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"Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain" by Jessica Mitford

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Anne Lotito Schuh

on 21 November 2013

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Transcript of "Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain" by Jessica Mitford

"Alas, poor Yorick!"
"Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain" by Jessica Mitford
Allusion - An expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference.
Mitford alludes to Hamlet in order to juxtapose
how we once dealt with dead bodies with the
current process of embalming.
Mitford also begins
to question the
purpose of embalming.
It's exactly this questioning that led to legal
reform, requiring the funeral industry to get
consent from family before embalming and charging for embalming.
Embalming would have been witnessed by a family member in the past, whereas we wouldn't think of it today.
Setting the Scene
In paragraph 8, great detail is given in order to describe the embalming room. Lists of tools and substances are given.
Mitford provides quotes from two different authors on the shared topic of the timing of embalming, and mocks the idea that embalming alleviates any fear of burial alive.
"How true; once the blood is removed, chances of live burial are indeed remote" (Mitford, 279).
favorite injection and drainage points
choices of embalming fluid
Process Analysis - How the Cadaver is prepared
1. embalm
2. sew mouth together
3. glue eyes closed
4. pump full of "cavity fluid"
5. replace missing body parts
6. remove tissue from swollen body parts, or inject cream to "flesh out" the cadaver
7. position the lips
8. shaving takes place.
9. cosmetics are applied, available in a variety of colors
10. hair is shampooed and combed
11. the cadaver is positioned in the casket
carotid artery
jugular vein
femoral artery
subclavian vein
Specific and Concrete details throughout:
if Mr. Jones is bucktoothed...
if Mr. Jones is missing a lip, nose or ear...
if Mr. Jones is decapitated...
If Mr. Jones doesn't have teeth...
If Mr. Jones died of jaundice...
If Mr. Jones died of carbon monoxide poisoning...
If Mr. Jones did not take care of his nails...
If Mr. Jones smoked a pipe or liked to read...
"In the case of little Master Jones a Teddy bear may be clutched" (Mitford 281).
Mitford uses the fictionalized example of "Mr. Jones" throughout the essay to create consistency and to remind us that all of these acts are done upon individuals who led lives with personal interests. This is hammered home in the final paragraph when the reader is asked to consider that these acts may have been enacted upon a child.
Full transcript