The American Way of Death Revisited (Magill Book Reviews)
Since Jessica Mitford took on the funeral industry in her ground-excavating expose THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH (1963), dying in America has changed very little. THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH REVISITED reopens the casket of concerns about the practices of the industry, especially the promotion of a costly death.
The 1998 revision updates not only the statistical material of the original but documents new developments in the industry which postdate the first version. Americans can now prepay their funerals and live to regret the investment (see the chapter entitled “Pay Now—Die Poorer”). Those whose grief occurs in the late twentieth century must deal with multinational funeral conglomerates rather than cede the bodies and final rituals of their loved ones to a local and likely well-known family friend (“A Global Village of the Dead”). In Mitford’s view the issues are money rather than concern for families. It is not difficult to pay as much as eight or nine thousand dollars for a funeral. Often prices include full package add-ons which the grieving neither want nor choose.
Mitford’s practical aim is to offer alternatives in the form of low-cost funeral societies to bereaved families. How threatening these alternatives are to the funeral industry is demonstrated in their characterizations of such groups as “the burial beatniks of contemporary America.”
The reader will appreciate the index as well as a “Directory of...
(The entire section is 344 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The American Way of Death Revisited (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Since Jessica Mitford took on the funeral industry more than thirty-five years ago in her ground-excavating exposé The American Way of Death, the trappings surrounding dying in America have changed very little. The cost, however, padded by industry-initiated advancements, has increased dramatically. The American Way of Death Revisited reopens the casket of Mitford’s concerns about the practices of the inevitable industry, especially its promotion of costly additions to the ceremonies of death and what the author sees as less-than-ethical marketing techniques. The exposed body, ill-preserved, lets out a mighty stench. The jacket cover of the current edition promises a “brilliant piece of satirical writing.” Despite this claim, the interior product is good but does not quite reach the level of brilliance.
Mitford first exposed the travesties of the “American way of death” in 1963. The earlier book—perhaps the first to tackle such a difficult topic so inclusively—enjoyed sufficient popularity that it was republished about fifteen years later. In the 1998 edition Mitford remembers, with not a little glee, that publishers originally shied away from her work as unsalable. Who would pay to read about the funeral industry? The current revision not only updates the statistical material of the original but also adds chapters on developments in the industry since the first book was published. Mitford documents the increase in the...
(The entire section is 1781 words.)