Comparative Analysis of Death in A Dirty Job and The Book Thief
Comparative Analysis of Death in A Dirty Job and The Book Thief
There are endless notions and assumptions about the character of Death - Comparative Analysis of Death in A Dirty Job and The Book Thief introduction. Death’s popularity had inspired constant production of literary and mythological works. This essay will try to conduct a comparative analysis of two portrayals of the character of Death in two stories namely “A Dirty Job” by author Christopher Moore, and “The Book Thief” by author Markus Zusak. In these modern depictions, there are deconstructions of the conventional notions about Death in both stories. Both of these stories had employed the character of Death in their narratives so it is very interesting to dissect if there are similarities, differences, and deconstructions in the two portrayals of the character of Death.
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Since the character of Death has many stereotypes, it would be easier to pin point similarities between the two portrayals. The similarities can be easily handpicked since these characteristics are already obvious and at the surface of the narratives. It would also be easier to start with the similarities since the character of Death is somewhat portrayed as always having fixed stereotypes, like Death is some sort of stock character in stories. Also, since the notion of the character of Death comes with many stereotypes, this essay would also locate deconstructions in the two stories.
The similarities shared by the two stories are more often than not, conventions and stereotypes surrounding the character of Death. Death in both stories are both functioning as the collector of souls, as the grim reaper, the most common and conventional notion regarding death.
It is a common notion that Death should be invisible to the mortal eye. In both stories, Death was also portrayed in such a manner that he should be invisible. In the first story, the character that was first functioning as Death, a relatively tall black man, was in the same room where his wife was dying. The protagonist of the story, Charlie Asher saw the tall black man. He had asked him if what he was doing around the deathbed of his wife. Then the tall black man, that is supposed to be also Death, replied as if he was astounded “You can see me?” (Moore 8). The tall man was bedazzled because as I had said earlier, it is a convention and common notions that Death is not suppose to be seen by mortal humans. But as in this instance, we can observe that there was an explicit and not to mention interesting deconstruction of the stereotypes that surround the character of Death. The conventional depiction of Death that he usually comes with a skull-faced specter wearing a torn black cloth with a hood and always carries a scythe was completely deconstructed in the first story. That convention is utterly shattered in the story “A Dirty Job,” in which Death is quite dressed in a way shall I say, post-modern. In the second story “The Book Thief,” the character of death tells the readers how he looks, “I [Death] don’t carry a scythe or sickle. I wear a black cloth with a hood only when the weather is cold and I don’t have a skull-like face…” (Zusak 329)
A very notable similarity between the two stories regarding the portrayal of Death is that those individuals appointed as Death seem to dislike the fact that they were appointed to job. Both the characters that play Death in the stories seem to be reluctant to embrace the job of soul collector. In “A Dirty Job,” the protagonist Charlie Asher seem to have problems juggling raising his daughter and doing his job. In the second story, even though Death had been doing his job since men had started dying, he seems uncomfortable with his function as Death. It is not that he dislikes his job, what he is uncomfortable of are the situations that he has to collect the souls. Perhaps the most dominant similarity between the two stories is that wherever Death is, it should be expected that some people around him are going to die, of course, this excludes the key characters of the narratives just like how Death in the story “The Book Thief” seems to favor and the favor is quite bias to the book thief Liesel Meminger. Death in “The Book Thief” doesn’t appear to be surprised at people around him dropping dead (but he does it in a very interesting and non-stereotypical manner), considering the story’s context of war, but in the story “A Dirty Job” Death seem to be uncomfortable with his job. This is just understandable as Charlie Asher, the protagonist of the story “A Dirty Job” had only acquired the job of being Death just after his wife had died. Charlie Asher is uncomfortable with people dropping dead around him because he started in the narrative as human, he is just newly appointed as Death and it was done in quite an abrupt manner. It is just understandable that he would have difficulty in adjusting in his new job since his new job is what we can consider as the ugliest and unrewarding job there is, thus the title “A Dirty Job.”
Since both the stories were clearly deconstructions of stereotypes surrounding death, there are a lot of differences since both portrayal of the character of Death is shall I say individualized and given flavors and colors according to the preference of the authors. In the story “The Book Thief,” the character of Death is the Death that we stereotypically know only with a few tweaks by the author. He is the same invisible immaterial being that had been collecting souls since men began dying as opposed to the Death in the story “A Dirty Job” wherein the character of Death was originally human. With these differences, their appearances are also differing since one is human and the other is a mystical being. The other one clearly doesn’t wear a black hooded cloth, he just wears normal human clothes.
A significant difference is the way Death thinks and speaks in the stories. Death in the story “The Book Thief” is more focused on the situations of people rather than the people themselves. Death is portrayed as a thinking and sensitive being. This portrayal of death is clearly a deconstruction of Death that is usually non-talkative and non-expressive of his ideas and opinions about what is happening around him. The usual notion about Death is like he is just present wherever someone of something is dying. In that sense, the character of Death becomes reduced to a mere representation of the concept of dying and death. The usual portrayal of Death seems to be lacking character and interesting twists as opposed to modern depictions of Death. In the story “The Book Thief,” Death had expressed in a rather eloquent phrase his reluctance with regards to his function, “…it sometime kills me, to see how people die.” (Zusak 24) As a matter of fact, the character of Death in “The Book Thief” is quite always poetic in his language. Well, I think that is just understandable and logical since the character of Death was the narrator for “The Book Thief.” The novel had beautifully opened with Death speaking such charming lines with the words “first the colours then the humans, that is how I usually see things” (Zusak 3)
A very notable difference between the two is the methodology with regards to their approach towards soul collecting. In the story “The Book Thief,” it seems like the character of Death can send souls to the conveyer belt of eternity, as the story calls it, with just a touch or a whisper (Zusak 23). The methodology in the story “A Dirty Job” is quite very different to the conventional notion that we know and it is also quite very interesting. There exists in the novel what Moore had called “soul vessels” which are personal objects that has very deep sentimental value to the person who had owned them. It is Death’s job to retrieve those objects to send the soul of the dead owner of the object to the afterlife (Moore 78).
Also, in the story “The Book Thief” there is only one character of Death as opposed to the “A Dirty Job” wherein there are dozen “Death Merchants” or “Deputies of Death” that functions as Death or the grim reaper in the narrative.
There were heavy deconstructions of the character of Death in both stories, but it is more obvious in the story “A Dirty Job” since Death was portrayed as having the same weaknesses a human can have. The protagonist of the story had to deal with being a single parent, his job, his boss, and many other problems many of us can relate to. Although there were a few tweaks in the characterization of Death in the story “The Book Thief,” not to mention that Death poetizes almost everything around him and his heightened sensitivity, he still appear as the same Death that is conventionally known. It is not that the character of Death in the story “The Book Thief” was done badly, he is actually charming and admirable, it just so happens that Death in the story “A Dirty Job” is more entertaining. The reason for that, setting aside the witty and humorous lines, is that his character is someone that many of us can relate to, simply because he is human like us and he has human problems like us. The readers can relate more to the character of Death in “A Dirty Job.”
Aside from what I have stated from the previous paragraph, I liked more the Death in “A Dirty Job” because the character and the whole book were written in a very humorous fashion. It was like seeing someone who one wouldn’t expect to be funny to be making you laugh until your stomach hurt. As opposed to Death in “The Book Thief” who offers profoundness through poetic lines, Death in “A Dirty Job” was also speaking about profound things like how Beta-Males get through life but in a light and very entertaining manner. The main and decisive difference was that Death in “A Dirty Job” can make us laugh over the things that Death in “The Book Thief” contemplates so much.
Moore, Christopher. A Dirty Job. CA: William Morrow, 2006.
Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. Germany: Knopf, 2006.