A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry

By Lois Lowry

Thirteen-year-old Meg envies her sister's good looks and recognition. Her emotions don't make it any more uncomplicated for her to deal with Molly's unusual ailment and eventual demise.

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42 Even in opera, where (thanks to program notes and memory) we likely know the plot ending, the existential risk is still real, and not only because the ending might not “work” in this particular production, on this particular night. There is no guarantee of catharsis, argues Schmidt, but the gamble is part of the pleasure of the theater, even (or especially, we would add) when the theme of the work is death itself. ”44 We The Contemplation of Death 37 need to confer significance on experience (including the experience of dying), and stories offer what he calls “imaginative equivalents of closure,” which accomplish this in ways we can never manage in our own lives.

But is it possible to watch the death of someone on stage without at least for a moment considering one’s own demise? We suspect not, even if each person will inevitably react differently. Elisabeth Bronfen has argued that representations of death force us to confront our own end in a kind of “death by proxy”: we know we are mortal and must submit to our mortality, yet because (as safely distanced audience members) we do not actually die, but only witness staged death, we can feel as if we are asserting some mastery over the End: “Ultimately, the seminal ambivalence subtending all representations of death resides in the fact that, while they are morally educating and emotionally elevating, they also touch on the knowledge of our mortality, which for most is so disconcerting that we would prefer to disavow it.

34 But the witnessing Blanche cannot attain any such aesthetic or psychic balance. Nor can the dying Prioress. Nor can the audience—not yet, at least. Only at the end of the opera will this death change meaning—not only for the characters, but also for the rest of us. Triumph over Death Two full acts must pass, in fact, before any cathartic relief is allowed to anyone. Act 2 opens with Blanche’s terrified flight from her watch over the corpse of the Prioress: the presence of the dead, like the dying, profoundly unsettles the young novice.

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