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George bernard shaw and his short story about the cremation of the narrator

George Bernard Shaw and His Short Story About the Cremation of The Narrator's


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


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


Source: Essay UK -

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