Death in The Nick Adams Stories and Little Women

Topics: Life, Death, Little Women Pages: 5 (1929 words) Published: October 13, 2013
Death is an important initiation experience for any character to endure. The weight of death’s importance comes from the fact that it is such a strong dictator in life. The actual death of another individual forces characters to face reality without romanticizing suffering but more importantly initiates what they are going to do until they die. In The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, the experiences the March girls and Nick Adams have with death are very different. Nick, being male, is expected to react to death in a way that is completely opposite from the reaction expected in the March household. Understanding the character’s view on death is critical to understanding the actions they take in life. Examining Nick Adams and the March family’s view of death, how they cope with it, and the change they allow it to bring explains why they so highly contrast each other in the steps they take in life. Death is Nick’s biggest fear. Death is not an end or a beginning but an experience he wants to avoid. Nick fears death mostly because he does not understand it. Hemmingway writes, “Then suddenly he was afraid of dying …Nick had realized that someday he must die. It made him feel quite sick. It was the first time he had ever realized that he himself would have to die sometime.’’ (14) This is the groundwork for Nick’s view of death. He has been allowed to simply ignore unpleasant thoughts so he never gives himself the chance to fully consider what he believes death is. All he knows is that he is afraid of it. Nick’s first experience with death is at the Indian camp when the father of the newborn child commits suicide. The picture of the man’s death is graphic and would provide good reason for a young boy to fear death but Nick has a different reaction to this experience. Seeing the man die makes Nick, “[feel] quite sure that he [will] never die.” (21) This grotesque scene should have unveiled the reality of death to Nick but he twists reality into something that is less offensive and something he can handle. After witnessing the suicide of the Indian man Nick gets to return to the safety of his father’s arms which may also give an explanation as to why Nick thought he could never die. Nick got to walk away from the death of the Indian man relatively unaffected. He was given an un-romanticized view of death but it was not a significant enough person in his life to make him grieve. From these two excerpts, it is easy to conclude that Nick’s view of death is underdeveloped and childlike. Contrasting Nick Adams the March girl’s view of death stems from their faith. The preface of Little Women is an excerpt from John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress which clearly defines “the world which is to come” as “young damsels...prize.” (3) This quote explains the belief that the point of this life is to win the prize of eternal life so in many ways what the March family thinks about death dictates how they choose to carry out their life. Unlike Nick, the March family views death as a beginning of eternal life instead of just an end of life on earth. In death Beth is “well at last” (427) and that is when the family begins to recover and feel peace. To the March family, “their darling death was a benignant angel, not a phantom full of dread.” (427) While the March girls do not welcome death, they do not fear it as Nick does. Even Jo is consoled in Beth’s death because of her beliefs. She tells Beth, “I used to think I couldn’t let you go, but I’m learning to feel that I don’t lose you, that you’ll be more to me than ever, and death can’t part us, though it seems to.” (426) Losing Beth is Jo’s darkest time and yet her faith in the life death brings gets her through it. Despite the views one has on death, finding some way of coping is an inevitable reaction. Nick is taught early on to avoid emotion. Whether it gets in the way of what needs to be done or simply degrades his manliness, he is encouraged to suppress...
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