Essay: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived – Robin Black

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 5 minutes
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  • Published on: December 27, 2019
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  • Divorced, Beheaded, Survived - Robin Black
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Kids are the definition of innocence. They get to live a big part of their lives with only joy and happiness. As a kid you haven’t gotten to know the more serious dangers and problems in life, such as death. Every parent wants to protect their children for as long as they can, and as much as they can. But can a child be protected from those serious things that happen in every person’s life forever? The short story “… Divorced, Beheaded, Survived” written in 2010 by Robin Black, deals with this topic talking about Sarah, a mother of two, who lost her older brother Terry back in 1973, when she was only in fourth grade. Her own son, Mark, a few years older than Sarah was, experiences a similar scenario, when a friend of his dies in a car accident. Sarah now has to figure out if she should ignore that fact, and continue to try to protect her son, or if they should talk about it to help him get through it.

As mentioned before, the main character in this short story is Sarah, a mother of a sixteen and a twelve year old, Mark and Coco. (ll. 59-60). Sarah lost her brother Terry, when she was in fourth grade. He got sick in 1973 and died a little later in 1974. It shocked Sarah a lot, because she hadn’t had to deal with either sickness or death before then: “That was the spring of fourth grade for me, 1973 – the last months before Terry got sick, and then sicker, and then got better for a little bit, but then died in ’74, which shocked me when it happened (…)”. (ll. 48-50). That same spring in 1973 was the center of a play that Sarah, Terry and the neighborhood kids played. They were truly fascinated by the beheading of Anne Boleyn, who all the kids would fight about getting to play: “(…) there were fights over who would get to play her [Anne Boleyn]. Even the boys loved everything about being the Lady Anne.” (ll. 3-4). – “But the beheading was just too good not to fight over.” (ll. 13-14). They all played the part serious and convincing, and they would play it as detailed and specific as possible: “And when I was Anne, I would then offer her my hand, to kiss and to hold as I knelt. Looking up to the sky, I would press my palms together, as if in prayer – or as I imagined people praying might do.” (ll. 20-22). The kids were all young and probably none of them had experienced or dealt with death before, and that could be the reason they found the tale of Anne Boleyn’s beheading so exciting. That changed rapidly when Sarah’s brother Terry got sick, and later died. The kids stopped coming over to play, and they didn’t know what to say to either Sarah or Terry: “And one by one the other children began avoiding us. We had played together all our lives, and then it ended. There was no ease between us.” (ll. 104-106). Sarah herself became isolated, and didn’t talk to anyone about her brother’s death. It became a real taboo to her: “But in real life, it was all silent hours. Vacant stares.” (l. 101). Even 30 years after the loss of her brother, she is obviously still worried about it. Because she wants to protect her own children she hides the only picture of Terry she has, so that her kids won’t be asking questions about it: “More than a decade ago, as soon as I thought Mark was old enough to ask me questions, I made the decision to put away the picture of my brother that I had carried from my parents’ home to college” (ll. 131-133). When Mark loses his friend in an accident, he almost reacts the exact same way as his mother did when she lost her brother. He isolates himself and doesn’t talk to anyone: “And I don’t think Mark’s spoken very much to any of his friends since then. Not about Peter. He goes off to school, and comes right home. Heads straight for his room and closes the door.” (ll. 148-150). Mark’s sister, Coco, is worried about him and asks if he is going to be okay: “Coco’s asked me if he’s going to be okay, and I tell her that he will. And I know that he will. It just takes time, I tell her. It’s only been a few weeks. It’ll take some more time.” (ll. 150-152). Mark asks Sarah about how it was when her brother died. She is forced to open up and tell him about it, so that she can help him through that hard time he is going through. “What was it like, Mom? (…) There is no secret answer. It was terribly, terribly hard.” (ll. 157-163).

A first person narrator tells the short story: “That was the spring of fourth grade for me (…)” (l. 48). The story is told from a personal view, and as readers, we get really close to Sarah’s thoughts and feelings: “I don’t think about Terry every day, anymore. And sometimes I’m stunned by that fact. It isn’t only the discomfort of disloyalty I feel, (…)” (ll. 127-128). The story isn’t told in a chronologic way, instead Sarah jumps back and forth in time: “(…) And he didn’t seem to need me, anymore. I sat next to my son where he lay stretched on the couch.” (ll. 106-108). Many flashbacks are used to draw parallels between Sarah’s past and present, in which death is a general subject in the parallels. Death is also the main thing that connects the past and present. What she experienced as a child, has brought her a lot of thoughts about how she can protect her own children for as long as possible: “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the ways we try to protect our children.” (l. 65).

Black uses a number of symbols in her short story such as Sarah’s parents’ backyard for example. The kids play happy and not concerned about the world outside. They see the beheading of Anne Boleyn as exciting, so exciting that they are fighting to play her part. That changes once Terry gets sick and dies. Death has taken place, and no one wants to talk about it anymore. Mark and Coco are 16 and 12 years old now, and their happy playtime in the backyard is over as well, because they’re going to make acquaintance with death soon too. Anne Boleyn’s death in the play can be seen as a warning of Terry’s death: “This is the part where Anne learns for certain that she’s going to die.” (l. 96). Sarah putting away the picture of Terry, could be a symbol of her not wanting to talk about death, she ignores it not only to protect herself, but also her kids, which is her own way of protection. Finally, the title and one of the last lines: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” (l. 174), can be seen as Sarah’s development throughout the short story. She is divorced from her brother when he gets sick, then beheaded when he dies, and she survives by going through her grief. The title is connected to the end, and basically says, that no matter what happens in life, we should continue living our lives.

The short story by Robin Black is trying to teach us, that ignoring hard things and refusing to talk about them, won’t help. It is impossible to protect your children from sickness and death. It won’t help them by not talking about it. We shouldn’t be scared to talk about death, as it can do more harm than good if we don’t. We should protect our children by talking about the hard things, and not by putting them away and letting them become a taboo.

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