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Posted on October 11th, 2012, by

The evaluation of human actions is always a subject of a profound attention from the part of writers. At the same time, the deeds of people and their significance become particularly obvious when people face their last moments of their life. In fact, it is by the end of the life, people attempt to understand all their actions and their moral value. In this regard, there is no distinction between a villain and an ordinary person who lived a routine life. On the other hand, it is quite difficult to assess an individual, especially before his or her death, when his or her entire life is highly controversial, as it is the case of the life of Jack Slade in “Rouging It”¯ by Mark Twain. Nevertheless, whatever the person is he or she cannot remain unnoticed by people who surround this person. At this point, Jack Slade has drawn the attention of people by his evil deeds, but his notoriety overshadowed a good side of his nature. In such a situation, it is very difficult to experience the death of a person even, if he was a criminal like Jack Slade, but it is even more difficult to experience a death of a close relative, as it is the case of the death of Abuelita, which her granddaughter suffers a lot. In such a way, both authors, Mark Twain and Helena Viramontes raise a very important theme, the theme of experiencing death and the evaluation of the life of people, who are about to die or have just died, by their social environment and relatives.

On analyzing the life of the characters depicted by both authors and their death, it is possible to reveal two different views on the death of an individual. On the one hand, there is an external view of a stranger on the death of a person, such as Jack Slade. From this standpoint, the death of a person can be viewed as just, depending on the background of an individual and his or her deeds. On the other hand, there is a n internal view of a family member, who can have a totally different attitude toward a dead person, in spite of the public opinion and some actions the dead person has committed in the course of his or her life.

In this respect, the personality and death of Jack Slade seems to be particularly controversial. Mark Twain reveals the full controversy of this character:

There was such magic in that name, SLADE! Day or night, now, I stood always ready to drop any subject in hand, to listen to something new about Slade and his ghastly exploits. Even before we got to Overland City, we had begun to hear about Slade and his “division”¯ (for he was a “division-agent”¯) on the Overland; and from the hour we had left Overland City we had heard drivers and conductors talk about only three things ”“ “Californy,”¯ the Nevada silver mines, and this desperado Slade. And a deal the most of the talk was about Slade. We had gradually come to have a realizing sense of the fact that Slade was a man whose heart and hands and soul were steeped in the blood of offenders against his dignity; a man who awfully avenged all injuries, affront, insults or slights, of whatever kind – on the spot if he could, years afterward if lack of earlier opportunity compelled it; a man whose hate tortured him day and night till vengeance appeased it – and not an ordinary vengeance either, but his enemy’s absolute death–nothing less; a man whose face would light up with a terrible joy when he surprised a foe and had him at a disadvantage. A high and efficient servant of the Overland, an outlaw among outlaws and yet their relentless scourge, Slade was at once the most bloody, the most dangerous and the most valuable citizen that inhabited the savage fastnesses of the mountains. (Twain, 9)

In fact, it is obvious that Jack Slade is a bloodthirsty criminal who should be punished and executed to secure the life of people. He was inclined to crimes and murders and nothing could have stopped him but his own death. In this respect, the public opinion definitely supported the court decision to execute jack Slade, whose name evoked fear in minds of ordinary citizens.

However, there was a different view on the life and deeds of this person. Jack Slade was not totally bad as one may think. Instead, the author points out that “those who saw him in his natural state only, would pronounce him to be a kind husband, a most hospitable host and a courteous gentleman; on the contrary, those who met him when maddened with liquor and surrounded by a gang of armed roughs, would pronounce him a fiend incarnate.”¯ (Twain, 11). In such a way, the author reveals the fact that Jack Slade was not a bad person by nature but he became a villain under the impact of his lifestyle. In such a context, the death of Jack Slade does not seem to be as just as it might seem to be at the beginning, when Mark Twain just recounts the evil deeds of the person, about which he writes as follows; “From Fort Kearney, west, he [Jack Slade] was feared a great deal more than the almighty”¯ (Twain 11).

At the same time, Mark Twain argues that Jack Slade had some innate nobility. He had a moral courage of which Twain writes: “if moral courage is not the requisite quality, what could it have been that this stout-hearted Slade lacked? – this bloody, desperate, kindly-mannered, urbane gentleman, who never hesitated to warn his most ruffianly enemies that he would kill them whenever or wherever he came across them next!”¯ (11). In such a way, the author shows that even the criminal who is executed can have noble inclinations and be a good person by nature.

Remarkably, Jack Slade was proud of his principles and his deeds:

J. A. Slade was himself, we have been informed, a Vigilante; he openly boasted of it, and said he knew all that they knew. He was never accused, or even suspected, of either murder or robbery, committed in this Territory (the latter crime was never laid to his charge, in any place); but that he had killed several men in other localities was notorious, and his bad reputation in this respect was a most powerful argument in determining his fate, when he was finally arrested for the offence above mentioned (Twain, 11).

Obviously, Jack Slade did not hide his evil nature but he lived in accordance to his own principles to which he remained devoted till the end of his life. In such a context, his death does seem to be a tragedy and loss for his family and society at large because even the most virtuous people do not always remain devoted to their principles. In such a way, the author reveals that the death of an individual can evoke highly controversial reactions and, whatever a person was, it is a tragedy for his family.

This idea is particularly strong in “The Moths”¯ by Helena Viramontes, where the author depicts the death of the grandmother and experience of her granddaughter, who suffers a lot. The main character of the short story, the granddaughter is very concerned with the death of her grandmother, but she understands the inevitability of the death. In this respect, she depicts the preparation of her grandmother to death and her care about the granddaughter as she “made a balm out of dried moths wings”¦ to shape my hands back to size”¯ (Viramontes, 1239). In such a way, the grandmother prepared her granddaughter to separation caused by her death. She convinced the granddaughter that the death is inevitable and it is a natural process. At the same time, she attempts to ease the pain of her granddaughter, who suffers after the death of her grandmother. For this purpose the grandmother uses moths as symbols of spirituality which ease the pain of the granddaughter who feels lonely after the death of her grandmother.

In fact, the author shows that the moths become a part of the grandmother’s soul: “Then the moths came: Small gray ones that came from her soul and out through her mouth fluttering to light”¯ (Viramontes, 1241). In such a way, the granddaughter comes prepared to the death of her grandmother. She understands that the death is a natural process but she loves her grandmother and this love is mutual. This is why the grandmother starts to prepare her granddaughter to her death and uses moths as symbols of immortality of her soul. Hence, the granddaughter believes that it is only the body of her grandmother that has died, while her soul remains alive and it will always stay with her granddaughter.

Similarly, to Mark Twain, Helena Viramontes shows that the death of a close relative is a tragedy for family members. But, if Mark Twain’s character dies unexpectedly as he is executed, the family suffers from the tragic loss of the husband and father, then in Helena Viramontes short story, the death of the grandmother is expected and anticipated by her granddaughter who is morally prepared to the tragedy.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the theme of death that is discussed by Mark Twain and Helena Viramontes can evoke highly controversial reactions. On the one hand, the death can be justified and welcomed by people, if a criminal like Jack Slade is executed. On the other hand, the death of an individual is always a tragedy for his or her family members because above all they view a dead person as a person whom they loved and who took care of them. In such a way, two absolutely different views on death are revealed.

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