An Analysis of Mitford’s Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain


Jessica Mitford offers a peculiar narrative in ‘Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain’. It is viewed as peculiar considering the main theme adopted in the story, which is death. As humans, we often find difficulty in dealing with the tragedy of death. This phenomenon is expressed through our unwillingness to talk about it. However, Mitford is atypical. She goes against this human norm by discussing issues related to embalming and death. It is seen that her discourse serves as a critique to the thought surrounding the funeral industry and the issue of death. This essay provides an analysis of Mitford’s approach and why the author has adopted it.

In the discourse, the peculiarity of Mitford’s work is seen in various ways. Firstly, the author has maintained strong language throughout the work. She does not shy away from taboo subjects and mentions the embalming activities in full detail. This often appears as grisly, gory and uncharacteristic to the reader. There is an urge to withdraw from her readership following the explicit details of her narratives. However, this also brings up another peculiarity. Despite the nature of the taboo subject and the human desire to withdraw, Mitford has maintained an interesting tone throughout the discourse. There is an air of sarcasm in the work. One feels the desire to keep reading despite the seemingly sinister nature of the plot. Cutting up dead bodies is hardly interesting to anyone, yet Mitford manages to maintain interest in her readership. That highlights a positive yet ironic peculiarity. This is especially seen in the absurd, humorous and yet doleful idea of ‘beautifying’ a dead body. The tone also seems preposterous to human logic.

However, the author manages to reassure her readership through her sarcastic tone. In that regard, the author has unsuccessfully utilized logos in her work. Her ideas are presented in a manner that challenges logic, with limited success. Her readership does not substantiate a number of the things she advances in her work. As a result, the readership is not entirely convinced by her views. Some ideas provoked in the discourse seem abstract and wishful as seen in her perspectives funerals and embalming. However, Mitford peculiarly uses pathos to interesting detail. The reader feels sympathy for what Mitford advances, irrespective of its dark nature.

It is seen that Mitford is a peculiar author. This is seen from her narrative in the style she chooses to implement. Her perspective on taboo subjects such as death and embalming are certainly beyond the ordinary. Mitford is also atypical in that she is able to maintain the attention of her readership throughout the discourse. In essence, she has successfully presented Beyond the Formaldehyde Curtain to her audience.



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