The quality of humor unites Shaw and his mother in a bond thattranscends the event of death and helps Shaw understand that her spirit willnever die. The reader is also released from the horror of facing the mechanicsof the cremation process when “Mama’s” own comments lead us to understand thather personality and spirit will live on. Shaw’s diction is effective in conveying his mood and dramatizing theprocess of cremation. The traditional words of a burial service “ashes to ashes,dust to dust” are not altered for the cremation, the interior chamber “lookedcool, clean, and sunny” as by a graveside, and the coffin was presented “feetfirst” as in a ground burial.
In selecting aspects of a traditional burialservice, Shaw’s mood is revealed as ambivalent toward cremation by imposingrecalled fragments of ground burial for contrast. Strangely fascinated, hebegins to wonder exactly what happens when one is cremated. This mood of awe isdramatized as he encounters several doors to observe in his chronologicalinvestigation. He sees “a door opened in the wall,” and follows the coffin asit “passed out through it and vanished as it closed,” but this is not “the doorof the furnace. ” He finds the coffin “opposite another door, a realunmistakable furnace door,” but as the coffin became engulfed in flame, “thedoor fell” and the mystery only continues an hour later as he gazes “through anopening in the floor. ” As he observes two “cooks” picking through “Mama’sdainty little heap of ashes and samples of bone” the mood of dark humor is theonly way he can handle the horror of his mother’s death and cremated body.
Hehas remained an unemotional observer on a journey through the crematorium withhumor 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 ofunderstanding. Plentiful details provide insight into the thoughts of the narrator aswell as a time schedule through the cremation. Shaw relates about cremationsthat “people are afraid to see it, but it is wonderful” and he “saw the realthing.
” The narrator is acknowledging a general fear people share about facingthe 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 thestatement that he was able to observe it and face it, thereby overcoming thefear. An order is provided for farewells from the initial “I went behind thescenes at the end of the service” to later “when we returned” (from the hour anda 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 sayinggoodbye provide a loose chronological structure to his process of release. These details also provide an emotional way out for the reader who can shareMama’s sense of humor about her own cremation thereby replacing personal fearabout death with a feeling of the continuation of life and ones spirit. The first person narration of this letter hightens the focus and insightof the principal subject.
“I went behind the scenes,” and “I found the violetcoffin” bring the focus down to a personal experience, not just a documentary ofa similar event. By following the narrator’s personal journey, certain truthsabout death and eternity are understood. The narrator goes on to recall certaintruths about his mother: “Mama. . . .
leaning over beside me shaking with laughter”and “mama said in my ear. . . . ” The closeness of the relationship the narratorhad with his mother is clarified by their shared sense of humor.
The readeralso feels at this point that their relationship will survive by humor in memorythereby overcoming the morbid aspects of death. The narrator has relived theentire experience by retelling it, but he has also reached a new level knowinghis memories will survive and his mother’s spirit will live on in a new sharedunderstanding.