Sunday, February 7, 2010

Death, The Most Powerful Force

Rough edit of an essay


The Most Powerful Force

An Inquiry Into the Effects of Death in the Memoir,

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

By Dave Eggers

Joel Ballanger

The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying it in some way is the consequential effect of death itself. This being prevalent throughout A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers, in which he presents an autobiographical journey throughout his life. Although toted as a loosely inaccurate autobiography it is an autobiography nonetheless and one that is written through the eyes with which Eggers viewed his own life, a memoir rife with tragedy. As a result of tragedy, the abrupt death of both parents not two weeks apart, Eggers is unable o find closure following his parent’s deaths. It is as a result of this lack of closure and the abruptness of his parents deaths that he acquires an innate inability to, accept death; the cessation of certain matters or situations, these drawing a metaphorical parallel with the latter inability to accept death; and finally a paranoia with respect to death and an inability to accept the natural progression of youth.

As a result of his parents’ abrupt and unforeseen deaths as well as bizarre wishes to have their remains used for medical research, Eggers is struck with an inability to deal with death or anything remotely related to it. This inability is revealed at various points throughout the autobiography, most prominently when Eggers is reminiscent of his mother. Memories are common when a loved one has passed; however Eggers’ reminiscing isn’t remotely related or similar to the common reminiscing. When remembering his mother he tends to write as if she was present at the time, when in fact she has been gone for years. One example of Eggers’ past being infused in the present is revealed when Eggers reminisces of his mother while leaving the church that the funerals were held in, “ Yes she would shriek, yes! Exactly! - Then afterward she would sigh, breathing heavily and say, ‘oh that’s funny.’” (404, Eggers) This would seem an innocent and normal action however the said memory is unrelated to the current situation and is infused and integrated into the text as if Eggers mother is alive at this present moment, therefore demonstrating an innate inability to deal with death that came as a result of the death of his parents and the proper closure he was denied. Throughout the memoir a close friend of Eggers teeters on the brink of committing suicide and dealing with depression. A situation such this would usually be dealt with, with the utmost concern, yet throughout the memoir Eggers brushes the friend of as if the situation were anything but grave, at one point when dealing with john’s suicide attempts saying. “ What am I doing here? I hate this guy … ‘did you already do it? ‘ I’m wired from the drive the run up the stairs. ‘Did you already do it? Fuck you if you did, you fucking cocksucker.” (262,Eggers) Eggers wields expletives and talks in the sense that demonstrates a lack of concern or even care for his friend or that the situation could be fatal. He doesn’t believe John and constantly refuses to believe that John has committed suicide but rather, “ This is just stupid” and “ I mean drinking alone? The wine and he pills and everything? You’re such a fucking cliché!” (266, Eggers) Eggers constant insensitivity show his inability to deal with deal or death related issues and how this in turn has effected him and rendered him unable to deal with John’s countless suicide attempts and life rife with depression. He finds John’s death related and consequential problems not even worth words on the pages as demonstrated through the following excerpt from the text,

”’I read about it in the paper’ he says.


‘They’re going to nail that landlord. He’s got about a hundred other violations on his record.’


Is there anything I can do?’ He asks

‘No, I don’t think so.’


‘So I was spitting up blood again today..’”

(Eggers, 331 )

And with that the segment ends, abruptly giving no further attention to John’s situation. It’s as if because of Eggers inability to deal with death, John’s situation doesn’t merit any attention whatsoever, when it clearly seems to be quite serious. Egger inability is further demonstrated through the serious injury of a friend, Shalini (Eggers,326); who is comatose as a result of an injury, throughout her comatose state Egger gives little information about her situation, instead vaguely referring to her as the worst off as a result of the injury. Yet two girls involved in the incident had died and were by far the worst of yet he refuses to acknowledge them and instead refers to Shalini as the worst off. (Eggers, 329) He also refuses to acknowledge Shalini’s grave situation and doctors statements instead changing the subject to avoid talking about the said subject. It becomes evident through these differing instances that as a result of lack of closure and the sudden death of his parents, Eggers is rendered unable to deal with death itself as well as instances even remotely related to death, thus demonstrating deaths powerful effects and consequences.

The cessation of certain matters or situations, these drawing a metaphorical parallel with the latter inability to accept death of death related matters are another adverse affect of death. As with death Eggers seems intent on denying the obvious fact being the end of things. A prime example, which is rampant through the novel, is his denial of the termination of his relationship with his girlfriend, Kirsten. “ So first when we broke up Kirsten decided she would move to San Francisco … so I would be less tempted to spy on her when curdled with sudden jealousy at one on the morning on a Saturday, convinced that she was at home, on her couch with someone much more masculine than myself.” (Eggers, 292) As was the case with the way Eggers dealt with death it is not the reaction or behavior itself that is abnormal but rather the point in time that the reaction occurred. Eggers still reacts the way one would in the weeks following a breakup, many months after. Just as with his inability to accept, he is unable to accept the cessation of his relationship with Kirsten. This s yet again illustrated some chapters later when Eggers happens upon Bill Clinton. Despite being broken up with Kirsten for a long period of time his first reaction is to call her, “ I ran to a phone to call Kirsten, she was in bed.” (Eggers, 288) It demonstrates his reluctance, his inability to let go, to accept the end. Its not as if they are friends who keep in regular contact in fact after the breakup Kirsten is rarely mentioned. The said inability of Eggers is not just present in the relationship between Kirsten and he; rather it is rampant throughout all relationships, specifically with his siblings. With both parents gone all that remains is his family; his sister and his two brothers. Not did his girlfriend exit his life very early on but prior to this his eldest brother and his sister leave as well. His eldest brother moved away and kept little to no contact or influence in the lives of his siblings; following this Eggers sister also did the same although in this case she was an influential part of Eggers life that abruptly disappeared. As a result he neglects to mention any of his absent siblings throughout the novel, he suddenly ceases to mention them until the end of the memoir when it is absolutely necessary. In regards to Toph, Eggers constantly spends time with him in what seems to be an effort to not to allow the same fate to befall Toph as has his siblings. Death has left Eggers with an inability that touches every aspect of his life going so far as rendering him so affected that the absence of his siblings is unmentionable. All of this collaborates together and draws a parallel between his inabilities to also accept death, which demonstrates that Eggers is also unable to accept the conclusion of certain things. Anything that even metaphorically represents death is that which Eggers is unable to deal with, as demonstrated by his inability to deal with the cessation of certain events.

The final adverse affect of death present though out ASWOHG that came about as a result of death and lack of closure is yet another inability. Which is an inability to accept an inevitable fact of life, the progression of youth. This said inability also stemming from fear of death. Eggers flees from the progression of his youth though immature attempts to appear young. Eggers engages in immature binge drinking throughout the memoir, which is an admission of his attempt to deny youths its natural progression. Yet again it is not the behavior that is abnormal or a demonstration of that which is wrong but rather the circumstances. Eggers is at this point in his mid to late 20’s and describes a night out with a friend, “ drinking at the bar, pounding like in a prom limo” (Eggers, 142) Behavior that which is not expected of man in his mid twenties with a child whom he is responsible for. This type of behavior becomes commonplace throughout the novel, in most cases culminating in meaningless sex, with a close friend, an old high school acquaintance, a sexologist, to mention a few. This is contrary to the person Eggers is in other aspects of his life, a responsible, respectable, rational man. This demonstrates Eggers attempts to deny the progression of his youth, his inability to deal with the inevitable fact that is growing. The deaths of his parents have affected him so deeply that even a simple thing such as the progression of youth, which is remotely connected to death, is an issue he is unable to accept or deal with.

This fear of death leads to paranoia where Eggers sees death at every crossroad and corner. A prime example of this is Eggers’ fear of leaving his brother Toph alone or under the care of others,

“I will come home and the door will be open wide. The babysitter will be gone and there will be silence. And at once I will know. There will be the smell of everything perfectly wrong. At the steps up to Toph’s room there will be blood. Blood on the walls, handprints soaked in blood.”

(Eggers, 124)

Eggers continues to describe this gruesome scene, that his brother has died at the hands of the babysitter, all this being untrue and just Eggers’s paranoia shining through. Throughout the memoir instances such as this occur, at some points even interrupting the though of Eggers whilst he writes, demonstrating the sheer magnitude of his paranoia. This progresses to the point when Eggers feels unable to go out as a result of his paranoia of his brother’s death. The lack of closure, the abrupt deaths of parents have not only left him with previously mentioned ailments and effects but also too with paranoia of death that affects his everyday activities.

Death is truly revealed as a powerful force and one that can have many effects. Eggers parents abrupt and surprising deaths left a severe and lasting effect upon Eggers, rendering him unable to accept death itself or anything remotely related to it, whether it is an inability to accept death, the cessation of certain events or situations, a need to engage intransient pleasures as a result of an inability to accept the progression of youth, as well as instilling a deep seated paranoia of death at every corner. Death is a catalyst for many things causing effects that are long lasting and permanent, it being a truly powerful force, the most powerful force.

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