“I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind- and that of the minds of the ones who suffer the bereavement. The nihilists say it is the end; the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town.”
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York: The Modern Library, 2000. Print.
Peabody stated this before Addie’s death. Peabody being an experienced medical doctor has come to conceptualize death in a highly non sympathetic fashion, calling it a “tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town.” Peabody views death as more of a transitional period for those close to the deceased, rather than placing it along with a feeling of finality or beginning. By doing this he is making death out to be a more social process than an emotionalized one.
“I can remember when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind — and that of the mind of the ones who suffer the bereavement.” (44)
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. First Vintage International Edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. Print.
It seems to me that Peabody is saying that death is an experience of the people left behind, more so than the people who have actually died. If I’m interpreting this correctly, this would make sense as this communal experience appears to be a running theme of the novel.
“Jeff sat there this evening in his chair and was silent a long time, warming himself with the pleasant fire. He did not look at Melanctha who was watching. He sat there and just looked into the fire. At first his dark, open face was smiling, and he was rubbing the back of his black-brown hand over his mouth to help him in his smiling. Then he was thinking, and he frowned and rubbed his head hard, to help him in his thinking. Then he smiled again, but now his smiling was not pleasant. His smile was now wavering on the edge of scorning. His smile changed more and more, and then he had a look as if he was bitter in his smiling, and he began, without looking from the fire, to talk to Melanctha, who was now very tense with her watching” (80).
This passage demonstrates Stein’s ability to manipulate the way in which readers perceive her narrative. Rather than just outwardly stating that Jeff transitioned into a bitter mood as he spent that evening with Melanctha, Stein provides details of his changing facial expressions and body language so that readers are learning of his changing mood at the same time that Melanctha is within the story. This delay adds a sense of confusion to the text and ultimately seems to work with Stein’s writing style.
Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three Lives. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.