A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

by Dave Eggers
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 582

Death and Loss

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The themes of death and loss are apparent in Eggers’s memoir. The greatest loss comes from the author’s loss of his parents, especially his mother. The memoir begins with the mother’s failing health. Intimate details are provided concerning the last remaining days her life, especially the process of death, as her body is about to surrender in her fight with cancer.  The descriptions are so vivid that many readers may be disturbed. However, in presenting this close inspection, Eggers shares his own feelings of revulsion as well as how he manages to keep those feelings at bay as he cares for his mother. His mother does not want to die in the hospital. Her children attempt to keep their promise by caring for her at home. But in the end, the children cannot handle it. Their mother was bleeding to death. Gently, Eggers carries his mother to the family car. The ride to the hospital is her last.

Although Eggers’s father had died less than a month earlier, signs that his life was ending were not as obvious as they had been for Eggers’s mother. Eggers, and apparently everyone else, knew the father was sick with cancer, but his death came quickly. The family hardly had time to grieve for the father before the mother’s long bout with cancer took her away.

But death is not the only form of loss. In a sense, Eggers also loses his youth. He and his siblings sell the home they have grown up in, as well as most of the furnishings. Then they move away from the neighborhood and many of their friends from as far back as elementary school. They move to new surroundings, invigorating because they are new, but they also lose their pasts.

In having to raise an eight-year-old brother, Eggers also loses his own transition from child to adult. He must become a parent at a time when he still needs parental encouragement himself.


Love is another major theme. Eggers’s love for his parents, especially his mother, is demonstrated in the way he cares for her in her last days. But the greatest moment of love is exposed when Eggers returns to Chicago and claims his mother’s ashes....

(The entire section contains 582 words.)

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