Dead End in Norvelt
How we cite our quotes:
'How does a town die' I asked.
'One old person at a time,' she said deliberately. (2.115-16)
History and stories die with each person's passing, and if the stories aren't carried forward, you get the figurative death of an entire town—especially if younger people do not move in to replace them. But here's the question: everyone dies, and, at some point, that's a good thing (after a long, healthy life). Is it ever okay for towns to die? What's the difference between the death of a town and the death of a person?
When I was first getting to know [Bunny] we were in a viewing room at the funeral parlor looking at a new line of cigar-shaped caskets that were called 'Time Capsules of the Future.' They were made out of polished aluminum and seemed very sleek with a little glass window where the cadaver's face could be viewed. The idea was you were buried with all your favorite things and in a thousand years a relative would dig you up and sift through your rotted remains and stuff. (5.3)
While something about this seems appealing—we'd kind of love to know what our 1000-year-old ancestors were up to—Gantos seems to think that these "time capsules" are missing the point. We don't need to go rooting around in people's graves to learn about the past; all we need to do (and it's a big one) is remember, and respect, our history.
The blistering flames rising above the house were just waving goodbye to everyone who was watching. And even for those not watching it was a piece of history dropping to its knees before disappearing forever. (14.33)
The way Jack describes this scene, the Hells Angels' arson is as bad as murder. The house is personified as someone "waving goodbye" and "dropping to its knees." Sure, burning down a house can kill the inhabitants—but even empty houses have histories. And, if you burn down a piece of history, you're killing all the memories of the people who lived there. As Jack's mom points out: '[I]t says you have no respect for human life, or anything' (14.25).