• Summary
  • Contents
  • Subject index

Dying is a social as well as physiological phenomenon. Each society characterizes and, consequently, treats death and dying in its own individual ways—ways that differ markedly. These particular patterns of death and dying engender modal cultural responses, and such institutionalized behavior has familiar, economical, educational, religious, and political implications. The Handbook of Death and Dying takes stock of the vast literature in the field.

Cultural Concern with Death in Literature
Cultural concern with death in literature

Literary treatments of death reveal much about individual writers and the culture within which those authors write. Some work against the grain, questioning, criticizing, urging a change in the cultural assumptions and practices that cause premature deaths or allow an unreflective acceptance of such deaths. Others magnify popular attitudes in the service of patriotism or what is generally perceived as a good cause, such as a widely desired social reform. Certain writers seem to return obsessively to a particular kind of death, such as the death of a spouse or child, a subject that frequently turns out to be autobiographical in nature.

This chapter discusses British and American literary treatments of death within the past ...

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