Death in America First Paper

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Death In America First Paper

Philippe Aries and Death in Early America

In Philippe Aries’ Western Attitudes Towards Death, the author describes four separate, general attitudes towards death that occurred between 300 A.D. and the present. The two most relevant to the early American period that we have studied in class are the ones he terms “One’s Own Death,” in the period from c.1200 A.D. to 1700, and “Thy Death,” in the period between 1700 and 1920. Several different sources illustrate various aspects of these different stages, as well as the changes between them as the “language of death” varied over time. They offer evidence of the nature of the relationship between man and God, peoples’ reactions to death in their surroundings, and the changing overall American view towards death.
One of the most obvious ways that Aries’ theories are reflected in early American writing is in the accounts of deathbed scenes. Because the artes moriendi shows a “struggle between the forces of good and evil who are fighting for possession of the dying man,” (Aries 36) as well as a “final test” (Aries 37) of the dying man’s virtue, the “ritual solemnity of the deathbed… by the end of the Middle Ages had assumed among the educated classes a dramatic character, an emotional burden which it had previously lacked” (Aries 38). Aries then states that this change had the effect of increasing the dying person’s role in his own death (Aries 38). We can see this deathbed drama and emotion in Cotton Mather’s diary, where he describes his wife’s final moments. His wife is the central or at least final player in her own death: Mather says he himself “solemnly and sincerely gave her up to the Lord,” but also that his wife then “sign’d and seal’d my Act of Resignation.” She confirms and finalizes his commitment, then stops speaking to or touching Mather, preparing herself for death.…...

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