The Sweet Hereafter

by Russell Banks

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Could you explain how the characters in The Sweet Hereafter's lives could be better after the accident? Include evidence for each person.

Based on the events of this story, life cannot be better for any of the characters in the aftermath of this tragedy. The driver, Dolores Driscoll, must live with the guilt of knowing that she was behind the wheel when this dreadful accident took place. Billy Ansel must learn to live with having witnessed the accident that killed his children. Nichole Burnell must learn to live her life as a paralyzed young woman.

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I would argue that no one's lives could be better after this. While all the characters will, in time, reach some level of peace with what has happened, a school-bus accident which kills numerous people does not improve anybody's life. The title The Sweet Hereafter refers to the shared grief that those who suffered will eventually share, rather than a better life in the aftermath of this accident.

There's no way life improved for the driver, Dolores Driscoll. She has to spend the rest of her life dealing with guilt relating to having been unable to prevent the accident. She proves during the course of the story that she had always shown loving concern for every child who rode her bus. There is no way that inadvertently causing their death would have improved her life.

Life isn't better for Billy Ansel either. Having already lost his wife, Billy was the sole witness to the accident. In the course of the accident, he has now lost his wife and his children. It could be argued that Billy tries to make Dolores's life better in the aftermath of this tragedy by encouraging other victims's families to drop a lawsuit. In this way, he is an example of the development of radical forgiveness in the face of pain. That approach is arguably better than the alternative of holding a grudge.

Perhaps the greatest illustration of how life is not better after the accident is the case of fourteen-year-old Nichole Burnell. As a result of the accident, she winds up paralyzed. The only possible advantage for Nichole is that the accident may mean the end of her sexual abuse at the hands of her father.

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