Deep Dive: At Last, Death

A tale of terrifying humor

"There he is at last, Death," Poppy Williams writes in the opening line of her story At Last, Death. Personifying death is a classic concept that verges almost on cliche; think back to the grim-reaper character shown in almost every adaptation of A Christmas Carol. But Williams shows her writing stripes by putting her own spin on this classic story cliche. The way she does this is twofold: first, by using a "you" narrator, and second by employing absurd humor to make death into a comic figure, rather than a horrifying one.

A story that laughs at you

A second-person narrative is one that is told to the reader. Many songs are written in the second-person, especially love songs, and its one of the reasons that they feel so personal. It is as if the speaker is sitting in the room with you, telling you a story about you to yourself - one that you already know. The beauty of using the second-person narration is that you don't already know the story. It unfolds with the telling. This allows Williams to connect you with death, to put you on intimate terms with what's happening. "...you listen to the birds and the same sun warms your face as you get distracted in living, in being alive." In this way, it isn't a third-person narrator with whom you must relate in order to feel connected to the narrative, but rather yourself. Williams insists: this is happening to you. But it's more than just feeling connected: the last line of the story is brilliant in how it not only narrates, but also issues a challenge. As you're being led away from your life, the story explains, "You don't look back." Of course you want to look back! This could be your last opportunity to see the life you built for yourself, but the story forces "you", the subject and listener of the story, to comply. You can't look back, not because you aren't able, but because you don't. It's a beautiful duality.

Death, hilariously bored

This second-person narrative is hugely important, but so is the way that death is treated in this story. Dying is talked about as if it were merely any happenstance. It's approached as though dying is no large thing at all, and this subverts our expectations. Common knowledge seems to be that death is a monumentally important and catastrophic event. By painting it as a boring, almost droll occurrence, Williams makes it humorous. The reprieve, even if it's only brief, from our constant anxiety over our own eventual demise, is glorious and funny. Dying, she seems to suggest, is no more or less complicated and interesting than getting your license renewed or paying a traffic ticket. There are large things at work, here, and we are not the most important center of the universe. In fact, death is ticked off that we're taking so long, because we're merely another moment in his workday.

summary

By using the second-person narrative and making her narrative absurd and humorous, Poppy Williams succeeds in creating a story that is at once familiar and far away. The "you" narrator allows us to relate to this story instantly while being challenged by the decisions made by the "you" who is not you. The absurd, humorous realization that death is not quite the horror that we thought, contributes to making this story a joyous read. Death probably isn't going to be as boring and routine as a visit to the dentist's office, but it's certainly beautiful to believe, if only for two minutes, that it doesn't have to be such a sordid affair. 

To read this story, and many other great pieces of short fiction, download Chronicle.

 

About the Author

Pops is an eighteen year old student and aspiring author from England. She loves her cat, Mavis, and all things mythology. In her spare time she drinks white wine and wishes she could time travel back to Ancient Greece. You can find her other works here.