Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo


George Saunders

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Lincoln in the Bardo can help.

Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 24 Summary & Analysis

“It would be difficult to overstate the vivifying effect this visitation had on our community,” Hans Vollman says regarding Lincoln’s time in the cemetery. As the man interacted with his son’s body, many souls emerged from their dwelling places. “Individuals we had not seen in years walked out,” the Reverend says. “Individuals we had never seen before, now made their anxious debuts,” adds Roger Bevins III. Indeed, they explain that these people are “happy” and reinvigorated by the idea that somebody “from that other place” would “deign” to touch a body. “It was not unusual for people from that previous place to be around,” Vollman says, but he notes that touching is an entirely separate matter, since the only time anybody has been touched is when something has gone wrong: either they’ve required removal from their “sick-boxes” for maintenance purposes, or they’ve been disinterred for ghastly experiments by medical students.
Once again, Saunders emphasizes the fact that the living world rarely engages with the Bardo-dwellers. Indeed, usually any interaction living people have with these souls is meaningless and even gruesome, as is the case when medical students dig up bodies for experiments. While the Bardo-dwellers cling so firmly to the living world, they’re incapable of actually interacting with it. They have lost any true connection to life, though they themselves will never admit this, upholding instead that their predicament is only temporary and that they’ll soon return to lead the lives they left behind. It’s no wonder, then, that Lincoln’s visit has a “vivifying effect” on the community, since it plays into the Bardo-dwellers’ mistaken notion that they might still be able to meaningfully engage with the world.
Unity Theme Icon
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Empathy and Equality Theme Icon
Loss Theme Icon