Death Be Not Proud Critical Context - Essay

John Gunther

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In his foreword, Gunther states his reason for writing Death Be Not Proud: to help and encourage those facing illness, especially sick children and their parents, by describing the courage and dignity with which Johnny endured his ordeal. Certainly Johnny’s calm, rational attitude toward his often rigorous therapy, his optimism and fortitude in the face of hopeless circumstances, and his unquenchable thirst for knowledge and devotion to academics are as inspiring as they are amazing. Yet the book contains messages for even the youngest, healthiest readers. Frances Gunther states one of the book’s most important lessons: “All the wonderful things in life are so simple that one is not aware of their wonder until they are beyond touch.”

Death Be Not Proud is different from most biographies in that its subject is not a famous person such as an actor, athlete, or political leader with a lifetime of accomplishments. Sadly, Johnny Gunther only became famous because of his untimely death—a fate shared by all too many young people who are never immortalized in writing. Ironically, given his rare fascination with and talent for science, particularly chemistry and physics, Johnny might have gone on to achieve fame as a scientist had he lived to adulthood. Nevertheless, Johnny’s story is extraordinary. Death Be Not Proud belongs to a subgenre of young adult biography that includes such well-known books as Eric (1974), by Doris Lund, and Brian Piccolo: A Short Season (1971), by Jeannie Morris. Like those books, Death Be Not Proud was made into a television film (in 1975), a testimony to its continuing appeal and its importance as a classic of young adult biography.