Famous Last Words: Relationship, Status, Memory, and the Pervasive Power of Obituaries
thesisposted on 2020-05-14, 00:00 authored by Mary Kate Gorman
Death is our one shared experience. It is the one thing that every single human being will encounter. I’m not really interested in writing about death and dying, but I am interested in what people do with and how they respond to the inevitability of death. Though we like to think we are rational creatures, the obituary, the defining text of our existence, is wrapped up in all the irrational thoughts, anxieties, and implicit assumptions about life, how we value ourselves, how we value each other, and yet, this genre that yields rich insights about what we value is rarely studied or written about. Yes, there is a niche audience of people who are into it (enter the Society of Professional Obituary Writers) but the whole practice of reading and writing obituaries is so ubiquitous and familiar as to be invisible, and it’s worth examining how we are memorializing people and what that says about us. In this project, I argue that the genre is wrapped up in how we make sense of the world. We expect it to confirm our sense of "good" relationships, it reflects our judgements and evaluations of people, and we expect it to contain different information based on who has died.