Table of contents
Table of contents
Chapter One: Death and the Concept of Metaphysics and Fiction
1. The Metaphysical Realm and its Philosophy Towards Literature:
C. The Influence of the Metaphysical Philosophy on Literature:
2. Death as a Dominant Metaphysical Aspect in Literature:
A. The Meaning of Death:
B. The History of Death Personifications:
C. Death According to Ancient Civilizations:
D. The Domination of Death in Literature:
E. Death in Children’s Literature:
3. J.K Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard:
A. J.K. Rowling’s Biography:
B. A summary of Rowling’s The Tale of the Three Brothers:
Chapter Two: The Personification of Death in Joanne K. Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard The Tale of the Three Brothers as a Case Study
1. The Reason Behind Rowling’s Personification of Death:
2. The Transfiguration of Death in Rowling’s The Tale of the Three Brothers:
3. The Gender of Death in Rowling’s The Tale of the Three Brothers:
4. The Three Different Approaches to Death in Rowling’s The Tale of the Three Brothers:
First and foremost, I thank Allah (SWT) for granting me life to see this thesis.
I also owe thanks to Mrs. Hassina Haddouche for her generosity in accepting, helping and permitting me to work on Rowling’s book The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I am indebted to thank the members of the jury for examining this humble dissertation.
To the people without whom this humble work might not have been written, and to who I am greatly indebted.
To my mother and my whole family, thank you from the bottom of the heart for everything, you have ever offered and all the sacrifices you have made for me. I pray to Allah to bless you and preserve you.
To my friends who encouraged and supported me all along the process of writing this work, especially in these hard times of COVID-19 pandemic.
Not least of all, I owe so much to my whole family for their encouragement and support, their strong belief that I can achieve. Particular appreciation to my father who was my guiding star, and for the inspiration he gave me to deal with philosophical topics like this one due to his experience as a teacher of Philosophy, “May Allah have mercy on his soul and grant him the highest status in Jannah.” Unfortunately, I cannot thank everyone by name because it would take a lifetime, but I just want you all to know that you count so much. Without your prayers and benedictions, and your sincere love and help, I would never have completed this thesis. So thank you all.
This dissertation treats the thematic conception of the Personification of Death in The Tale of the Three Brothers written by the British author Joanne K. Rowling. As a Tale destined to be read by children, the concept of “death” is not easy to explain for children; this is why Rowling personifies “death” in a male figure not only for the sake of personifying it but also to give it a positive image. Different from some Children’s Literature which presents “Death” in a frightening and horrifying image, Rowling presents a new “beautiful” image explicitly for children and implicitly for adults. To give more significance to the personification of death, I have resorted to Karl S. Guthke’s book The Gender of Death: A Cultural History in Art and Literature (1999) whose main argument is not only about Death as a male figure in literature but also about the positive role that Death can play in life. Guthke prefers the personification of death through creativity and imagination which can be found in literature mainly, over considering death a shapeless idea. In this context, the image of Death is revised far from the grim, bleak, and fearful image children, and adults alike, are associated with. Rowling leads us to the conclusion that Death is an important aspect in one’s life; it should not be feared or escaped, rather one should perceive its positive side.
Key Words: Personification of Death, The Gender of Death, transfiguration, destiny, death, children’s literature.
La thématique traitée toute au long de cette dissertation est consacrée à la conception de la personnification attribuée à la mort dans “Le Conte des Trois Frères”, un œuvre de l'auteur Britannique Joanne K. Rowling. Le public visé, étant un public de jeunes âges, complique la perception du concept de la mort par les enfants, ce qui pousse Rowling à personnifier cette dernière en une forme humaine. Non seulement pour le seul but de la personnification, mais aussi pour changer la courante image déjà donnée par la littérature enfantine qui a pour habitude de l’attribuer avec de la peur et de la terreur. Rowling en présentant une belle image dirigée directement aux petits et aux grands également. Je me suis retourné vers le livre de Karl S. Guthke "Le sexe de la mort": Une histoire culturel dans l’art et la littérature (1999) qui n'a pas pour seul objectif de personnifier la mort en tant qu'une personne de genre masculine, mais aussi de démontrer le rôle positif qu'a la mort sur la vie. Guthke favorise la personnification de la mort mêlé à la créativité et l'imagination sans limite, en tant que pur produit littéraire, sur la description par une idée abstraite. Sur le même concept revisité, la mort s'éloigne de cette image morne, sinistre et effrayante, répondues tant bien chez les enfants que chez les adultes. Sur ce, Rowling, finalement, nous pousse à percevoir l'important aspect de la mort dans la vie de l'individu. Il ne faut plus l'éviter ni la craindre pour enfin se focaliser sur son bon côté.
It is believed that human beings live in a world full of good and evil, light and darkness, joy and tears. In a world that is composed of two parts: the physical and the metaphysical; the physical part is what is seen clearly and experienced with the five senses of the body; whereas the metaphysical part is the unseen world, all that is abstract and goes beyond the physical limits. Literature gives the sighted the possibility to gain insight. One of its major roles is to serve meaningful and visionary aspects. For instance, it has both the ability and space to depict concepts such as death, happiness and sorrow through providing them human features. Kevin Dickinson describes, "Many of us imagine death will be like drifting to sleep. Your head gets heavy. Your eyes flutter and gently close. A final breath and then… lights out." (par. 3). Dickinson thinks that the majority of people consider death as being a sleeping state in which the eyes are shut, the head becomes heavy and when everything gets dark after the person’s dying breath.
Death: The very word strikes fear in people’s hearts. They consider death as unfathomable as it is inevitable. They are barely able to talk about it, to peer beyond the word itself and allow themselves to contemplate its true implications. This is an understandable reaction, given the fact that so many people think of life as nothing more than a state in which the human body is biologically active. But it is time to ask ourselves: What happens after death, if anything? What does death really mean? How should the surviving loved ones react?. (par. 2)
In other words, death is feared by people to the point that they even fear to talk about it and they see it as an incomprehensible and unavoidable matter, they also consider life as being the case when the human body is still vivid. Jacobson believes that humans should ask what is the significance of death, what happens after it and how is the process of mourning.
Furthermore, some say it is the end of everything without coming back, and some others think that is a form of rebirth and the beginning of the real eternal life. Besides, in many literary works death is personified, "Kastenbaum and Costa (1977) pointed out that death has been personified in art, literature, and mythology." (qtd. in Basset, McCann, and Cate 164). In other words, death has the characteristics of human beings as it can watch, sense, talk and act.
Joanne Kathleen Rowling is a famous British author and film producer. The world knows her by her Fantasy series Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001), The Casual Vacancy (2012), Career of Evil (2015), The Silkworm (2014) and the list is long. Therefore, this research will tackle the fifth and last chapter of Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard entitled “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” published on December 13, 2007. It is a mixture of genres mixing Anthology, Fantasy Fiction and Children’s Literature in one book composed of five entire stories or tales. Rowling indeed is known by her gentle attitudes towards children in a point that her selling funds go for charity plans and aids. For instance, this book seems to be childish or addressed to children. However, its content and context say the opposite knowing that it includes not just mere magic in its fairy tales, but complex matters of life even the adult ones cannot decipher easily.
In this study, the chosen theme is Personification of Death seeing the fact that it draws a lot of scepticism and dispute around it, more precisely in the fifth tale entitled The Tale of the Brothers which depicts entirely Rowling’s style in personifying death.
Review of Related Literature
The aim of this review of literature is twofold: first, to demonstrate how the theme of Death is criticized and dealt with in Children’s Literature; second, to show the critical reception of the theme of Death in Rowling’s The Tale of the Three Brothers (2008). To begin with, many critics have argued that the theme of Death in Children’s Fiction is not a new one, but it needs to be reconsidered in order to select the necessary books which “serve as attitudinal and emotional guideposts and prepare children to cope with death as a stressful situation.” (Delisle and Woods 683). Within the same context, we find out that depicting death in Children’s Fiction has also to do with the children’s reaction towards death itself. In fact, the death of dear parents, relatives, or lovely friends has a strong effect on children.
A study done by Kubler Ross, a researcher in the field of “Death and Dying in Children’s Fiction”, has proved that there are steps through which a child goes before accepting death as such: “the stages are those of denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.”(qtd. in Delisle and Woods 684). In fact, the representative literary works which have made use of these stages are Charlotte's Web by E.B.White, The Magic Moth by Virginia Lee, and A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Smith.
Another critic, Jennifer M. Collier, explains in her thesis Death in Children’s Literature: A User’s Guide, “Children are so young and full of life. They have so much to learn; the world is full of learning experiences just waiting to be discovered by them. Unfortunately, some of the lessons that children must learn on their road to adulthood are not fun and easy, such as, learning responsibility and learning that life is not always fair.” (7). From this context, being a child is like living a whole life enough to understand and find out the secrets of this world and become a grown-up. However, during this journey, the child finds difficulties to accept his duties and the injustice of life. Literature is hugely vast and does not concern a particular gender or age, as there is a kind of literature that is meant for children, it does not have to be childish all the time and can tackle serious subjects such as death.
Collier gives multiple examples of how the death of parents is explained to children through books and stories. As a first book, she mentions Lucile Clifton’s Everett Anderson’s Goodbye published in 1983, which speaks about a boy whose father died and shows that death is a natural situation in the family, to help children to accept this part of life and make them aware that even the death of the loved ones is not the end of the world (18). As a second example, she puts Cindy Cohen’s Daddy’s Promise published in 1997 that speaks about a little boy whose father passed away because of being sick, his mother plays a major role in the process of healing her child by answering all his questions about his dead father, he also dreams about his father giving him answers on why he had to go away. This book shows the importance of communication between mothers and their children and explains the process of dying optimistically, by telling children that the spirits of their beloved ones are watching over them to make their pain and loneliness go away (18-19). Collier also gives Eloise Greenfield’s Nathanial Talking published in 1988 as another example, the story is about “Nathanial” a boy who talks about his life and how he became unsociable with people after the death of his mother, and he tells the readers the way he needs and misses her. However, he manages to surpass that sorrow and continue to live his life through positive energy and acceptance (21-22).
She adds to the list of books the death of siblings in children stories. Such as, When I Die, Will I Get Better? Written in 1993 by Joeri and Piet Breebaart, the story is made by a five-year-old boy with the help of his father just after the death of his brother. It is about two brother rabbits “Fred” and “Joe” who are very intimate to each other and have a good relationship. However, “Joe” dies due to an illness and “Fred” did not comprehend the meaning of dying and he kept hoping that the doctor will heal his brother. Even when all the forest animals gathered to attend the funeral, “Fred” does not realize that his brother will not come back and he is gone forever but, with time he gets the meaning of death, his sorrow starts to fade away as he moves forward into accepting this loss. The moral and the view of death in this tale is understanding mortality and learning how to accept it and lessen the sadness (27-28). This book indeed is another way to make children understand death in a method that fits their age and thinking, the writers use of talking animals that have feelings of sadness and the will to move on in their lives in hard times in life such as, the death of their relatives and siblings, and this kind of books will help children comprehend and live with this certain experience of life. The fact that this book is written by a father and his five years old son means that the father is helping his son to move on and even helping himself through writing this story that speaks about rabbits to make it easy for the children readers to comprehend, knowing that the kid writer lost his brother.
Death in Children books does not concern parents and relatives only but the death of pets is also included. Adults might not feel a huge sadness when their domestic animals pass away. However, a child is too emotional to the extent that he will be depressed and lonely for a long time when his cat or dog or any kind of pet dies. Collier mentions Fred Rogers’ When a Pet Dies written in 1988, a book that is illustrative as it describes what will happen to animals when they die the feelings of sorrow that come after and it lists a set of children’s questions concerning death with a clear and simple explanation of them. In other words, the writer uses the death of pets instead of human beings so his book will be easy and understandable for children. This book indeed concludes that death should occur because it is natural and every human being, every animal and everything in this world will die at the end (41-42).
The second part of this review is concerned with Rowling’s The Tale of the Three Brothers. Many critics criticized differently this tale and shed light on the theme of death and the concept of dying concerning Joanne Rowling’s style of writing and portraying death. Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez and Pilar Alderete-Diez explain in their book Cultural Politics in Harry Potter: Life, Death and the Politics of Fear that Rowling’s tale represents three aspects of death as does her series of Harry Potter:
To illustrate this point, we would like to emphasize different artistic representations of “The Tale of the Three Brothers” and the three symbols of the Deathly Hallows (the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Invisibility Cloak). These three powerful objects were created by Death and given to each of the three Peverell brothers. The person who owns these three artefacts at once will become the Master of Death. (142)
Jarazo and Alderete think that The Tale of the Three Brothers (the fifth story of Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard) is similar to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows written by the same writer according to three common characteristics; “the Elder Wand, Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility; which are present in both works and make the characters who own them death primes and invincible or “Master of Death.” as it is quoted in Jarazo and Alderete’s book. Following the same point of view, Xenophilius Lovegood says, “the whole thing starts with "The Tale of the Three Brothers.” (qtd. in Simonetta 1), meaning that the Harry Potter series are related to Rowling’s fifth fable in The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
Margaret-Ann Simonetta, furthermore, argues in her thesis “Harry Potter and The Tale of the Three Brothers” presents her point of view through the following questions:
What does the title of the Master of Death from “The Tale of the Three Brothers” truly entail, and which character was fortunate enough to possess the crowning title for himself? While many would agree that Harry Potter is the only Master of Death, one could argue both characters are worthy of the reputation. Chiefly, Harry Potter became the Master of Death because he logically outsmarted Lord Voldemort’s vision of power and greed for immortality. (7)
In other words, Simonetta explains that the character “Harry Potter” earned the “Master of Death” feature when he surpassed the antagonist “Lord Voldemort”, and she claims that “Harry Potter” is not the only one gifted with this advantage but, the three brothers in The Tale of the Three Brothers also have that special insignia knowing that they escaped from death and became invincible.
From another perspective, Jean Cooper explains that the symbolism of death in The Tale of the Three Brothers is “The unseen aspect of life; the King of death usually depicts as a skeleton”. (qtd. in Biegunová 37), meaning that death is a sightless thing in life, but it can be personified or portrayed in a human appearance such as “a skeleton”. He also perceives death as “the king” and this is the personification of death which cannot be humiliated or defeated by humans or masters of death contrary to what is mentioned in the previous critics.
Similarly to Cooper’s point of view, Raghavi Priya and Laxmi Dhar Dwivedi think, in their article Metamorphosis of Death: From Transgression to Sacrifice as Seen in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series , that Rowling has a special point of view concerning death through her books as they describe Death as something which becomes beautiful with acceptance:
Like the great thinkers Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Sartre, Rowling too emphasizes the tremendous status of the individual as the solitary genuine vivacious creature of existence. As the rest of the existentialist philosophers, the prospect for a verdict is offered at an ostentatious predicament, which in the case of Rowling is produced by confronting death and violence. All the protagonists go through the experience of violence and death in one form or another. Death is the uncritical infringement agent of all hitches found in life. Death is a self-determining cure for all disasters in life. According to Rowling, death is something beautiful, something which can cause a series of changes. For her it’s a gift and contains in-depth meaning than what people perceive it as. Death becomes beautiful and powerful with acceptance. (3958-3959)
Following the existentialist philosophy, Rowling’s ideology is delivered through facing violence, and death more precisely. In this context, all the heroes in literary works live and experience this cruelty and death because death is the key to escape from life’s curse. Rowling thinks that death is something positive, something that can change a lot of things as she metaphorically describes it as being a gift in one’s life if it is dealt and welcomed with agreement and acceptance. In other words, those who accept it feel better and strong ; they would see death as a lovely thing. However, in Rowling’s fifth story of The Tales of Beedle the Bard entitled “The Tale of the Three Brothers”, the three brothers in the narrative do not accept their fate of passing away; they refuse it by demanding super magical powers from death himself; a personification of death in a form of a mysterious and fearful man. However, this refusal in welcoming and accepting their final destination is against Rowling’s ideology that says accepting death is fundamental. In this context, Rowling writes a story giving the characters features that are not compatible with her ideology explaining that cheating on death will end with a failure sooner or later; she aims to send a message at the end of her tale.
Statement of the Problematic With the knowledge at hand about the topic of Death in Children’s Literature, we come to notice that the critics have different points of view about the meaning, significance, and depiction of Death. With an artistic literary touch, Rowling has a positive opinion concerning the concept of death, and she gives the three brothers in The Tale of the Three Brothers characteristics that oppose her point of view about death, to show the result and the tragedy that will occur if someone does not accept his fate and dares to challenge this personification of death. In this context, this theme will demonstrate how Joanne Rowling tries to convince the readers that death is inevitable and inescapable through the use of personification. Besides, though critics have dealt with Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard, the theme of Death has not been enough considered especially in the light of Karl S. Guthke’s theory of The Gender of Death. Light was not shed on the analysis of the theme of Death in a positive way which is different from the horrifying image it was associated with.
Research Questions and Hypothesis
The research questions and the hypothesis of this study depend on a set of issues which depict Death in a different image. For instance, we may ask the following questions: what are the reasons which made Rowling depict Death in a male gender in her tale The Tale of the Brothers ? What are the different approaches of Death in this tale? Why does Rowling used three characters with different reactions to Death? Is there any moral about Death for children, or any hidden message for adults alike? The answers of these questions are going to be provided in the second chapter of this dissertation.
This study will depend on a single theoretical approach, Karl S. Guthke’s theory of The Gender of Death (1999), and a set of concepts to study and interpret the Personification of Death in Rowling’s fifth tale The Tale of the Three Brothers. Guthke depicts death with human appearances and characteristics and more precisely a gender. He asks, “Why is it that in some cultures and times, literature, folklore, and art commonly represent death as a man, in others as a woman?” (1).
Guthke presents the many appearances and representations of death and its personification through history. He doubts the necessity of seeing death or the Grim Reaper as a man all the time arguing that Germans consider death a man, calling it “der tod” not “die tod” with the article “der” which is masculine. However, French, Spanish and Italian languages consider death as female. For example, The French say “la mort” not “le mort”, the Spanish people call it “la muerte” not “el muerte” and the Italian’s noun is “la morte” not “il morte”. From this context, death in literature is personified according to the people’s language and folklores in general (7). In other words, Guthke thinks that giving death a manly shape became a stereotype by saying, “Personifying death as male is anything but a universal habit of the imagination. Prevalent at all times in all cultures, nations, and languages” (14), meaning that the majority of individuals have the image of death as being a man in their imagination, and this idea is widespread in almost all cultures.
The structure of the thesis
This study is divided into two main chapters. The first chapter is entitled "Death and the Concept of Metaphysics and Fiction" that is itself divided into two parts. The first part discusses the Metaphysical Realm and its Philosophy towards Literature and focuses on the following concepts: Metaphysics, Literature, and The Influence of the Metaphysical Philosophy on Literature. The second part deals with Death as a Dominant Metaphysical Aspect in Literature discussing: The Meaning of Death, Death according to Ancient Civilizations, and The Domination of Death in Literature.
The second chapter is called "The Personification of Death in Joanne K. Rowling’s The Tale of the Three Brothers." and will be discussed in the following points: first, Rowling’s reasons behind her personification of Death; second, the Transfiguration of Death; third, the Gender of Death in the light of Guthke’s theory; and finally, the three different approaches of Death in Rowling’s tale. In the conclusion, I provide a summary of the findings of this study by highlighting Rowling’s way of personifying Death and pointing out the main characteristics of Rowling’s success in the making of death as a person.
Death and the Concept of Metaphysics and Fiction
Death is one of the major topics discussed by human beings regardless of their cultures and differences adult or young, rich or poor, healthy or sick. They are all wondering fearfully about this inevitable rule of life. It is obvious, no ordinary man came back from the dead to describe what does dying look like, or how the process of passing away manifests. In other words, death is beyond physicality and this makes it a matter of philosophy or metaphysics more accurately, fiction, literature and all sorts of art.
The fact that death is not physical, starts another kind of challenge for the metaphysicians to ask questions and create theories about this phenomenon. This last can also be interpreted in a fictional way using imagination in a world of fantasy, this loss of life is dominant in literature in many ways. For example, it can be personified in a human form like the case of Joanne Rowling’s fable The Tale of the Three Brothers, painters, musicians or any kind of artist as well can portray death creatively according to his domain and his understanding of life.
This chapter will be a set of general ideas and will be divided into three sections. The first section will focus on the metaphysical philosophy and its influence on literature, explaining metaphysics, literature and the metaphysical touch in literary works. The second one will explain death as a metaphysical issue dominating literature, mentioning death in general, its significance according to ancient civilizations and the fundamental role of death in literature. And the last part will be about J.K Rowling’s biography and a summary of her fifth fable “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” appeared in her book The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
1. The Metaphysical Realm and its Philosophy Towards Literature:
Metaphysics comes from the Greek term "metaphysika" which means "after physics". In other words, all that is above or beyond the physical form. Metaphysics is the department of philosophy that deals with "the nature of existence, being and the world.". Possibly, it is the basis of philosophy as Aristotle describes it "first philosophy" and "wisdom", he also calls it the topic that is concerned with "first causes and the principles of things". Its major questions are: "What is the nature of reality?", "How does the world exist, and what is its origin or source of creation?", "Does the world exist outside the mind?". This last also asks how a bodiless mind may affect a concrete creation which is the body. Metaphysics questions the existence of God, and if there is a maker to this world why only one and not multiple gods? (Mastin, pars. 1-3).
Metaphysics is not just a simple term, it is a philosophical section that is vast. In this context, Aristotle splits “metaphysika” into three different branches: Ontology, Theology and Universal Science. Ontology is a Greek term and the philosophical division which studies the essence of reality, it mainly asks this kind of questions: what is it, how many “realities” are there, and what are the properties of those realities (Cline, par. 11). The Theology which is the study of divinities questioning what is a God, does he truly exist and what does he want. This study differs from one religion to another regarding people’s traditions and beliefs. In the other hand, atheists disagree with this study arguing that its topics are nothing but real. From another perspective, God does not exist for them (Cline, par. 12). Aristotle’s third branch of Metaphysics consists of Universal Science, it includes the study of "first principles" or the root of the universe and the basics of logic and reasoning. For the believers, the answer to those lasts is always "god" believing that he created everything. Although, it differs from one believer to another. However, atheists have a different point of view that opposes the category of believers seeing the fact that they do not approve the existence of god (Cline, par. 13).
Uncountable amount of books are printed and published every year, joining the wide world of libraries which exist for centuries. Salman Rushdie says, "Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination and of the heart." (qtd. in Lombardi, par. 13). From this perspective, there is more than one precise definition of literature yet, there are millions of definitions of it that agree and disagree with one another, every reader or writer sees a literary work in a different way than the other and criticizes its beginning, plot and ending according to his personal life and literary experiences. As claimed by Rushdie, creative writings or literature generally, is a journey in the social life that is full of ups and downs, joy and tears, an adventure in the spirit of the human being where he seeks for a truthful story that relieves the heart and stretches the imagination, and not for a perfect reality. Literature indeed is not perfection but the satisfaction of both the author and the reader.
Figures of speech are one of the major tools used in literature, the one that is written in English more precisely. According to Richard Nordquist, “A figure of speech is a rhetorical device that achieves a special effect by using words in a distinctive way.” (par. 1). Meaning it is a literary technique that obtains an impact that is specific depending on particular words. These literary tools are generally related to literature and poetry especially and people often use them in daily life whether consciously or unconsciously in speaking and writing. In this context, there are many figures of speech in the English language. However, twenty of them are most used and famous: Alliteration, Anaphora, Antithesis, Apostrophe, Assonance, Chiasmus, Euphemism, Hyperbole, Irony, Litotes, Metaphor, Metonymy, Onomatopoeia, Oxymoron, Paradox, Personification, Pun, Simile, Synecdoche, and finally Understatement (Nordquist, par. 5).
Due to the numerous kinds of figures of speech, these lasts are almost identical but, the most confusing ones are Simile, Metaphor and Personification. Simile as a first example is a straight comparison between two different things that are alike in at least one side, with the use of the word “as” or “like” (Lamoreux, par. 3). For example, when saying “Mohamed Ali fights like a beast.” or “Mohamed Ali is strong as a lion.”, there is a simile between “Mohamed Ali” who is human along with “beast” and “lion” which are not human. However, they share the same abilities which are fighting and being strong. The second common figure of speech is Metaphor which is a literary technique that resembles Simile. However, metaphors declare that an idea or object is somehow the same as another different thing (Lamoreux, par. 7). In other words, they are similar to similes but, without using the conjunctions “as” and “like”. For instance, “Mohamed Ali is a real beast.”, “Mohamed Ali” in this example is compared to a “beast” metaphorically. The third and last famous figure of speech is Personification, also called “anthropomorphism” and it occurs when an inhuman thing or creature is given human characteristics (Lamoreux, par. 10). Walter Melion and Bart Ramakers explain in their work Personification: An Introduction. that, “Personification, or prosopopoeia, the rhetorical figure by which something not human is given a human identity or ‘face’ is readily spotted”. (1). In other words, Personification, or “Prosopopoeia” in Greek, is a figurative language in which a creature that is not human owns human personalities and faces. In this context, Charles Marlow, the narrator of Heart of Darkness describes, “Flames glided in the river, small green flames, red flames, white flames”. (Conrad 10). Speaking in a literal way the “flames” cannot glide because to glide is a human skill. However, figuratively speaking this expression is a personification of flames, that helps the reader feel the story and its atmosphere.
C. The Influence of the Metaphysical Philosophy on Literature:
There are a lot of common topics discussed by both metaphysics and literature which go hand in hand and complete each other. Many literary works are inspired by the metaphysical rules. Accordingly to Simone De Beauvoir, “We must understand the relation between metaphysics and the novel in an analogous manner, since metaphysics is not a philosophical system, but rather an experience of the world that can be elucidated through philosophy as well as through literature.” (qtd. in Bogaerts 22). In other words, De Beauvoir insists on comprehending the link between metaphysics and literary works in a similar way because what is metaphysical is not just a philosophy, but an experience of life that is explained by both philosophy and literature. That is how literature completes metaphysics and vice versa. Besides, most of the literary theories and terms are extracted from philosophy and metaphysics more specifically. For instance, literature is often explained by metaphysics and most of the authors and critics have a philosophical point of view that leads to a metaphysical-literary way of thinking.
2. Death as a Dominant Metaphysical Aspect in Literature:
A. The Meaning of Death:
When a person owns something, the first question that comes to his mind is how long will it last, the same thing happens concerning death since every sane human being always asks and wonders when his life will be put to an end and what death is itself. Zygmunt Bauman argues, “While death is the most trustworthy experience in human life, death still remains inexplicable and unknown. People therefore need to encounter the death experience in other ways, such as by watching and following the death of others, as well as with the help of fiction, imagining how it will feel.” (qtd. in Hakola and Kivistö 7). Bauman wants to clarify that death is somehow a reliable and trusted experience in one’s life, but it will remain as an interrogation mark knowing that it has no explanation. For that reason, humans observe the death of others and try to feel their situation with the help of fiction to face this inevitable rule of life.
The only truth about death is its existence, but no one can describe it since the person is still alive. However, humans may feel this unexpected phenomenon through analyzing the death of others with the help of fiction and old beliefs to try solving this metaphysical question of what does it look like when someone passes away and what happens to him after.
B. The History of Death Personifications:
Life and death were seen as double forces of the Great Mother in the old world. Life is the Good Mother while death is the Evil Mother (“Personification of Death” par. 3). Oppositely, death in Ancient Greece is not represented by a woman but a male god of death, born from the “Union of the Night” and known as “Thanatos” or “Thanatus” as a Latin translation, “Mors” or “Letum” according to Ancient Romans. He lived in the underworld taking orders from “Hades” god of the underworld. “Thanatos” is the god and personification of peaceful death offering persons an eternal rest from the sufferings of the world by giving them a .painless death by merely touching them. Contrarily to his siblings, who were merciless: “Keres” who represented the spirits of violent death, “Nemesis” goddess of retribution and punishment, “Apate” spirit of deception and trickery, “Oizys” goddess of misery and depression, “Moros” the personified spirit of doom, and finally “Momos” who is the god of blame and mockery. “Thanatos” is depicted with huge black wings, wearing a long dark outfit, he often carries a sword or a large sickle sword (Mythology - Folklore A-Z).
According to Mayan mythology, “Ah Puch” is the god of death, darkness and disaster, another kind of personification of death portrayed in a form of a skeleton, or a scary puffy form. This last ruled the most feared area “Xibalba” which is underneath the surface. He is famous for his merciless ways of torment and massacre (Williams, par. 23).
As stated in the Book of Revelation in the Bible, According to Christian apocalyptic tenets, death is one of the four-horse riders who will declare the day of judgment according to the Christian apocalyptic tenets. This horseman is called “The Grim Reaper”, described as being a scary-looking ghost in a form of man, also depicted in a form of skeleton carrying a scythe that can cut off human heads in a single sway. “The Grim Reaper” in fact is possibly the most famous personification of death in all the times (Crobatia, par. 2).
In Japanese mythology, death is personified by a creature called “Shinigami” composed of two terms “Shi” meaning death, and “Kami” which is god or spirit. His role is to summon humans to the world of the dead, which seems peaceful compared to the Grim Reaper’s cruelty. According to Japanese, there is more than one “Shinigami” and every one of them differs in terms of appearance (Geller, pars. 2-7). Nowadays, the Japanese gods of death are represented in television series. For example, in the famous Japanese manga and anime Death Note, the character “Ryuk” is a Shinigami in the story.
In the Mexican folklore, the personification of death is presented by a woman contrarily to the previous mythologies and beliefs. “Santa Muerte” is the female form of death for Mexicans who consider her the Lady of Holy Death. She is illustrated in a skeleton feminine look, dressed like a lady, wearing flowers, jewellery and holding a scythe just like the Grim Reaper. The Catholic church considers “Santa Muerte” a sort of disbelief some folks in Mexico are growing a cult as they come to pray and leave gifts for her especially the category of outlaws whom they see her as a symbol of criminality (Crobatia, pars. 9-10).
C. Death According to Ancient Civilizations:
The understanding of death, funerals, mourning and grief differs from civilization to one another depending on their ancestors and rulers’ vision of death, and how the defunct and his relatives should be treated, as a method to achieve what is called the pursuit and the continuity of life. Ancient Egypt mummies and pyramids are related to death. At that time, Egyptians considered that the “Ka” or the corpse of the departed person could enjoy the afterlife, it could eat, drink and smell just like a vivid human being. However, the “Ba” which is the soul was not able to live after death without its physical body or the “Ka”. For this reason, they used the mummification process to preserve their dead in a good shape as a preparation for their afterlife (“Death in Ancient Civilisations” pars. 1-2). Similarly, Ancient Mesopotamia or Iraq nowadays existed around the same period of Pharaohs of Egypt. However, they had a different understanding of death. Mesopotamians instead feared this phenomenon, they believed that evil spirits could flee from their tombs and get in the bodies of the living ones through their ears to ruin the world and bring sorrow and fear to it, they thought that if the corpse is not given the right burial, the dead will be resurrected to haunt those who are still alive, that is why they gave their enemies proper burials to prevent them from coming back to life to get their revenge (“Death in Ancient Civilisations” pars. 6-7). Furthermore, Ancient Greece and Rome treated death the same way, since early Romans followed the same cultural path as Greeks who explained gods through mythology, both of them believed in the afterlife and considered the same god of the underworld; “Hades” in Greek and “Pluto” in Roman; and a right burial was fundamental to both of them, who thought that if the living did not give the proper funeral to the dead, they could rise and walk again as ghosts to haunt them in the name of retaliation (“Death in Ancient Civilisations” pars. 10-12). Additionally, the ancient Chinese thought that death was just an extending of life, as they believed that the spiritual life is way longer than the ordinary life itself. In other words, they approved afterlife, the people thought that spirits of the dead influenced earth and if the living refused to take care of their tombs, they may be revived to cause damage to the people as an act of vengeance. For this reason, those who were still alive had duties for their dead ancestors by making sacrifices and rituals to praise them and to preserve the bloodline but, mainly to avoid the disaster of the resurrection (“Death in Ancient Civilisations” pars. 15-18).
D. The Domination of Death in Literature:
The previous sections treated the concept of literature and death separately. However, death has a huge influence and dominance on literature. Jennifer Gariepy says:
Among the most frequently treated subjects in literature, death—present as a theme, symbol, or plot device—exists as one of the defining elements in the writing of modern poets, dramatists, and novelists. Intertwined with the origins of literature itself, human consciousness of mortality has for centuries provided the impetus for reflection on the causes, meaning, and nature of existence. And, while treatments of death are as varied as the authors who write them, scholars have perceived in modern texts—whether for the stage, in verse, or in prose fiction—certain clearly defined approaches to this topic of nearly universal interest. (par. 1)
From this last, it is obvious that one of the main discussed topics in literature is death as it can be presented as a theme, symbol and a plot. Its appearance is common in modern poems, drama and novels in general. Death indeed has a link with the roots of literature and its foundation, mortality besides is connected to the human consciousness which leads to questions of cause, meaning and nature of existence. Furthermore, death in literature is vast due to the numerous existing writers who include it in their works.
Death is always present in books and literary works, it can appear at the beginning of the story, in the middle or at the end. Besides, it can appear in every part of the story all at once or even as a character in the plot which leads to the personification of death, Rowling’s The Tale of the Three Brothers is a clear example of that.
E. Death in Children’s Literature:
Jennifer M. Collier explains in her thesis Death in Children’s Literature: A User’s Guide, “Children are so young and full of life. They have so much to learn; the world is full of learning experiences just waiting to be discovered by them. Unfortunately, some of the lessons that children must learn on their road to adulthood are not fun and easy, such as, learning responsibility and learning that life is not always fair.” (7) From this context, being a child is like living a whole life enough to understand and find out the secrets of this world and become a grown-up. However, during this journey, the child finds difficulties to accept his duties and the injustice of life. Literature is hugely vast and does not concern a particular gender or age, as there is a kind of literature that is meant for children, it does not have to be childish all the time and can tackle serious subjects such as death.
Collier gives multiple examples of how the death of parents is explained to children through books and stories. As a first book, she mentions Lucile Clifton’s Everett Anderson’s Goodbye published in 1983, which speaks about a boy whose father died and shows that death is a natural situation in the family to help children to accept this part of life and make them aware that even the death of the loved ones is not the end of the world (18). As a second example, she puts Cindy Cohen’s Daddy’s Promise published in 1997 that speaks about a little whose father passed away because of being sick, his mother plays a major role in the process of healing her child by answering all his questions about his dead father, he also dreams about his father giving him answers on why he had to go away. This book shows the importance of communication between mothers and their children and explains the process of dying optimistically, by telling children that the spirits of their beloved ones are watching over them to make their pain and loneliness go away (18-19). Collier also gives Eloise Greenfield’s Nathanial Talking published in 1988 as another example, the story is about “Nathanial” a boy who talks about his life and how he became unsociable to people after the death of his mother, and he tells the readers the way he needs and misses her. However, he manages to surpass that sorrow and continue to live his life through positive energy and acceptance (21-22)..
Collier also gives a set of children books that speak about the death of grandparents and friends. For example, Peggy Barker’s What Happened When Grandma Died published in 1984, a book that speaks about a little girl who finally accepts and understands the death of her grandmother with the help of her father, who explained to her that her grandma is resting in heaven and living in a better place (31). Another example is Janice Cohn’s I had a Friend Named Peter published in 1987, a book that tells a story about “Betsy” a girl who lost her friend “Peter” in a car accident and she does not understand what is the meaning of death but, with the help of her parents who helped her better understand the loss of closed ones and how should “Betsy” continue to live happily with keeping a good memory of her dead friend. This book also addresses adults in the introduction, giving them pieces of advice on how to communicate with their children about death (37).
The above-mentioned books are helpful and good for children to help them understand death surpass the pain and sorrow to continue their life without traumatic effects. However, Rowling’s technique is different as it depicts death in a human shape to give it a more realistic and understandable concept, using the process of personification of death.
3. J.K Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard:
A. J.K. Rowling’s Biography:
Joanne Kathleen Rowling was born on July 31, 1965, in England in a town called Yate, “Kathleen” in fact is not her middle name but, her grandmother’s name. She studied in Wyedean School and College, St Michael's Primary School in Winterbourne, and graduated in the University of Exeter south west of England. After that, she moved to Portugal in 1990 to work as a foreign teacher meanwhile, she married a Portuguese journalist called Jorge Arantes and Rowling became a mother in 1993 after giving birth to Jessica but, the marriage did not last long and ended with a divorce leaving Rowling and her daughter alone, after that, she took Jessica and travelled to Edinburgh the capital of Scotland to stay near her younger sister Dianne Rowling. Back in 1990 while travelling on a train from Manchester to London she thought of becoming a writer and wanted to create a world of magic and fantasy, Joanne experienced a harsh period in her life raising a baby girl all by herself without her husband after the divorce but, instead of giving up she moved forward and became one the most successful authors and screenwriters in the United Kingdom and the world (“J.K. Rowling Biography” pars. 3-5).
Rowling’s first book is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, one the seven Harry Potter fantasy series which was refused many times until June 1997. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second book released in July 1998. A year after, in July 1999 she published Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban which is printed in 35 languages. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire hit shelves in July 2000 setting a new record of the fastest-selling book in 24 hours ever. After three years precisely in June 2003, she published Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince comes next in July 2005. In July 2007, Rowling released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and it was the seventh and the last one of Harry Potter series. However, with finishing her seven series which made a huge success, Joanne wrote a collection of five fables untitled The Tales of Beedle the Bard in December 2007 as handmade edition and it was officially released on December 4, 2008 (“J.K. Rowling Biography” pars. 6-14). Rowling's journey did not stop and she wrote many other books in addition to the Harry Potter movie adaptations.
B. A summary of Rowling’s The Tale of the Three Brothers:
The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a collection of five imaginary stories written by Joanne Rowling, published on December 4, 2008. Taken from the wizarding world of Harry Potter, these fairy tales present a mixture of different themes and atmospheres in a single book. Its fables are presented separately treating five different short stories: “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot.”, “The Fountain of Fair Fortune.”, “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart.”, “Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump.” and finally “The Tales of the Three Brothers.”. It is believed that magic is always referred to as evil and darkness but, Rowling changes this stereotype by relating wizarding into goodness and light.
Death is personified in Rowling’s book in “The Tale of the Three Brothers” which is Beedle’s fifth tale. It is about three brothers travelling in a twilight period. In their journey, they stopped at a profound, dangerous river which is hard to cross by swimming but, thanks to their wizarding skills, they built a magical bridge and managed to pass through the river. However, when they reached the centre of the bridge, death appeared to them in a form of a hooded strange person, full of anger and the feeling of being cheated seeing the fact that, the previous travellers generally fail to cross the river and end up dead. After that, death pretended to congratulate them for their success by offering them awards of their choices. The oldest brother, who is a combatant demanded a magical wand that can defeat any other opponent. The second brother, who is haughty wanted to disgrace death by asking for the ability to resurrect dead persons. The third and youngest one, who is modest and smart, compared to his other brothers, distrusted death and requested a cloak of invisibility in order not to be followed by death for the rest of his life.
Death let the three brothers continue their path. However, they decided to go through separate ways and live different lives. The eldest brother became invincible against other magicians with the help of death’s wand; the second one brought back to life the girl he loved in the past, and the youngest brother lived many years without being detected by death using the cloak of invisibility; yet, death kept following the three brothers to curse them one by one. The first brother ends up dead by night killed by a wizard thief who stole his wand. The second one commits suicide because the girl he resurrected acted weird and could not support the land of the living. As for the youngest brother, he finally made a mistake giving his son the cloak that was protecting him and death came to collect his last victim after a long search.
This general overview of metaphysics and its relation to death highlights the meaning of Death according to ancient civilizations and some thinkers. In literature there are countless interpretations and definitions, figures of speech are often used in literary works and three of them are almost alike: Simile, Metaphor and Personification. Besides, there is a clear metaphysical effect in literature seeing the fact that most of the literary theories are extracted from philosophy and metaphysics. But still, the theme of Death is a recurring theme in literature, in fairy tales in particular. The following chapter is an analysis of the theme of Death with a new interpretation and a new meaning.
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- Anonym, 2020, The Personification of Death in Joanne K. Rowlings "The Tale of the Three Brothers" (2008). Death and the Concept of Metaphysics and Fiction, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1024887