedule through the cremation. Shaw relates about cremations that "people are afraid to

see it, but it is wonderful" and he "saw the real thing." The narrator is acknowledging a

general fear people share about facing the mechanics of cremation, and in doing so is

admitting his own personal fear. He is also focusing on the accurate reporting of his

mother's disposal and the statement that he was able to observe it and face it, thereby

overcoming the fear. An order is provided for farewells from the initial "I went behind the

scenes at the end of the service" to later "when we returned" (from the hour and a half) to

"and that merry episode was the end except for ...scattering them (bone scraps) on a

flower bed." All of these steps in the process of saying goodbye provide a loose

chronological structure to his process of release. These details also provide an emotional

way out for the reader who can share Mama's sense of humor about her own cremation

thereby replacing personal fear about death with a feeling of the continuation of life and

ones spirit.

The first person narration of this letter hightens the focus and insight of the

principal subject. "I went behind the scenes," and "I found the violet coffin" bring the

focus down to a personal experience, not just a documentary of a similar event. By

following the narrator's personal journey, certain truths about death and eternity are

understood. The narrator goes on to recall certain truths about his mother:

"Mama....leaning over beside me shaking with laughter" and "mama said in my ear...."

The closeness of the relationship the narrator had with his mother is clarified by their

shared sense of humor. The reader also feels at this point that their relationship will

survive by humor in memory thereby overcoming the morbid aspects of death. The

narrator has relived the entire experience by retelling it, but he has also reached a new

level knowing his memories will survive and his mother's spirit will live on in a new shared

understanding.



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