All kids possess an innate purity that makes them ready to meet life in an unconcerned and cheerful way. Yet, they haven’t become familiar with the more genuine components in life, for example, disease and demise. Commonly, all people need to safeguard their kids against the encounter with death, yet how far would it be advisable for them to go in their exertions to do so? Robin Black’s short story “‘ Divorced, Beheaded, Survived” (2010) revolves around these inquiries, as it shows a woman, Sarah, who herself lost her infantile purity, when her older sibling, Terry, passed on at a youthful age. Sarah has now become a parent herself when her child, Mark, encounters comparable situations. Presently the inquiry for Sarah is the way to respond. Should she converse with Mark and present him to the genuine parts of life, or would it be a good idea for her to attempt to disregard the inquiry to ensure her child and let him keep his purity a short time further?
In the short story we are presented to Sarah, who is a mother of two children, Mark and Coco. When Sarah was 10 years old her older brother, Terry, became a victim of decease and died. Sarah had never experienced death before, at this early age. Which meant Terry’s decease came as a great shock for her, ‘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, but now, thirty years later, it seems to have been as inevitable a conclusion as the strike of Molly’s axe’ (ll. 48-51). Sarah refers to a game that the children in the neighborhood played that spring. In turn, they enact the beheading of Anne Boleyn. The kids are intrigued by the character of Anne Boleyn, and they literally fight over who gets to enact her role, ” the beheading was just too good not to fight over’ (ll. 13-14). The whole scene is shrouded in excitement and thrill, and the youngsters are really careful to enact the dramatic event as detailed and dedicated as possible. As ridiculous as it may seem, the children find death to be an exhilarating and exotic piece of their game, which is only possible because none of them have ever experienced death in their life. All of this changes when Terry becomes ill and eventually dies. The other kids stop dropping by their house and Sarah finds herself isolated and alone with her thoughts. Sarah experiences how death becomes a taboo, which nobody dares to break down, ‘in real life, it was all silent hours. Vacant stares’ (l. 101). Now Sarah is a grown-up with two kids on her own, Mark (16) and Coco (12). Even though it has been 30 years, it is obvious that she is still concerned about Terry’s death. Because of the traumatizing experiences in her own childhood, Sarah is very concerned about how to protect Mark and Coco and keep their childish innocence unharmed. So she puts away her only picture of Terry in a drawer, ‘It just seemed to me to be too hard on the children, too hard on Mark particularly to have that happy boy face smiling down, and to know what had happened to that other boy’ (ll. 136-138). But Mark’s innocence is lost when he hears about his friend’s death. He reacts in the exact same way Sarah did 30 years ago by isolating himself and not wanting to speak to anybody. When Mark finally asks Sarah, how it was when his uncle Terry died, Sarah is forced to open up and talk about her memories. She explains Mark, how hard it was, and in this way she shows Mark a way to work through his grief.
Right from the start Black’s short story uses a structure that is characterized by a very personal style, many flashbacks and death as a general theme to draw parallels between the past and the present. First of all the story is told through a first person narrator, which means that the story is presented to us in Sarah’s words and through her thoughts, ‘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). In this way, readers of the short story get a close picture of Sarah’s concerns and emotional life. Furthermore, the story is presented as a compilation of flashbacks, that jumps back and forth between Sarah’s childhood and the present. The flashbacks show us that Sarah is still very concerned about the past and her brother’s death. Finally, we see how death is the overall theme of the short story that connects the past with the present. Because of the traumatizing experiences in her childhood, Sarah has done a lot of thinking about how to protect her own children from the matter of death, ‘I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the ways we try to protect our children. And ourselves’ (ll. 65-66). Sarah knows that death changes everything for the child, and she wants to keep Mark and Coco away from that experience.
In the short story Robin Black makes use of a number of symbols where concrete objects appear as symbols of other, more intangible things. For instance the backyard in the story is made a symbol of the innocent childhood. Here the children play happily and unconcerned, and they still have a free and open-minded relation to death. They find Anne Boleyn’s decapitation exciting and fascinating, and they literally fight over her role. To Sarah’s children, who are now 12 and 16 years old, the happy and innocent games in the backyard are over, ‘The children are too old now to play out there much when we go up, though I used to watch them dart around the wild, thorny rosebushes in games of tag’ (p. 3, ll. 57-58). This can be seen as a symbol of the fact that they are not entirely children anymore, and that they will be acquainted with death before long. Furthermore, Anne Boleyn’s decapitation can be seen as an omen of Terry’s death. Terry does a great imitation of Anne, and the resemblance between the two can be interpreted as a sign that Terry is also going to die, ‘This is the part where Anne learns for certain that she’s going to die [‘] No more chances. She’s doomed.’ (‘) And Terry would hold his face in both his hands, his shoulders heaving in enormous, racking, make-believe sobs’ (ll. 96-100). Immediately after this we learn that Terry is critically ill. The picture of Terry which Sarah keeps in a drawer can be seen as a symbol of her unwillingness to talk about death. She tries to hide death away, not only to her kids, but also to herself, as it still hurts too much to talk about it. Finally, the title of the short story, ” Divorced, Beheaded, Survived’, can be seen as a symbol of the development in the narrative. At first, Sarah is separated from her brother (‘divorced’) when he gets sick. Terry dies (‘beheaded’) and thereby Sarah is not only separated from her big brother, but also from her innocent and spontaneous approach to life. But she gets through (‘survived’) and so the title shows us that we are obligated to continue with our own lives even though we lose our loved ones.
Robin Black’s short story teaches us that we must never be afraid of talking about death. The narration shows us how Sarah loses her childish innocence and how death becomes a terrible thing that you don’t talk about. When she becomes a mother she wants to protect her children against the same experience. But you can’t keep your children protected from neither life nor death and as it turns out Sarah is forced to introduce Mark to the terrible truth. The short story teaches us that the only thing that helps us overcome death is being able to talk about it.
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