Death and Grief

The preface to the first part of the book asks the reader a series of questions ranging from “Do you find the dead ridiculous? How about the dead finding the living ridiculous?” to “Which would you prefer to have your life compared to, wind or dust?” All of the characters, as well as the reader, are forced to confront death in The Quick and the Dead. However directly stated Williams’s questions are, her answers are subtle and often ambiguous. While the current ways that people face and deal with death are depicted as powerless and impotent, Williams refrains from offering a straightforward alternative.

Many of the characters in The Quick and the Dead are in mourning. Alice, Annabel, and Corvus have each lost their mothers. Alice has spent her life raised by her grandparents and has developed into an eccentric person, refusing to find a place to live in society. Annabel embraces everything about society—especially consumerism. Meanwhile, Corvus seems to move into an entirely passive cocoon of grief. Although The Quick and the Dead is sometimes classified as a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, none of the girls comes to a clear reconciliation with her grief.

Carter’s battle with death is perhaps more direct as he is confronted with his wife’s ghost. However, as Carter moves through the novel, he is similarly unable to move to a state of resolution. Ginger haunts Carter and teases him about the afterlife, yet she provides no comfort that the afterlife is better than life. Instead, she mocks and abuses Carter, urging him to kill himself so he can be with her. Ginger’s ghost is excised when Sherwin dies because of her tricks, but although Carter is freed of his problems, he has not solved anything.

Indeed, these are only a few examples of how characters are required to face death. Signifiers of death are littered throughout the novel, ranging from the mostly lifeless desert to the nursing home at which the girls volunteer to the taxidermy of the Wildlife Museum. None of...

(The entire section is 853 words.)