A Review on Philipe Aries’ Western Attitudes towards Death

On the next two chapters, Aries reveals the fact that the way people define death has transformed time to time. On the previous two chapters, Aries reveals that people in the 12th-15th centuries embraced death gracefully, which is in contrast with the way people normally embrace death nowadays. However, the early 18th century marks the first transformation of the image of death. Death, in the early of 18th century, was regarded as something shameful. In addition, the “shamefulness” of death was often associated with sex (because sex was also considered as a shameful taboo in society). Regardless the “shameful” death that people from the 18th century had, people from the early 20th century developed another interpretation of death. Death was considered painful and saddening. To some extent, death was still considered shameful not because its association with sex but the assumption that death triggered many people to “display” their sadness to public.  In addition to his explanation about the transforming image of death, Aries also provides some riveting information about things related to death, namely will, cremation, and “death as a commodity”. Among the riveting information provided, I am personally interested in discussing further “death as a commodity” as Aries has explained in the last chapter.

“Death as a commodity” was firstly initiated by Americans in the early 20th century. The failure of moving on from someone’s death may have inspired Americans living in the countryside to provide funeral and encoffinment services. People who provided funeral and enconffinment services believe that people who had lost the beloved ones still mourned over the painful death. Thus, by providing funeral and encoffinment services, people were able to bury the lost ones appropriately while at the same time they could also visit the cemetery as much as they wanted. The business offered an open chance for the mourned ones to commemorate the dead.This phenomenon may become the root of the popularity of encoffinement and funeral businesses nowadays. In recent days, funeral and encoffinement business are not solely popular among wealthy people. People who belong to middle-class community also use the service for the sake of practicality. People believed that by using the service, they save time and efforts.  Here, there might be a shifting in the way people use funeral and encoffinement services.

Despite the popularity of funeral and encoffinment services nowadays, many people still manage to preserve the long-established tradition in treating the dead. In Ende-Flores, my father’s hometown, for instance, a lot of people there still locate the cemeteries of their relatives in their yard. It is a long-held tradition for Florenese people to bury the dead in their yard since they have the belief that the dead will protect their houses. Besides, locating the cemeteries in the yard will enable people to take care of the cemeteries. In addition, despite the fact that people in general always mourn over the death of beloved ones for days, Florenese people kind of “condemn” that attitude. Florenese believe that the dead are already happy in heaven, thus there is no need to mourn over the death. In fact, they celebrate the departure of the dead to heaven by throwing some celebrations usually found in a wedding ceremony. This cultural phenomenon shows that the way people perceive death is actually shaped by the culture and tradition prevailing in the society. Despite the modernity that people are embracing, many still manage to preserve the long-held tradition because it has been something innate in their life.


Stella Maris – 14/373576/PSA/7804

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