In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried

by Amy Hempel

Start Free Trial

What is the characterization of the story "In the Cemetry where Al Jolson is Buried"?


Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is an incredibly moving and sad story. The tale features two characters, both of whom are unnamed. Firstly there is the dying friend that the narrator visits. Her attempt to confront and accept her approaching death is a major struggle for her. The first line of the story, "Tell me the things I won't mind forgetting," thus creates the impetus for the story that follows. She does try to realistically approach the reality of her mortality, as is shown by the reference to Kubler-Ross and the stages of acceptance of death. She also displays considerable humour in confronting her own death, as is shown by her asking for "Anything.. except for a magazine subscription" and when she places the telephone cord around her neck and says, "the End o' the Line." However, what she is unable to face with humour is the narrator's refusal to spend the night with her. In response to this she throws her mask to the floor and lurches out of her Isolation Ward. She is not able to accept this betrayal from her best friend, as she sees it.

The narrator shows herself to be a character that tries to avoid things she is afraid of. We know that she has deliberately put off visiting her friend, and her refusal to spend the night with her is as much about her own fear of death and the situation as anything else. When she understands the intention of her friend, she says to herself, "She wants every minute... She wants my life." Note too the way that she likes to flee from situations. When she leaves her "Best Friend" for the last time, she recognises that she "could not even offer to come back." Yet she also admits that she feels "exhilirated" by the life that she can return to and her friend cannot live anymore. Although she seems to be superficial and shallow in the way that she remembers only useless information and the rather callous way she leaves her friend, the last paragraph shows that she is beginning to accept and grow in her understanding of grief:

Baby, come hug, Baby, come hug, fluent now in the language of grief.

Her attempt to master her Fear of Flying and the finishing of the story of the chimp at least shows us that she is a character that has grown through the experience, even though perhaps complete maturity is a long way off.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial