Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

by

George Saunders

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Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 93-94 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As soon as Willie departs, Lincoln jolts, looks around, stands up, and leaves, “the lad’s departure having set him free.” On his way out the door, he passes through Bevins and Vollman once more, and they sense that he has made a somber kind of peace with the loss of his son. “His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow,” Vollman states, “toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever way one took in this world, one must try to remember that all were suffering.” This, Lincoln feels, means that the best thing a person a can do—especially someone of his stature and in his position—is work to somehow alleviate this inevitable suffering.
Since Lincoln was able to sense Willie’s presence, it’s unsurprising that he suddenly feels “free” once his son has left the Bardo. Of course, this doesn’t mean that he isn’t still sad, but only that he has found a way to live with that sadness. In keeping with this idea, he turns his mind to his duty as the president of a country at war with itself, realizing that many others are suffering in the same way that he is, since there are thousands of parents currently mourning the loss of sons who have died in battle. Carrying this new understanding of “sorrow” with him, he determines to use his position for good, “freshly inclined” toward carrying out the Civil War so that he can end the suffering of slavery and also make sure that the people who have perished for the Union haven’t died in vain.
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Making his way out of the chapel, Lincoln feels ready to “believe anything of this world,” since his grief and loss have made him “less rigidly himself.” Feeling a new capacity for mercy, he also recognizes that he’s in the middle of a war—a war he must continue fighting, even if that means killing many, many people. He recognizes that “the swiftest halt to the thing” will quite possibly be the “bloodiest,” but he knows that freedom is worth fighting for. Since childhood, he has intuited that America is “for everyone.” He knows that some people think America can’t manage itself and that the Civil War will derail the entire country, but he disagrees with this notion. Instead, he believes “the rabble” can manage itself; “The rabble could. The rabble would. He would lead the rabble in managing. The thing would be won.”
The idea that Lincoln has been made “less rigidly himself” by his experience in the cemetery suggests that embracing grief and the impermanence of life ultimately strengthens a person and makes them more empathetic. It also suggests that Lincoln has perhaps been changed by the mass-inhabitation that took place when the many Bardo-dwellers jumped into his body. As such, he leaves the cemetery feeling not only stronger because of his loss, but more confident in his resolve to fight for unity in America. Thinking this way, he determines to help the “rabble”—a disorderly crowd—find its way forward as a united country.
Themes
Unity Theme Icon
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Empathy and Equality Theme Icon
Loss Theme Icon
Related Quotes