Study Guide

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Sadness

By Seth Grahame-Smith

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My struggles with depression. The times I thought about running away. The times I thought about killing myself. (Introduction.29)

Abe is the saddest character in the book, but he's not the only one. The narrator and Abe share a few qualities, so it's not so surprising that they share occasional depression and suicidal thoughts. But why connect the narrator to Abe in this way? Does it shed any light on Abe's sadness?

The grieving boy didn't sleep a wink that night. "I could think only of the injustice I had done another living thing, and the fear I had seen in its eyes as the promise of life slipped away." (1.10)

This isn't a major depression on Abe's part, but killing a turkey clearly bums Abe out. (Conversely, it makes the rest of his family well-fed.) It's curious that this sadness is connected to the turkey's mortality, which is not usually how we think about turkeys. We usually think of them between slices of bread. Too soon?

However, I will never forget my mother and father's torment. To describe it would be an exercise in futility. It is the sort of suffering that cannot be done justice with words. I can say only this—that I suspect it is an anguish from which one never recovers. A walking death. (1.30)

Abe's talking about the depression his parents feel after losing their youngest kiddo. But it's a nice dose of foreshadowing, too. Abe suspects that it's an anguish from which one never recovers, and later, he'll experience that exact same anguish. He just doesn't know it yet.

If Thomas Lincoln ever tried to comfort his children in the wake of their mother's death—if he ever asked them how they felt, or shared his own grief—there is no record of it. He seems to have spent the months after her burial in near-total silence. Waking before dawn. Boiling his coffee. Picking at his breakfast. Working till nightfall, and (more often than not) drinking himself into a stupor. A short grace at supper was often the only time Abe and Sarah heard his voice. (2.2)

Here's a man in major need of grief counseling. Too bad they didn't have that in 19th-century America. All Thomas Lincoln had was the bottle, and eventually a new wife to help him move on. This scene gives us a hint as to where Abe's own battles with the blues may have come from. It looks like his abolitionist beliefs weren't the only thing he inherited from papa.

"It is in this century, Abraham, that most of us turn to suicide—either by starving ourselves, staking ourselves through the heart, devising some method of taking our own heads, or, in the most desperate cases, by burning ourselves alive." (3.89)

Vampires may be rich and immortal and sparkly (no, wait, not that), but they can get depressed, too. It ain't easy being undead. Apparently, being immortal can be a big old bummer. They've got way too much free time on their hands.

It had taken him months to emerge from the crippling depression brought on by Ann's death—and while it had renewed his hatred of vampires, he found himself without the energy and passion to hunt them. Now, when a letter from St. Louis arrived in Henry's handwriting, it might go unopened for days (and once opened, it might be weeks before Abe attended to the name inside). Sometimes, if the errand required too much travel, he sent Jack Armstrong in his stead. (7.9)

After his mom died, Abe wanted to run away; after Ann dies, Abe just wants to sit around, watching reruns of The Wonder Years (which is what we call Tuesday—but that's mostly Netflix's fault). It's curious that Abe has a renewed hatred of vampires but no energy to actually kill them. How will Abe get his vampire-killing groove back?

The specter of death, which had hung over the old vampire hunter since his ninth year, seemed at last to be lifting. (9.16)

Now that Abe has given up on politics and vampire-killing, things seem to be turning out okay. This may be a lesson to all of us—if things are going badly, just give up on your destiny. Seriously though, Abe seems to be less depressed when he deals with his family duties rather than his vampire-killing duties, which makes sense. It's a lot more fun to play with your kids than it is to lop off an undead head. Most of the time.

I was moved to tears as they passed, saluting me—for in each of their faces I saw the face of a nameless victim crying out for justice; of a little girl passing by on the Old Cumberland Trail all those many years ago. On each of their faces I saw the anguish of the past, and the promise of the future. (12.87)

But don't take the lesson of quote #7 too much to heart. Fulfilling his duty makes Abe content at the very least, as we see here. He looks over the first African-American troops in the Civil War and draws a connection to his past observations of slavery's inequality. Maybe there's something more important than happiness—like destiny.

Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You cannot now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before. (12.14)

This is Abe's letter to Fanny McCullough to comfort her when her father William dies in the Civil War. Abe's argument is more than a little weird: you'll be able to be happy in the future, which may make you happy now. But what really gets us is the idea that these losses don't disappear—they become "a sad sweet feeling in your heart." Or in most of Abe's experience, it becomes anger towards vampires. (Fun fact: this letter is real.)

A lifetime of war had finally taken its toll on Abe. He'd felt increasingly weak since Willie's death. Clouded and unsure. The lines in his face were deeper, and the skin beneath his eyes sagged so as to make him appear forever exhausted. Mary was nearly always depressed, and her rare moments of levity were spent on frenzied fits of decorating and redecorating, or on séances to "commune" with her beloved Eddy and Willie. She and Abe hardly spoke beyond simple civilities. (13.5)

Depression doesn't just hurt individuals, it can also damage relationships and marriages. And just as there were no grief counselors in the 1860s, there was no couples' therapy, either. So Abe is given some sense of duty and destiny by his sad losses, but that doesn't make them happy losses—they're still terrible things with unexpected and terrible consequences, like a weird, New-Agey wife.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Sadness Study Group

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