Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

by

George Saunders

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Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 82 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The hell tendrils chase the Reverend, ripping through the ground like a strange earthen wave. These hellish vines split into two and crisscross in front of his feet, tripping him and swarming around his body such that, in an attempt to secure Willie, they capture him, too. “And they had him,” says Vollman, who—along with Bevins—follows behind. Too late to do anything, they hear the Reverend shouting out from beneath the hardening carapace. “They have me!” he screams. “They have even me! I must—I must go! Good God! Mustn’t I? Or be trapped like this forever—” His friends agree, urging him to save himself. “But I don’t want to!” he replies. “I am afraid!” As the tendril garbles his words, he screams: “That palace, that dreadful diamond palace!” Vollman and Bevins then hear the sound of the “matterlightblooming phenomenon,” and the Reverend is gone.
Despite the fact that the Reverend has sacrificed himself for Willie—a noble act—he’s still hesitant to depart. This just illustrates how tenaciously people hold onto their existences in the Bardo. Indeed, the Reverend has seemingly accepted that he should help Willie and face his judgment, and yet he remains terrified to leave this liminal realm. “I don’t want to!” he screams, a sentiment that is in keeping with the fact that he has now spent many years clinging to his existence in the Bardo—an existence that isn’t easy to give up, even if the Reverend has made a moral decision to sacrifice himself for Willie.
Themes
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The beam of light from the Reverend’s departure temporarily damages the tendrils. Kicking the now-viscous vines, Vollman and Bevins extract Willie. While digging, they find an imprint of the Reverend’s face and see that his “countenance” hadn’t reverted to his normal startled state, but instead “conveyed a sense of tentative hopefulness.” Grabbing Willie, Vollman sets off toward the chapel, which he now understands is where the Reverend was headed. Before he can get there, though, the tendril catches up to him and wraps around his ankles, but he hands Willie to Bevins, and the hell-beings release him in order to continue pursuing the boy. In this manner, the two friends pass Willie back and forth until finally reaching the chapel.
What the Reverend screams just before departing does not match the sentiment conveyed by his look of “tentative hopefulness.” As such, readers are left to assume that he regained his composure just as the matterlightblooming phenomenon took him away, a moment during which his fear of departure transmuted into a more positive outlook. Indeed, the Reverend clearly hopes that his daring act of bravery and self-sacrifice will influence his judgment, implying that he now believes a person’s actions in the Bardo might actually impact what happens to them in the true afterlife.
Themes
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“I know this place,” says Willie inside the chapel. Vollman isn’t surprised to hear this, since everybody has passed through the chapel, the final place they were ever “taken seriously” by the previous world. Outside, the ground shakes, causing the entire building to shudder. The hell-beings call out, saying that they’re simply gathering their strength but that they’ll soon enter the chapel, so Vollman and Bevins might as well send Willie out. Just then, though, the two friends jump at the sound of a somebody clearing his throat. Turning around, they see Lincoln sitting pensively at the front of the chapel, “where he must have sat during the previous day’s service.”
The Bardo itself is a point of transition, a portal through which dead people pass into the afterlife. The chapel, then, is a more tangible representation of this portal, since everyone in the graveyard goes through this building before getting buried. As such, it’s fitting that what are likely to be Willie’s final moments in the Bardo should take place with his father in the chapel, a reflection of the fact that his time in this place has been—and always will be—merely transitory.
Themes
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