Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo


George Saunders

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Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 53 Summary & Analysis

Inside Willie’s father, Bevins and Vollman try to “persuade the gentleman.” Thinking about the white stone home and about Willie, they intone, “Stand up, go back. Your boy requires your counsel. He is in grave danger. It is anathema for children to tarry here. His headstrong nature, a virtue in that previous place, imperils him here, where the natural law, harsh and arbitrary, brooks no rebellion, and must be scrupulously obeyed.” Unfortunately, this approach fails. Just as they’re about to lose heart, though, they realize the lock to the stone home is in Lincoln’s pocket. Indeed, he has forgotten to lock the crypt, so Bevins and Vollman think about the dangers of leaving a “sick-home” open. Putting his hand in his pocket, Lincoln realizes his mistake, stands up, and sets off toward his son once more.
It’s worth examining what Bevins and Vollman say in their effort to persuade Lincoln to return to the white stone home. First of all, they use the word “anathema,” which Lincoln uses in chapter XLVI when he says, “Hence murder is anathema.” In this way, they try to become one with the president, merging their vocabulary with his so that they might more effectively influence him. Second of all, when they say that Willie’s “headstrong nature” (“a virtue in that previous place”) goes against the “natural law,” they confirm the notion that people are meant to move through the Bardo on their way to a new existence. Indeed, tarrying is “unnatural,” a fact they try to make clear to Lincoln by uniting with him, assuming his voice, and telling him what he needs to know about his son.
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