Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

by

George Saunders

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Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Turning around, Vollman sees that “an exceedingly tall and unkempt fellow” is making his way toward the white stone home through the graves. “This was highly irregular,” the Reverend notes. “It was after hours; the front gate would be locked.” Indeed, Willie has only been interred that very same day, meaning that his father has no doubt seen him “quite recently.” Nonetheless, Abraham Lincoln approaches the white stone home, “sobbing” as he goes, and Willie runs toward him and jumps into his arms for an embrace. Unfortunately, though, he merely passes through Lincoln’s body, and the president keeps moving toward the white stone home.
The fact that Lincoln has seen Willie’s body “quite recently” does nothing to combat his staggering sense of loss. Sobbing as he approaches Willie’s crypt, it’s clear he lacks a sense of closure, which is most likely why he’s returning to visit his son only hours after having bid his final farewell. In this moment, then, the Bardo-dwellers aren’t the only ones who have trouble coming to terms with the idea that life is impermanent, since Lincoln also struggles against this idea, plunged into grief over the loss of his son.
Themes
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Loss Theme Icon
When Lincoln reaches the white stone home, he keys it open and goes inside, where he slides Willie’s coffin from the wall, places it on the floor, and opens it. Looking upon his son’s face, he lets out a “gasp of recognition” and “recollection,” a gasp that signals the sudden remembrance of “what [has] been lost.” Reaching out, he touches the boy’s face and hair, a gesture Bevins assumes the man must have done “many times when the boy was—” Interrupting his friend, Vollman says, “Less sick.”
When Vollman interrupts Bevins, readers once again see his commitment to denying the fact that he has died. Indeed, every time he fears that someone might outwardly acknowledge the fact that everyone in the Bardo is dead, Vollman jumps in to make sure that person refers to their collective predicament in terms of illness, not mortality. Once more, then, it becomes clear that one must deny life’s impermanence in order to go on existing in the Bardo.
Themes
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Loss Theme Icon