Mortal Remains introduces new methods of analyzing
death and its crucial meanings over a 240-year period, from 1620 to
1860, untangling its influence on other forms of cultural
expression, from religion and politics to race relations and the
nature of war. In this volume historians and literary scholars join
forces to explore how, in a medically primitive and politically
evolving environment, mortality became an issue that was
inseparable from national self-definition.
Attempting to make sense of their suffering and loss while
imagining a future of cultural permanence and spiritual value,
early Americans crafted metaphors of death in particular ways that
have shaped the national mythology. As the authors show, the
American fascination with murder, dismembered bodies, and scenes of
death, the allure of angel sightings, the rural cemetery movement,
and the enshrinement of George Washington as a saintly father,
constituted a distinct sensibility. Moreover, by exploring the idea
of the vanishing Indian and the brutality of slavery, the authors
demonstrate how a culture of violence and death had an early effect
on the American collective consciousness.
Mortal Remains draws on a range of primary sources-from
personal diaries and public addresses, satire and accounts of
sensational crime-and makes a needed contribution to neglected
aspects of cultural history. It illustrates the profound ways in
which experiences with death and the imagery associated with it
became enmeshed in American society, politics, and culture.
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