Presence of Death in Literature

Literature typically includes themes that permit the reader to relate to the characters. From suicide to murders, death is an unavoidable theme seen time and time over not just in reality however also in lots of kinds of literary works.

It is utilized by many authors as a primary driving force behind the plot in addition to a method to include emotions in numerous works. The existence of death is a reoccurring topic in practically every kind of literary work such as novels, brief stories in addition to plays.

First of all, death is seen in various novels and is present in nearly every category. Death is even present in lots of novels intending for younger readers such as William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” and others. In the novel “Lord of The Flies”, death is a very common topic throughout the story as seen with the deaths of the little’un, Simon and Piggy. For beginners, currently in the very first few chapters, death makes its first appearance as one of the little’uns vanishes.

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“That little’un-‘ gasped Piggy– ‘him with the mark on his face, I do not see him.

Where is he now?” (William Golding, p. 46) The little’un was earlier spotted playing in the forest near the mountain top where an accidental forest fire broke out simply few moments after. The little’un with the mark on his face is now no place to be found and is presumed dead charred in the fire. Additionally, death is seen a second time later on in the novel when Simon is assaulted by all the kids.

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After his encounter with The Lord of the Flies, Simon manages to make his way back to Jack’s feast only to discover a group of boys captured up in frenzy. In their confused mindset, the savage young boys came down upon the innocent kid believing he was the very best and violently killed him.

“At once the crowd surged after it poured down the rock, leapt on the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore” ( William Golding, p.169). Finally, towards the end of the book, death is seen for the third and last time when Piggy and Ralph visit the Castle Rock in hopes of retrieving Piggy’s glasses. However, at the castle rock, the duo encountered and unexpected twist of events which led to Piggy’s death after being crushed by a big boulder of rock thrown by Roger. Although death is seen multiple times in novels, it is also a recurring theme seen in other shorter literary works. Secondly, death is also seen quite often in short stories.

Countless authors including Edgar Alan Poe use death as one of the main driving force in there plot line. As a matter of fact, death is seen in almost every Edgar Alan Poe short stories some examples being “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”. To begin with, the theme of death is seen throughout the story “The Tell-Tale Heart” as the main character plots to kill the old man. At the begging of the story, the main narrator explains that he can no longer stand to look into the elderly man’s fake eye and for that reason he must kill him. After a week of planning, the main character finally puts his plan in motion as he rushes in the old man’s house and crushes him to death under his own bed. “He shrieked once — once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him.

I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done.” (Edgar Alan Poe, p.5) Likewise, the presence of death is also present in “The Cask of Amontillado” where the main character Montresor vows revenge to his foe Fortunato for the thousand injuries and bane he has caused him in the past. In that short story, Montresor lures Fortunato in the catacomb where he is then entombed alive and left to starvation. Furthermore, death is also seen in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” but this time in a funnier and more farfetched way. In this play, an unnamed narrator and his friend investigate a crime scene only to find out that an Ourang-Outang was in fact the murderer behind the crime.

The monkey wield with a razor had completely cut off the head of an old women in her own apartment. “The throat of the old lady was not merely cut, but the head absolutely severed from the body: the instrument was a mere razor” (Edgar Alan Poe, p.20). Albeit death is constantly seen in many books meant to be read, it is just as present in other literary works meant to be acted out such as plays. Lastly, death is not only seen in books but it is also frequently seen in many known plays. For the past few decades, the presence of death in plays has been seen time and time over by some of the most eminent playwrights including Shakespeare. From suicide to murder, death is present in almost all of Shakespeare plays some of which are “Romeo and Juliet”, “Macbeth” and, let’s not forget, “Hamlet”.

In the first place, the presence of death is seen several times throughout the play “Romeo and Juliet” many of which are resulted in combat such as the deaths of Mercutio, Tybalt and Paris. Although many deaths occur in the pay “Romeo and Juliet”, the play is most commonly known for the deaths of the star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.

After Juliet drinks a potion to make her seem dead for 2 days in the hopes of escaping a forced marriage, Romeo finds her corpse. “O my love, my wife! Death, that hath suck’d the honey of thy breath Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.” (William Shakespeare, Act 5, Scene 3). Thinking Juliet was actually dead; Romeo commits suicide by drinking poison. At Juliet awakening, she is devastated to see her lover’s dead body beside her and decides to stab herself to death. In the second place, death is also seen multiple times throughout the play “Macbeth”. In this play, in order make the witches prophecy come true, the main character Macbeth killed the King Duncan so as to inherit the throne all and become the new King of Scotland. “I go, and it is done; the bell invites me. Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell.

That summons thee to heaven or to hell.” (William Shakespeare, Act 2, Scene 1) Later on in the play, Macbeth then hired murderers to kill one of his former friends as well as a many other noblemen threatening his crown. In the third and last place, the presence of death is also seen in the popular Shakespeare play “Hamlet”.

This play is known for its many deaths throughout the plotline. In the end, almost every round character has been killed. Out of the 12, 10 were either poisoned or drowned. Thus, death is also frequently found in plays. All in all, the theme of death is a major and reoccurring subject that is present in literary works. It is often found in various types of literary works such as novels, short stories and plays. This theme has been used by some of the best authors to ever write for it evokes many emotions. However, there are many other ways the author can use to induce these. Hence, one can wonder about the variety of techniques they use to relate to the readers.

Annotated bibliography

Mabillard, Amanda. Violence in Shakespeare’s Plays. Shakespeare Online. 2000. (30/10/2012) < > This website describes every death linked to violence in Shakespeare plays all in separate categories (Suicide, murder, killed in combat, etc…) in addition to a brief description of every death. This website helped me not only find the deaths I wanted to talk about in my essay but also helped me find quotes for every cases of death. Golding, William.

Lord of the Flies. New York: Capricorn Books, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1954. The book Lord of the Flies was
really helpful to me to find quotes for my first argument as well as to make links with deaths in literature for a novel. Because of the novel’s pretty high count of death, I was able to establish a multitude of different links to my essay that bears with the presence of death. William Shakespeare, ed. Cyrus Hoy. Romeo and Juliet (Norton Critical Editions).

New York: Norton, 1992 The Shakespeare play “Romeo and Juliet” was helpful for my essay because it was one of the plays I used to link to the presence of death. In addition, “Romeo and Juliet” is home to the most famous death in literature and had to be inserted in my essay. William Shakespeare, ed. A. C. Bradley. Shakespearean tragedy: Macbeth. New York: Penguin, 1991. The Shakespeare play “Macbeth” was useful to my essay for many reasons. For starters, I had just finished reading this book before writing my essay which made it easy to make links between the presence of death in literature and this book. Also, like most of Shakespeare plays, “Macbeth” contains a lot of death’s which made it even easier for me to link it to my essay. Weller, Philip. Hamlet Navigator. Shakespeare Navigators, (21/11/2012). < >

This website contains all information that there is to know about Shakespeare (quotes, themes, scenes etc…). Although I did not use this site for a lot, it helped me make my annotated bibliography for every Shakespeare play I used in this essay.

SparkNotes Editors. SparkNote on Poe’s Short Stories. SparkNotes LLC. 2002. (18/11/2012) < >

This website is a summary of Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” which was really helpful for me to understand the plot of the story without having to read the entire short story. I also found quotes on this website.

Cite this page

Presence of Death in Literature. (2016, May 28). Retrieved from

Presence of Death in Literature

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