Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo


George Saunders

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Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 67-68 Summary & Analysis

As commotion ensues outside the white stone home, Lincoln hears nothing. Just as Willie is about to step into his father, though, a lantern light wobbles in the distance. Searching for the president, Manders approaches the crypt, calling out, “Mr. President” as he goes. “He calls for my father,” Willie says. “Your father is President?” the Reverend asks. “He is,” replies Willie. “Of?” asks the Reverend. “The United States,” Willie answers, and Bevins explains that this is true, saying that a significant amount of time has passed since they’ve departed from “that previous place.” “There is a state called Minnesota,” he informs the Reverend. “We are at war,” says Vollman. “At war with ourselves. The cannons are greatly improved.”
The passage of time underscores the strength of the Bardo-dwellers’ determination to remain in this realm. Indeed, though many years have gone by in the living world, people like Vollman and Bevins have remained here, convincing themselves that they’re merely waiting to rejoin the lives they left behind—lives that have stood relatively still (in their minds) in their absence. This, of course, is untrue, and so the Bardo-dwellers are shocked to discover that things in the outside world have changed. In this way, Saunders once more shows how hesitant these souls are to recognize the fleeting nature of life.
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Manders enters the crypt and says, “Ah. Here you are. Sir.” Getting to his feet, Lincoln shakes Manders’s hand, and Manders offers him a lantern. Because Lincoln doesn’t want to deprive him of his only light, though, he suggests they return together. Manders agrees and steps outside to wait. This entire ordeal strikes Bevins, Vollman, and the Reverend as a “catastrophe” because Willie hasn’t gone into his father yet. In fact, the boy hasn’t even advanced from the wall, where he now stands in fear, though Bevins realizes upon closer inspection that fear isn’t what’s keeping the boy there, but rather the wall itself, which has “liquefied” and morphed into more tendrils, which are now wrapping around Willie’s waist. “We needed time, to get him free,” Vollman says, and so he enters Lincoln once more, leaving Bevins to dig at the tendrils with his many hands.
Saunders uses seemingly every opportunity available to have someone from the Bardo enter President Lincoln. In doing so, he enables himself to not only divulge Lincoln’s thoughts, but also to unite the living world with the Bardo, such that the souls in this liminal realm come into contact—of a kind—with the place they’ve left behind. What’s more, it has already been established that the Bardo-dwellers can influence Lincoln, at least in certain circumstances. As such, readers naturally wonder what effect these souls have on Lincoln, a man people are always trying to influence, since he is—after all—an official elected to represent the wishes of his citizens.
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