Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

by

George Saunders

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Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Returning to the historical accounts of Willie’s illness, Saunders outlines the Lincolns’ sorrow after the boy’s death. One observer notes that he has never seen anybody as “bowed down with grief” as when President Lincoln saw his son’s lifeless body. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” Lincoln uttered over Willie’s inert form. Regarding parenthood and loss, one historical commentator writes: “From nothingness, there arose great love; now, its source nullified, that love, searching and sick, converts to the most abysmal suffering imaginable.”
Willie’s death throws his parents into unspeakable sadness, which partly comes from having to admit the brutal reality that life is fleeting. The fact that Willie sprang “from nothingness” aligns with this notion, illustrating that each person’s existence is just a brief flash that ultimately “converts” into nothingness again, though love and various emotional attachments linger long after that person has died.
Themes
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Loss Theme Icon