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Quotes

Quote #1

When I was eight, she got a letter saying her husband had been killed by a runaway horse. That was her worst day. She didn't say a word for months. My father had only been dead two years, so Mother knew just what lay in Eliza's heart. They both supped sorrow with a big spoon, that's what Mother said. It took years, but the smile slowly returned to Eliza's face. She didn't turn sour like Mother did. (2.15)

Both Eliza's husband and Mattie's father were killed when Mattie was very young. Death is thought of by her as a part of the past rather than the present. Also, while Eliza and Lucille share a similar loss, they cope with their personal tragedies in very different ways. Why do you think that is?

Quote #2

I kept my eyes closed, trying to see Polly happy, joking, maybe stealing a kiss with Matthew, then bursting through the door to tell me. It couldn't be real. How could Polly be dead? (3.9)

The death of the serving girl Polly marks the novel's first casualty from the fever, and Mattie is in shock from the news. For Mattie, death is still something unreal or only seen at a great distance. In this case, the late Polly's love for her beau Matthew allows death to become something tragic and maybe even a little bit romantic. Note, too, that the love between Polly and Matthew allows us to juxtapose death with its opposite: life.

Quote #3

Bong. Bong. Bong.

A little boy sitting on the cobblestones covered his ears. The chattering marketplace voices hushed as the ringing continued. Every face turned toward the bell swaying in its tower.

"Another person dead," said the butcher. He brought his cleaver down, slicing the mutton leg on his table into two pieces. "The bell rings once for each year the person lived," he explained. (5.79-5.81)

For whom the bell tolls, indeed! The church bell tolling in the marketplace is a symbolic reminder of those who pass. Again, for Mattie, death is something experienced as a symbol rather than as a first-hand encounter. Why is this scene juxtaposed with a butcher chopping meat (i.e., food)? How is death here juxtaposed with life?

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