Fear and Inability to Accept Death in “in the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried Essay
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Amy Hempel reveals the truth of the fear of death and our inability to accept our own mortality in her minimalistic story, “In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried”. She explores the ideals of death and how we are constantly separating ourselves from death and from those who have died as we cannot fathom death and the idea of one ceasing to exist. The tools of imagery through symbolism, and aspects of minimalism through point of view to help to highlight the theme of the fear of death and our inability to accept one’s passing.
Hempel’s major symbols used in “In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried”, both stem from the name in the title, “Al Jolson”. Al Jolson was a white actor in the fifties who would often paint his face black for films (in those days this was referred to as a “Blackface”) to portray a dark-skinned character as dark-skinned people were not allowed to be actors. Jolson essentially wore a physical mask of black paint while the women wear both physical and metaphorical masks. In the hospital, the women must don the face masks and yet they are also hiding and masking their true feelings and (mainly the narrators), fear of death by hiding behind trivial stories and facts. In the opening line, “Tell me things I won’t mind forgetting ... make it useless stuff or skip it.” (lines 1-2) The friend subtly tells the narrator that she does not want to listen to anything of meaning, just trivial things as she does not want to face the idea of death and that she will die very soon so she hides behind her mask and accepts the false facts while off-putting her own reality. Hempel creates this mask imagery and symbol to highlight the theme of our desire to avoid death and our inability to accept it, so that these characters can indeed hide from the idea of death, from behind these metaphorical masks. The second use of imagery in the short story is that of movie