George Bernard Shaw and His Short Story About the Cremation of The Narrator\'s
Mother


In a written exerpt from a letter about the cremation of his mother,
George Bernard Shaw recalls her “passage” with humor and understanding. The
dark humor associated with the horrid details of disposing of his mother\'s
physical body are eventually reconciled with an understanding that her spirit
lives on. He imagines how she would find humor in the bizarre event of her own
cremation. The quality of humor unites Shaw and his mother in a bond that
transcends the event of death and helps Shaw understand that her spirit will
never die. The reader is also released from the horror of facing the mechanics
of the cremation process when “Mama\'s” own comments lead us to understand that
her personality and spirit will live on.
Shaw\'s diction is effective in conveying his mood and dramatizing the
process of cremation. The traditional words of a burial service “ashes to ashes,
dust to dust” are not altered for the cremation, the interior chamber “looked
cool, clean, and sunny” as by a graveside, and the coffin was presented “feet
first” as in a ground burial. In selecting aspects of a traditional burial
service, Shaw\'s mood is revealed as ambivalent toward cremation by imposing
recalled fragments of ground burial for contrast. Strangely fascinated, he
begins to wonder exactly what happens when one is cremated. This mood of awe is
dramatized as he encounters several doors to observe in his chronological
investigation. He sees “a door opened in the wall,” and follows the coffin as
it “passed out through it and vanished as it closed,” but this is not “the door
of the furnace.” He finds the coffin “opposite another door, a real
unmistakable furnace door,” but as the coffin became engulfed in flame, ”the
door fell” and the mystery only continues an hour later as he gazes “through an
opening in the floor.” As he observes two “cooks” picking through “Mama\'s
dainty little heap of ashes and samples of bone” the mood of dark humor is the
only way he can handle the horror of his mother\'s death and cremated body. He
has remained an unemotional observer on a journey through the crematorium with
humor 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 of
understanding.
Plentiful details provide insight into the thoughts of the narrator as
well as a time schedule through the cremation. Shaw relates about cremations
that “people are afraid to see it, but it is wonderful” and he “saw the real
thing.” The narrator is acknowledging a general fear people share about facing
the 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 the
statement that he was able to observe it and face it, thereby overcoming the
fear. An order is provided for farewells from the initial “I went behind the
scenes at the end of the service” to later “when we returned” (from the hour and
a 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 saying
goodbye provide a loose chronological structure to his process of release.
These details also provide an emotional way out for the reader who can share
Mama\'s sense of humor about her own cremation thereby replacing personal fear
about death with a feeling of the continuation of life and ones spirit.
The first person narration of this letter hightens the focus and insight
of the principal subject. “I went behind the scenes,” and “I found the violet
coffin” bring the focus down to a personal experience, not just a documentary of
a similar event. By following the narrator\'s personal journey, certain truths
about death and eternity are understood. The narrator goes on to recall certain
truths about his mother: “Mama....leaning over beside me shaking with laughter”
and “mama said in my ear....” The closeness of the relationship the narrator
had with his mother is clarified by their shared sense of humor. The reader
also feels at this point that their relationship will survive by humor in memory
thereby overcoming the morbid aspects of death. The narrator has relived the
entire experience by retelling it, but he has also reached a new level knowing
his memories will survive and his mother\'s spirit will live on in a new shared
understanding.

Category: English