Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

by

George Saunders

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Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Willie walk-skims with Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend, a woman joins them and lists off the names of various “wildwoods flowers.” As she exhibits her vast botanical knowledge to Willie, a man follows behind her, groping her and bragging about his “subtle understanding of the significant aspects of” female clothing. Just as this woman is about to sing a song for Willie, she and the groping man halt. “Oh no,” she says, “I won’t go no closer. Good day to you, sirs.” With this, she and her lusty companion hastily retreat.
One common characteristic among the Bardo-dwellers is that they all yearn to tell some sort of story having to do with their obsessions. As this woman talks to Willie, she reveals her preoccupation with “wildwoods flowers,” talking for no apparent reason other than to make her presence known. Likewise, the man groping her won’t stop boasting about his own clothing-related genius. These fixations, it seems, are part of what keep such people in the Bardo—unable to let go of their obsessions, they spend eternity rehashing their stories. Thus they remain tethered to the world, unwilling to let go of their previous lives.
Themes
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
“We had reached the edge of an uninhabited wilderness of some several hundred yards that ended in the dreaded iron fence,” Hans Vollman says, and Roger Bevins III explains that this is the “noxious limit beyond which” they cannot “venture.” Affixed to this fence lies the Traynor girl, who has been fastened there so long that she has ultimately become part of the boundary itself. As Willie and his guides approach, Elise Traynor “manifests” as a “horrid blackened furnace.” With sorrow in his voice, the Reverend recalls when the girl first arrived, a period during which “she uninterruptedly manifested as a spinning young girl in a summer frock of continually shifting color.” Now, Vollman asks her to tell Willie about “the perils of this place,” but she only turns into a series of horrid objects. When the group turns to leave, though, Elise beckons Willie closer and begins her tale.
To further illustrate the fact that children aren’t meant to “tarry” in the Bardo, Willie’s three older guides reveal to him the terrible effect of stasis. Indeed, Elise Traynor proves that awful things happen to young people who refuse to move on from this realm, which is intended to be a chiefly transitory space. In this way, Saunders builds even more tension surrounding Willie’s resolve to stay.
Themes
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon