In Lincoln In The Bardo, George Saunders Examines Abraham

1279 WordsMay 5, 20176 Pages
In Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders examines Abraham Lincoln’s paternal grief over the course of a single day, beginning with the loss of his third son, William Wallace Lincoln, affectionately known as “Willie”. The novel is a work of historical fiction, however, it goes beyond the label by combining the citation of primary and secondary historical accounts with the creation of a fantastical afterlife filled with nontraditional “ghosts” to form the central narration of the story. Unlike most Lincoln fiction and nonfiction, there is only a negligible focus on the Civil War, and the time period is indicated more so by the speech patterns of the multiple narrators and minor environmental details, such as the mention of telegraphs. Often…show more content…
The purpose of Lincoln in the Bardo appears to be Saunders’ attempting to tackle complex questions about love, life, and death by placing it in a famous context close to the heart of America. In using Abraham Lincoln, one of the United States’ most beloved and well-known leaders, Saunders is able to elevate the common theme of familial loss to tell a story that’s paradoxically both intensely personal and exceptional, but also accessible to a majority of people. The novel is brimming with human truths, putting words to emotional hardships shared by all. The loss of Willie, a boy mentioned to be “…more quiet than that of the unpredictable Tad; he was amiable, cheerful, mature for his age, and the one who was most popular with his playmates,” shook the entire Lincoln family, even though he wasn’t the first, Edward Baker Lincoln only lived to be three years old, and his passing is described to have, “…left a scar in the hearts of the parents which undoubtedly contributed toward their complete indulgence of the other children” (Randall 7). It’s Lincoln deep love for his son that allows him to enter the titular “bardo”, a translation of a Tibetan word with origin in Buddhist tradition. In the story, the bardo acts as a sort of purgatory where the dead roam. Lincoln’s presence in this metaphysical in-between isn’t special however, it’s his interactions with the ghost of his son. In an early scene, Lincoln visits the crypt where Willie body is being kept and holds him.

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