When Hans Vollman refers to his coffin, he calls it his sick-box. In doing so, he avoids admitting that he is dead, instead spinning a harebrained narrative that enables him to indulge his sense of denial. This evasive tactic comes to stand for the many ways in which the characters in Lincoln in the Bardo delude themselves. Rather than acknowledging that his inert form lies in a casket, Vollman goes to great lengths to uphold that he’s simply “recovering” from an illness. He even says that he “took” to his sick-box “per the advice of [his] physician,” a ridiculous claim, considering the fact that the only thing his physician has done is place him inside a wooden box because he is, in fact, dead. Nonetheless, Vollman goes out of his way to interrupt his friends whenever he senses they might use some other word when referring to the boxes that hold their physical forms. In this manner, the so-called “sick-boxes” that populate Lincoln in the Bardo represent the Bardo-dwellers’ elaborate attempts to stave off the realization that their lives have ended.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Sick-Box appears in Lincoln in the Bardo. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...has been touched is when something has gone wrong: either they’ve required removal from their “sick-boxes” for maintenance purposes, or they’ve been disinterred for ghastly experiments by medical students. (full context)
...way through the tendril around Willie’s waste. As they do so, though, Lincoln closes Willie’s “sick-box,” puts it back, and walks outside into the “now-hushed crowd.” The effect of his departure... (full context)