Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

by

George Saunders

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Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 48 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back in the cemetery, Lincoln continues thinking about Willie. “He is just one,” he considers. “And the weight of it about to kill me. Have exported this grief. Some three thousand times. So far. To date. A mountain. Of boys. Someone’s boys. Must keep on with it. May not have the heart for it. One thing to pull the lever when blind to the result. But here lies one dear example of what I accomplish by the orders I—may not have the heart for it.” Going on in this manner, he wonders what he should do about the Civil War, asking himself if he should call the whole thing off. “What am I doing. What am I doing here. Everything nonsense now,” he thinks, feeling that he has forever lost his sense of happiness.
When Lincoln thinks about how he has “exported” the grief of death “some three thousand times,” readers see how the Civil War has affected his conception of loss and mourning. Because he has ordered troops to fight the Confederacy, he feels morally responsible for the many casualties that have already taken place in the war. What’s more, it’s worth noting that the grief he feels over his son’s death throws him into a sense of meaninglessness. “Everything nonsense now,” he thinks, demonstrating that the loss of a loved one can severely disorient and disenchant even the most powerful (and articulate) people.
Themes
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Empathy and Equality Theme Icon
Loss Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Trap. Horrible trap,” Lincoln thinks. “At one’s birth it is sprung. Some last day must arrive. When you will need to get out of this body.” Thinking this way, the president finds himself incapable of finding happiness in everyday life, ultimately determining that he’ll “be happy no more.”
Lincoln is still unable to come to terms with Willie’s death, and allows this to inform the way he views the world. Instead of accepting the fact that life ends, he sees this as a terrible, almost sadistic state of affairs (as evidenced by the fact that he refers to life’s impermanence as a “trap”). Because of this outlook, he can’t imagine himself ever being “happy” again.
Themes
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Loss Theme Icon