Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

by

George Saunders

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Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend approach the white stone home, they’re astounded to see Willie sitting cross-legged on its roof. Unfortunately, “the effort of resistance” has eroded his physical strength. “He was out of breath,” Bevins says, “his hands were shaking; he had lost, by my estimation, approximately half his bodyweight.” Apparently, it took Elise Traynor roughly a month “to descend to this level,” though the Reverend says, “The fact that you are still here is impressive.” “Heroic, even,” adds Vollman. “But ill-advised,” the Reverend says. Trying to speed the boy along, Vollman tells him, “It is all right. Really it is. We are here. Proceed in peace: you have provided us ample hope, that will last us many years, and do us much good.” Willie listens to these kind words and merely replies, “Yes, only I am not going.” 
That the Reverend and his friends derive “ample hope” from Willie’s stay in the Bardo is interesting, as it suggests that even these stubborn souls—who have been in the Bardo for quite some time—need a bit of hope to keep them going, and Willie has given them this by somehow attracting his father’s attention even after his funeral—something that almost never happens. Still, the three friends urge the young boy to move along, since it’s clear that the Bardo is taking a toll on Willie’s strength and general well-being. Nonetheless, Willie shows his determination to remain, a decision rooted in his love for his father and his unwillingness to give that up.
Themes
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Willie reminds the older souls that his father promised to return, but Vollman insists this won’t actually happen. Reverend Thomas adds that they’ll explain to Willie’s father why the boy had to leave—if, that is, his father does indeed return. “You lie,” Willie says. “You three have lied to me from the first. Said I should go. What if I had? I would have missed father entirely. And now you say you will give him a message?” When the Reverend asserts that they will deliver a message, Willie says, “But How will you? Have you a method? Of communication? I did not. When I was in there within him.” “We do. We do have such a method,” says Vollman, to which Bevins quickly adds, “Nebulous. Far from established.”
When the Reverend and Vollman try to convince Willie that his father won’t actually return, they underline the fact that people in the living world quickly move on with their lives. In this moment, they seem cognizant of the fact that the world moves on without them, though this understanding doesn’t seem to influence their vehement desire to stay connected to that world. Indeed, divided from the living but still able to watch them from a remove, the Bardo-dwellers yearn for a way to interact with the world. This is why Vollman optimistically claims to have a “method” of “communication” when Willie asks if they know how to talk to people like his father. Vollman is desperate to believe that he’s still somehow connected to that previous place.
Themes
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Vollman suggests that there has “historically been some confusion” regarding whether or not they can communicate with people who exist in “that previous place.” Before he can explain himself, though, the group’s conversation is interrupted by a woman who constantly wanders the grounds searching for her husband. As this woman screams out her husband’s name, Willie finds himself suddenly overtaken by the roof itself, which has “liquefied” so that he now sits in “a gray-white puddle,” out of which a “vine-like tendril” creeps out, “thickening as it approache[s]” him. When the Reverend tries to swat this tendril away, he discovers that it is “more stone than snake.” “The beginning of the end,” Vollman says ominously.
At this point, Willie starts to experience the negative effects of staying in the Bardo. As such, Saunders increases the urgency surrounding Vollman, Bevins, and the Reverend’s efforts to convince the boy to leave, and readers see yet again the ways in which children are punished for remaining in the Bardo.
Themes
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