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Jessica Mitford, and Cultural Myths About Death


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In your notebook or on a loose-leaf sheet of paper, write nonstop for 5 minutes about what shocked, disturbed, intrigued, or impressed you most about Jessica Mitford's "The Embalming of Mr. Jones" (Patterns in College Writing, p. 263). The most important question to answer here, however, is WHY, but take inspiration from any (or all) of the following questions:

  • Why did you react this way?
  • Which of your own filters or attitudes were tested by Mitford's writing?
  • In what way(s) did you most connect to Mitford's writing (even if you didn't "connect" to most of it).
  • What's the most likely reason you related to Mitford's writing as you did?
Study Questions

Gather into small groups (groups of 4) and discuss your responses to the following:

  1. Compare and contrast your free-written reactions to Mitford. What are the common denominators, and why? What filters do you have in common as a group? What are the differences of reaction, and why? What individual or personal filters have come into play to make your reading of Mitford's essay different from others'?
  2. What attitudes about mortality and death are criticized implicitly in Mitford's revealing analysis of the mortuary industry? Who or what is responsible for promoting these attitudes? Why?
  3. Mitford doesn't propose any answer to this problem she identifies. What do you think should be done, if anything? Regardless of how practical or impractical, extend Mitford's argument with your own about how people's attitudes concerning death and mortality might be changed, and what the advantages of this might be.
  4. Mitford uses the "facts" of the embalming process to reinforce her agenda. How objectively does she present and use these facts? What bias (if any) can you point out in her writing? Would recognizing bias in Mitford's writing cause you to come to the defense of the mortuary industry? Why?
  5. Expand and apply your discussion now to other topics. Examine something else that, like the mortuary industry, might spark a critical discussion about a cultural myth. You may, if you like, use this to begin brainstorming your topics for the first essay assignment, but you do not have to commit to an assignment topic yet.
Last Updated: 02/15/2017


Karl J. Sherlock
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