Themes and Meanings

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Although “Demonology” is made up of disjunctive fragments, it is a haunting example of contemporary realism. The narrator ruminates on the problematic nature of time and the shock of death and also presents an acute depiction of suburban America, in particular what it is like to raise young children while working at a dead-end job. The narrator shows his sister Meredith acting within the cultural and economic practices created by late twentieth century capitalism. Her children go out for Halloween dressed as Walt Disney characters.

Meredith’s position in the economic order is marginal, and she is alienated in a Marxist sense in that her work is unfulfilling, repetitive, and pays little. Her life pivots around her family and private interests; however, because of her poverty and the demands of motherhood, she is continually exhausted. In many ways, the story is a indictment of a society that promises much to its citizens but distributes wealth in a very unequal manner. The narrator’s rage at a social system in which Meredith has no recognized identity apart from her role as parent and consumer is counterbalanced by his insistence that her life was worthy of celebration. In a broad sense, the story implies that art pays attention to individual lives and the particularities of experience, whereas corporate power defaces the individual and reduces human complexity to the banalities expressed in popular animated films.

Facing his loss, the narrator looks hard into the metaphysical abyss that death creates. He finds it impossible to understand not only how the multitudinous incidents that constituted Meredith’s life somehow vanished when she died but also how a myriad of potential future moments, desires, and hopes also suddenly disappeared that night. Although the story focuses on the narrator’s memories of Meredith, these remembrances are less concerned with static moments than with those that are charged with the mysterious characteristics of temporal change. A minor detail such as the photograph Meredith took of their father and stepmother boating, for example, identifies a specific moment; however, the image also implicitly contains the presumably lengthy passage of time that led to the disintegration of the marriage of their father and mother.

The fact that the story is set around Halloween—and that the narrator refers to Meredith’s experiences on previous Halloweens—is significant because the holiday is a recurrent cultural event that is nevertheless pointedly specific. Each Halloween not only is a repetition of those that came before but also forecasts those still to come. However, each Halloween is markedly different from all the rest, a fact underscored by Meredith’s death. Further, the holiday itself deals with the boundary between life and death. Rick Moody brings out the dualistic aspect of the festival by juxtaposing its modern American commercialized form with its historical roots in Christian theology and European pagan folklore. The story’s philosophical inquiries thus dovetail into its social critique.

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Analysis