Part 3, Chapters 37 Summary

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At noon, Gladney and Siskind begin walking and talking about death. Gladney says he is “just going through the motions” of living but is “technically dead.” An insecticide byproduct has created in him a nebulous mass, and it is a “shallow, unfulfilling” thing from which to die. Gladney thinks this death is unfair and premature. Despite Siskind’s urging him to loftier thoughts, Gladney’s only true regret is death itself. There is only one consideration: he wants to live.

Siskind asks for clarification, and Gladney assures him that he would be just as reluctant to die if he had lived a long, accomplished life. Siskind tells Gladney he is in the unique position to be able to speak of death with a certain “prestige and authority.” People will seek him out as his death grows imminent and Gladney must therefore not slip into self-pity or despair. People want their dying friends to be noble and brave.

Siskind asks Gladney questions, and he learns that Gladney believes love is stronger than death, that everyone fears death to some degree, that knowledge of certain death makes life more anxiety-filled than satisfying, and knowing the exact time and place of death would make it even more terrifying.

Gladney asks Siskind how he can “get around” death.” Gladney does not trust technology, and dismisses Siskind’s suggestion that studying the afterlife in its various forms might bring some relief and even comfort. What Gladney must surely do is “survive an assassination attempt,” which means surviving something which kills other, lesser men. Siskind says “helpless and fearful people are drawn to magical figures,” and somehow Hitler seemed larger than death. Gladney has managed to use Hitler both to diminish his fear of death and to “grow in significance and strength.” Siskind admires Gladney’s boldness, but it is clear Gladney’s best efforts have failed. Gladney has not escaped death despite his efforts to both stand out and hide.

At the supermarket, Siskind explains that Gladney is no good at repressing. Gladney likes being with Wilder because Wilder is unaware that he will one day die and he envies that unawareness. As they leave the store, Siskind explains that for centuries society has always killed others to “cure themselves of death.” Becoming a killer is a way of controlling death; the more people one kills, the more one controls his own death. Plotting and planning “advance the art of human consciousness.”

Siskind pointedly asks Gladney if he is “a killer or a dier.” Siskind is just a visiting lecturer whose job it is to theorize, so they are only talking theoretically; but it is possible for a dier (such as Gladney) to become a killer if he taps into his latent violence. He tells Gladney the unpleasant truth that everyone is thinking “better him than me,” including Siskind and probably Babette. Now Gladney has to learn how to tell himself goodbye.

At home, Gladney again goes on a rampage, purging unwanted, broken, unusable items from his house.

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Part 3, Chapters 36 Summary


Part 3, Chapters 38 Summary