(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

D. H. Lawrence’s novella The Man Who Died was originally a story titled “The Escaped Cock.” Later, Lawrence added a second part, and his publishers changed the title to The Man Who Died. Literary critics often refer to the novella by Lawrence’s preferred title, The Escaped Cock, which focuses more on liberation than on death.

Part 1 opens with a description of peasants and their gamecock. The lively cock has been tied up to prevent its escape. The bird, described in detail, is a metaphor for the man who died. The cock, despite his depression at being tied up, still has life bubbling inside him, and one morning he manages to break the string. He flies to the top of the wall and crows loudly.

At that moment, the man who died walks by and helps the peasant catch the cock. Noticing the man’s deathly pallor and wounds, the peasant is afraid; the man explains that he has not died at all, for his executioners unwittingly placed him in his tomb too early. The man remains unnamed throughout the story, but he is clearly Jesus. By leaving his protagonist nameless, Lawrence gives the character more freedom to deviate both from usual Christian interpretations and from Jesus’ specific historical context.

The man who died has awakened at the exact moment that the escaping cock crowed loudly. He found himself in a tomb wrapped in bandages. Sick, sore, disillusioned, and not really ready to be alive, he emerged from the tomb slowly and reluctantly.

The peasant invites the man to hide in his house. Lying in the courtyard and drawing sustenance from the sun, the man slowly regains life and feeling. Watching the cock interact with the three hens, the man sees more than just a cock; he sees life in its persistence and brilliance.

The man revisits the tomb several times and encounters Madeleine, a friend from his former life. He rebuffs her...

(The entire section is 784 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Cowan, James C. “Allusions and Symbols in D. H. Lawrence’s The Escaped Cock.” In Critical Essays on D. H. Lawrence, edited by Dennis Jackson and Fleda Brown Jackson. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. Compares and contrasts dialogue and imagery in the story with specific biblical passages; also discusses Osirian myth.

Hough, Graham. “Lawrence’s Quarrel with Christianity: The Man Who Died.” In D. H. Lawrence: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Mark Spilka. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963. Discusses Lawrence’s concern that modern Christianity is estranged from the deep sources of life. The collection includes a chronology and a bibliography.

Viinikka, Anja. “The Man Who Died: D. H. Lawrence’s Phallic Vision of the Restored Body.” Journal of the D. H. Lawrence Society (1994-1995): 39-46. Relates the story to Lawrence’s life, late essays, and poetry. Footnotes suggest further useful bibliographic sources.

Walterscheid, Kathryn A. The Resurrection of the Body: Touch in D. H. Lawrence. New York: Peter Lang, 1993. Analyzes Lawrence’s fiction using psychoanalytical, medical, and Lawrence’s own theories. Includes bibliographic essay on touch and a bibliography.

Wright, T. R. D. H. Lawrence and the Bible. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Chapter 12 suggests sources for the original title and for various images, including Nietzschean philosophy and Osirian myths. Also discusses variants in the manuscript.