Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo


George Saunders

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Lincoln in the Bardo makes teaching easy.

Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Elise Traynor tells Willie that a number of young men used to “desire” her as they sat together on pleasant evenings. Before any kind of physical intimacy ever took place, though, her mother always sent somebody to fetch her. “I want ed so much to hold a dear Babe,” she says. “I know very wel I do not look as prety as I onseh. And over time, I admit, I have come to know serten words I did not formerly.” As if to demonstrate this fact, she interrupts herself, saying: “Fuk cok shit reem ravage assfuk.” A mere fourteen-year-old girl, she asks Willie to come again soon, though tells him to leave behind his “anshient frends,” who she dislikes because—in urging her to talk to Willie—they’ve asked her to “slander” “that which [she is] doing. Wich is no more than what they are doing.”
It’s worth noting that Elise Traynor has a very specific reason for staying: she wants to “hold a dear Babe” but has never gotten the chance to get pregnant. In turn, she’s unwilling to let go of her previous life, for she hasn’t gotten what she most wants out of her time on earth. Furthermore, when she criticizes Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend for “slander[ing]” her, she refers to the fact that they want her to tell Willie the downside of staying in the Bardo. This is a rather hypocritical request, she points out, since these older souls are waiting in the Bardo just like she is. Although this is true, it’s evident that “tarrying” in this realm has a more pointedly negative effect on Elise, which is made clear by the fact that her linguistic capabilities have altered since she first arrived. The more time she spends in the Bardo, Saunders suggests, the more her language deteriorates.
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon