1. What is it?
Mortality is the acknowledgement that with life comes eventual and inevitable death.
In literature mortality usually describes a character contemplating death and the fragility of life.
2. How is it made?
|A character begins a monologue or conversation in in which the inevitability of death is discussed. This may be because the character is soon to die.||The character contemplates whether life has meaning and what are the most meaningful aspects of life.|
|Through nostalgia, memory or contemplation, the character considers whether they have lived a good life.||If the character regrets how they have lived, this may lead to a sudden change in values, doing of good deeds, and resolution of personal conflicts.|
|Often the character finally dies.|
3. Examples in literature
Sleeping at Last
Know Your Book
by Christina Rossetti
Title: Sleeping at Last
Author: Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Genre: Poetry; death
Synopsis: The poem describes the peace of dying after a hard life. It suggests that deathis a welcome break from the pain of living, and thankfully life can no longer wake the deceased.
Sleeping at last, the trouble and tumult over,
Sleeping at last, the struggle and horror past,
Cold and white, out of sight of friend and of lover,
Sleeping at last.
No more a tired heart downcast or overcast,
No more pangs that wring or shifting fears that hover,
Sleeping at last in a dreamless sleep locked fast.
Fast asleep. Singing birds in their leafy cover
Cannot wake her, nor shake her the gusty blast.
Under the purple thyme and the purple clover
Sleeping at last.
|Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension|
1. In brief, what is the poem about?
2. What has the poet felt about life so far?
3. What euphemism is used for death in this poem?
4. What examples of anaphora are presented within this poem?
5. What rhyme structure is used?
6. Which two words emphasise to the reader that the poet/narrator has been looking forward to death?
7. What does the phrase ‘locked fast’ mean here?
8. ‘Under the purple thyme and the purple clover’: to what does this phrase refer?
9. What is the relevance of nature in the final stanza?
10. How does the poem discuss mortality? How is the knowledge of death being a necessary element of life used?
11. What do you think of Rossetti’s attitude to life and death?
12. In your opinion, is there ever a case for death being preferable to life?
13. In some cultures – for example New Orleans, Ireland, and Ghana – funerals are often a celebration of life. Do you think such a funeral is apt?
The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Know Your Book
by Ernest Hemingway
Title: The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Author: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Genre: Fiction; short story
Plot: Harry and Helen are on safari, where Harry is dying of gangrene. Facing death, Harry initially becomes irritable about minor issues, but soon starts to analyse his life. He concludes that although he had fun, he never fulfilled his potential. Other thoughts come to him: women he has known, including several prostitutes; a story he never wrote; people he would prefer to die beside instead of Helen; and the mercy of dying without pain. With that, he has one last dream about Kilimanjaro.
Setting: African safari
Characters: Harry; Helen
“How do you feel?” she said. She had come out from the tent now after her bath.
“Could you eat now?” He saw Molo behind her with the folding table and the other boy with the dishes.
“I want to write,” he said.
“You ought to take some broth to keep your strength up.”
“I’m going to die tonight,” he said. “I don’t need my strength up.”
“Don’t be melodramatic, Harry, please,” she said.
“Why don’t you use your nose? I’m rotted half way up my thigh now. What the hell should I fool with broth for? Molo bring whiskey-soda.”
“Please take the broth,” she said gently.
The broth was too hot. He had to hold it in the cup until it cooled enough to take it and then he just got it down without gagging.
“You’re a fine woman,” he said. “Don’t pay any attention to me.”
She looked at him with her well-known, well-loved face from Spur and Town & Country, only a little the worse for drink, only a little the worse for bed, but Town & Country never showed those good breasts and those useful thighs and those lightly small-of-back-caressing hands, and as he looked and saw her well-known pleasant smile, he felt death come again.
This time there was no rush. It was a puff, as of a wind that makes a candle flicker and the flame go tall.
“They can bring my net out later and hang it from the tree and build the fire up. I’m not going in the tent tonight. It’s not worth moving. It’s a clear night. There won’t be any rain.”
So this was how you died, in whispers that you did not hear. Well, there would be no more quarrelling. He could promise that. The one experience that he had never had he was not going to spoil now. He probably would. You spoiled everything. But perhaps he wouldn’t.
“You can’t take dictation, can you?”
“I never learned,” she told him.
“That’s all right.”
There wasn’t time, of course, although it seemed as though it telescoped so that you might put it all into one paragraph if you could get it right.
|1. Harry’s attitude in this scene reflects|
a) his disappointment in his life
b) his love of adventure
c) an inability to process what is happening
d) he is resigned to his fate
e) a fear of leaving his wife alone
|2. Based on Harry’s words in this scene, of what is he most likely dying?|
a) Lung disease
e) Old age
|3. Of what is Harry worried about spoiling?|
a) The trip
b) A poignant, peaceful death
c) His wife’s high opinion of him
d) His appearance
e) His legacy
|4. In a single word paragraph, the writer simply writes ‘in’. What does this word symbolise?|
a) A new spirit entering Harry for reincarnation
b) Harry drinking his broth
c) Harry trying to reject his fate
d) Harry finally understanding his wife’s love for him
e) Death entering Harry’s body
|5. What are the contrasting attitudes to death in Sleeping at Last and The Snows of Kilimanjaro respectively?|
a) Disappointed vs. fascinated
b) Mature vs. childish
c) Joy vs. confusion
d) Masochism vs. fear
e) Welcoming vs. reluctant acceptance