All academic papers should include these elements, Introduction with a thesis statement,
Supporting paragraphs, conclusion.
Course: ENG 125: Introduction to Literature (ACl1242A
Use following format:
Introduction with a thesis statement
Conclusion with a restatement of the thesis
The unknown qualities of death have held sway over the human mind; the possibility of
one’s existence merely dissipating into nothingness is not a state that most individuals can handle
at first. Hence, religious ideas have always been created to explain away the unexplainable, and
to soothe the existential dread that would otherwise permeate human society. The idea of death
and the implications of the impermanence and fragile nature of death fascinate individuals, and is
prominently displayed in a number of literary works, including Tennyson’s “In Memoriam,” and
Rhys’ “I Used to Live Here Once.” Within these two literary works, such concepts surrounding
death and impermanence are heavily explored. Despite being different works of literature, both
“In Memoriam” and “I Used to Live Here Once” come to similar conclusions about the nature of
life and human existence, albeit from different origins.
Lord Tennyson’s, one of the most famed English poets, piece “In Memoriam,” is one of his
finer pieces that is both dark and brooding. His word selection and content are defining features
of the piece, using stylistic elements to bring to life an intimate portrayal of his own coping
process with the death. Written after the sudden death of a close friends of Tennyson, the piece
touches upon the grief, loss, and devastation that follows after the death of someone close to the
individual (Hass, Jasper, & Jay, 2007).
Unlike what the scope of the work may imply, “In Memoriam” is not solely dark and
brooding as it contains many hopeful elements, towards the conclusion of the story, that show
the ultimate optimism of the mourner. Although distraught with grief, the mourner wishes to find
solace with the death of their loved one, and hopes to be able to one day understand the tragedy
that has befallen them.
One of the major accomplishments of the work is that it manages to touch upon the most
important concerns of Victorian era society. More importantly, Tennyson is able to portray these
concerns in a modern and relatable way. Although the era has passed, the reader can easily sense
nuances and similarities that Victorian society had with the today’s modern society of England
and the United States (Altholz, 1976). Despite the time that has passed since the era in which
the piece is set, all individuals within society have struggled with the intellectual warfare of
evolution and the impact that that has had on the practices and acceptance of religious belief.
This struggle is evident in the process of the narrator moving through the various stages of grief,
and his capability of understanding the events that he has experienced in his life.
Tennyson also makes strong use of realism throughout “In Memoriam.” His use of
realism helps the reader understand and realize Tennyson’s own journey of the exploration of
death and the struggles he went through after the death of his close friend. Likewise, the realism
also offers the reader insight into Tennyson’s process of moving on and accepting an ultimate
faith and hope.
Masking himself as the narrator, the reader accompanies Tennyson on his mental and
spiritual journey that follows his friend’s death, where he realizes the impermanence of life’s
existence. While initially the narrator attempts to show life as definite and absolute, but the
nature of death and the realization that his friend is not returning to the earthly realm truly begins
to hit home. The palpable sorrow of the narrator at this impermanence can be seen and easily
identified throughout the work, and does not take away from the overall narrative feel within the
poem. The narrator is relatable to the reader who can sympathize with the narrator’s wish that the
love that he felt for his lost friend would be able to bring him back to life.
After wallowing in sorrow at the loss of his friend, the reader follows the narrator through
the process of moving on and Tennyson’s discovery of faith and hope. However, this only
happens after the narrator makes the realization that his friend coming back to life is impossible
and improbable, other than the saving grace and promise of the Almighty.
“Than that the victor Hours should scorn
The long result of love, and boast,
`Behold the man that loved and lost,
But all he was is overworn.”
By the conclusion of the poem, Tennyson accepts and embraces the final promise that is offered
by Christianity, and is left unburdened by the doubt that the recent theory of evolution that has
been brought into the world.
It can be derived from this work that Tennyson believed that religion, in particularly
Christianity, would be one of the great unproven truths of his time. Furthermore, his work also
shows that he understands that individuals need religion in order to accept their own place in the
world and to gain the serenity needed to deal with a devastation caused by the death of a loved
one (Wolfeyes, 2004). In this regard, religion allowed the narrator, presumably Tennyson, to
move on past the death of his friend by relying on the greater hope that there is an existence after
“I Used to Live Here Once”
Rhys’ “I Used to Live Here Once,” is in heavy contrast to the religious nature and
undertones found in Tennyson’s “In Memoriam.” While the two authors both discuss the theory
and idea of death and impermanence, Rhys’ work avoids such themes despite discussing faith.
“O living will that shalt endure
When all that seems shall suffer shock,
Rise in the spiritual rock,
Flow thro’ our deeds and make them pure,
With faith that comes of self-control,
The truths that never can be proved
Until we close with all we loved,
And all we flow from, soul in soul.”
This excerpt shows the use of death and impermanence as the theme by Rhys, his discussion of
faith, and lack of religious undertones. In fact, such themes are found consistently throughout the
entire length of Rhys’ piece.
However, while the idea of death flows throughout the entire piece, Rhys uses the theme
is such a way that the theme maintains its strength each time it is used. This allows the idea of
death to maintain validity and strength, serving as the driver of the narrator’s actions and thought
process. It is this nuanced understanding of death, and its implications that truly set this work
apart from others in the annals of English literature (Hsiao, 2009).
Unlike Tennyson’s poem whose male narrator is remains in earthly reality, Rhys’ short
story utilizes a female narrator who has left earth and exists in the afterlife. This is realized as the
narrator finds herself on a journey that she does not remember embarking, stumbling upon
remnants of a life she vaguely remembers living. The surrealist twist Rhys creates through the
reactions and interactions that the character experiences emphasize the theme of loss and love as
felt by the narrator. Likewise, the narrator’s frustrations at the lack of response generated by her
presence throughout her wanderings emphasize Rhys’ underlying theme of impermanence. Such
twists and experiences Rhys takes the reader on with the narrator are essential in helping the
reader understand and the narrator realize that she is in fact dead and existing in the afterlife.
The narrator’s actions and discoveries explore the idea of the afterlife and the potential
life led in such existence. Unlike the narrator in Tennyson’s “In Memoriam,” who struggles to
overcome the fact that his friend has died, Rhys’ narrator struggles with the fact that they have
passed on themself. This struggle is personified in the narrator’s actions of carrying out her life
as normal despite the illness that resulted in her death, and her decision to ignore the signs that
her existence has ended. The actions of the narrator go beyond the simple exploration of the
afterlife, and even address the fear of the afterlife—a deeper level of impermanence. This is
seen through the narrator’s continuous refusal to accept reality, wandering from place to place,
holding onto empty hopes to avoid the impermanence of her existence.
The narrator’s way of dealing with the realities of death is unique in its scope, and does
not linger on the cliché and the improbable. Although in a state of self-denial for a majority of
the work, she ultimately realizes that she has passed away, and the life that she once lived is no
longer here. The fragile nature of her existence is bared for the world to see.
Life continued to move on unrestricted, despite the fact that she was no longer part of
it. The cold and vacant stare of the stranger works well to represent the concept. It serves as a
strong message to both the narrator and the reader, and reinforces the reality of impermanence,
further emphasizing that the dead are of no importance to the living, as there is no interaction
between the two.
Rhys’ completed “I Used to Live Here,” using the short story format. His unique
twists added through the experiences of the characters allow him to effectively deal with the
concepts of death and impermanence without the reader losing interest, of falling into the pitfalls
commonly associated with stories of this nature. The techniques used by Rhys allow him to
effectively convey his ideas and beliefs about death and impermanence to the reader. The use of
narrative details maintained the surrealistic nature of the story, and allowed for the concept of
death and longing to be fully explored without being incredibly overwhelming and preachy.
One powerful message that Rhys communicates through the piece is that the dead,
without realizing it, haunt their own former footsteps to identify the life that they have previously
lived, and that they have involuntarily given up without noticing the fact. This is primarily
seen through the journey the narrator takes the reader on, representing the journey that she
experienced during her life, and the one she desperately wishes to continue during her death.
While Rhys uses a variety of techniques throughout “I Used to Live Here,” one
technique in particular sends a powerful message to the reader, placing enormous emphasis
upon the general theme of death and impermanence seen throughout the piece. This technique is
imagery. One of the greatest use of imagery within the story is represented by the mention of the
landscape of her life as a group of stepping stones in a river. Although important and momentous
in itself, together they form a pathway for an individual’s life that is wholly unplanned for, and
unforeseeable from the perspective of the journeyer.
In addition to the theme of death and impermanence, Rhys also touches upon the more
surrealistic topic of grief and sadness. Despite the fact that Rhys does not have the narrator
directly address grief and sadness in an obvious manner, the idea is prominent within the work.
Through the evolution of the narrator’s character, the reader can easily sense the narrator’s
frustration at the surrealism of her surroundings, with certain aspects of her wanderings being
unfamiliar to her, despite her afterlife being a product from her memories. The narrator’s
frustration continues to build until the realization that she is no longer of the earthly world
is accepted. This frustration and the evolution of the narrator can be seen as representing the
various steps of the grieving process and the struggle that individuals have with the process. This
process is further emphasized through Rhys’ decision to conclude “I Used to Live Here,” with
the narrator’s acceptance of her immortal state and her decision to embrace it regardless of her
circumstances—an allusion to the final stage of the grieving process: acceptance.
Death and Impermanence
Both Tennyson’s “In Memoriam,” and Rhys’ “I Used to Live Here,” are unique pieces
of literature that hold many qualities which differentiate the two, such as style and structure.
However, regardless of the differences, both works, address and interpret the concept of death
and impermanence of human existence with incredible nuance and a close understanding the
effects of such events on an individual. Grief, longing, suffering are all embraced within the
two pieces as natural responses to such an event, although both conclude with a unique final
realization different from each other. With no single and proper interpretation of a life event,
both pieces can be viewed as accurate in this regard, and neither can be claimed to be unrealistic
or biased in its own portrayal of death.
In comparing the two works directly, Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” is a much stronger
piece. This is based on the fact that it easily controls the conversation without blatantly betraying
the emotion and tension as experienced by the narrator. Instead of merely telling the reader the
emotional state of the individual as the narrator journeys through the crisis of life, faith, and
hope, Tennyson manages to describe the scene in such a way that the reader can intuitively
understand the narrator’s frame of mind without explicit descriptors to their personal state. This
is continually displayed throughout the work, and is one of the most endearing and memorable
parts of this narrative.
“Such clouds of nameless trouble cross
All night below the darken’d eyes;
With morning wakes the will, and cries,
‘Thou shalt not be the fool of loss.”
As can be seen from this example, “In Memoriam” is more personal and emotionally explicit
when compared to Rhys’ short story “I Used to Live Here Once”. Whether through the language,
word choice, or the technical proficiency seen throughout the work, the narrative comes off as
much more genuine and authentic in this regard.
The realistic qualities of Tennyson’s writing and development of the narrator allows
readers to easily relate. Tennyson’s writing is so strong at times that the reader can feel the
emotional connection he had with his writing and that it was not simply an artistic rendering of
what he believed such a moment to be, but rather a realistic and intimate portrayal of his own
mental anguish and torment. This helps contribute to the authenticity of “In Memoriam.”
Whether a result of style or mere vast differences in skill between the two authors in
conveying their ideas, the poem “In Memoriam” is much more effective in its approach to the
topic than the short story “I Used to Live Here Once”. Arguably, much of the differences can
be accounted for in the language used within both narratives, and the formal prerogatives of the
genre choices that both authors made. “In Memoriam” is by far more formal in language use and
style in comparison to the short story, and one can easily argue that anything written in the same
tone and vocabulary choice can sound as profound and meaningful when compared to a much
more informal writing style as used by Rhys.
In addition to differences in writing style, another major difference between these two
literary works is the perspective from which the story is told and characters are examined and
portrayed. “In Memoriam,” spends the vast majority of the time exploring the dynamic between
the narrator and the effect of his friend’s death on his life, thinking, and perception of the world,
all through the lens of the mental after-effects. On the other hand, “I Used to Live Here Once”
is more personal in the respect that it exclusively speaks of the effects of the death on the actual
deceased, more specifically the effects on their own personal perceptions and confusions that
arise from death. This exploration is done in a casual style that manages to take away much of
the ‘taboo-ness’ from the topic, and almost forces the reader to engage with the narrative by
lowering their guard.
Meanwhile, differences also lie in the conclusions drawn by or accepted by the narrators
of each piece. Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” heavily depends on the implications of religious
beliefs in order to guide the main narrator to a hopeful conclusion in regards to the death of his
friend. However, Rhys’ “I Used to Live Here Once,” has no such appeal within it, and does not
mention religious belief in the slightest, despite the story being exclusively about the journey of
a dead woman haunting the previous locations of her life. It is interesting to note the complete
differences in religious undertones, as it defines the way these authors felt about the importance
of religion in interpreting death and the impermanence of their own existence. This may have
much to do with the beliefs of that era, as the practice of Christianity was common in the
Western world at the time, and whose beliefs dominated the spectrum of personal freedom and
expression. Writing in such a way that would challenge or upset these common beliefs would
have been counterproductive. For instance, it would have been scandalous for Tennyson to
display any sort of atheism that would shake the foundations of Victorian morality.
Despite the differences in narrative style, technical skills, and overall intention of the
author, both Tennyson’s “In Memoriam,” and Rhys’ “I Used to Live Here Once,” managed to
accurately and faithfully demonstrate and portray the effects of death on the lives of individuals
both intimately connected to the deceased individual, and the deceased individual themselves.
Both managed to stay away from the obvious cliché’s that one can become vulnerable to when
engaging in this topic, and both masterfully described and set the scene with a professional and
realistic style that intimately immerses the reader within the finer details of these characters
When taken at face value, the differences between these two works can easily be seen.
However, deeper exploration and examination of each literary work reveals that these differences
are shallow at best. Both of these works share a connection by intimately exploring the theme of
death and impermanence, which is portrayed though the narrator’s interactions with their own
personal situations in each piece. Despite the differences in situations, both characters come
to similar conclusion that death must be accepted merely displays the universality of opinions
regarding the subject.
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