(Short Stories for Students)

From the very beginning of the story, the narrator draws attention to human mortality when he refers to his health, saying that he is ‘‘now but a shadow,’’ although he "was a hale, hearty man two short years ago.’’ The rest of the story is filled with references to sickness and death. In fact, the story's plot is centered around the failed attempt to transport the corpse of the narrator's friend, John B. Hackett, from Ohio to Wisconsin, where Hackett is to be buried.

In the process, the narrator has many conversations with Thompson, the expressman on the train, who ruminates about the inevitability of death itself, saying twice that '"we' ve all got to go, they ain' t no getting around it.'’’ Later, after Thompson and the narrator fail to move the box of guns with Limburger cheese on top—which they mistake for Hackett's corpse—Thompson gets a particularly potent whiff of the cheese. His resulting nausea makes him feel ill, and he proclaims, ‘‘'I'm a-dying; gimme the road!'’ as he runs outside to the train's platform to get some air.

Although he does not, in fact, die from the exposure to the cheese, the prolonged exposure to the winter weather on the platform—as a result of the two men's attempts to get away from the smell— does eventually kill the narrator two years later. "This is my last trip; I am on my way home to die.'' Although Thompson's fate is never clearly stated by the narrator, Thompson's own words while they are freezing on the platform imply that he and the narrator share similar fates. '‘‘It's our last trip, you can make up your mind to it. Typhoid fever is what's going to come of this.'''

In the story, Twain explores the power of the human imagination to overcome...

(The entire section is 742 words.)