One theme of Kate Wilhelm’s short story “The Funeral” might be transformation. Throughout the story, a lot changes, especially in the context of bodies. First, there are the changes that occur to the body of Madam Westfall. Multiple times, Carla remarks upon the alien quality of Westfall’s dead body. “She’s isn’t real,” Carla says. “It’s a doll, or something.” Seeing Westfall’s body transform into something so strange has a deeply disquieting effect on Carla. It makes her feel sick and like she’s going to throw up.
Of course, Westfall’s body is not the only body to undergo changes. Carla’s body is changing as well. She’s starting to grow hair. As with the changes undergone by Westfall’s corpse, the changes that are happening to Carla’s body are not well received by Carla. The transformations make her cry. They also make her hurt herself, in a way, since she tries to pull the hairs out.
The focus on bodies and the way that they change in life and in death links to another possible theme in the short story: visibility. Both Carla’s body and Westfall’s corpse are subjected to scrutiny by other people. Westfall’s body is in a “viewing room.” Meanwhile, Carla’s physical changes are assessed and documented by a doctor.
The scrutiny connects to a third possible theme: privacy. The amount of surveillance in this world seems very unpleasant for Carla, which is why the cave comes off as alluring. The cave is a place where one can hide, be by themselves, and get away from the glare of the people who populate this rather oppressive society.