Why did the woman ask the fat man "Is your son really dead?" despite hearing his train speech?

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I do not see the woman as oblivious.  I think that her asking the question is quite appropriate in a several ways.  The fat man is railing on quite extensively about how kids are meant to be sacrificed in the ways of war and how parents should stand by and be in the position to embrace this.  He, the fat man, did this and others should be able to do this, as well.  The woman, who is wrestling with this same dilemma.  She asks her question to both serve as confirmation of the fat man's beliefs.  It seems to me that it is almost asked as if she were saying, "And you are ok with your son being dead?"  In another way, she might be asking her question to bring to light the ultimate truth in war:  "Then is your son really dead?"  I take this to be an expression of the notion of death being the only absolute that can be taken in a war.  Finally, the idea of being "really dead" is something that is intriguing.  When parents talk of their children and death, they employ terms such as "moving on" or "passing."  For obvious reasons, parents have a difficult time in stating the term "death" with their child's mortality.  In phrasing the question like this, the woman, who sat silent throughout the exchange, seems to be stating the penultimate truth that undercuts all the discourse, that parents who send their children off to war must be ready to accept the finality of their own being "really dead."

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In the story, the author says that she asks him this

just as if she had heard nothing of what had been said and almost as if waking up from a dream

To me, this means that you can definitely argue that she has not really heard all of what he has said.  She must have heard some of it to know that he had a son, but maybe once she heard he was dead she sort of got lost in her thoughts.

In terms of the story, though, it makes sense for her to ask this.  Because what she is really doing is confronting him about what he is saying.  She is really implying that what he's saying can't be true if his son is really dead.  He can't have those grand feelings if his son is dead.

She's right -- once he thinks about it, he dissolves into tears.

So to me, I don't know if it's believable for her to say it if this were real life.  But for the story, it makes sense.

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