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HEROIC DEATH

Clive Seale
Sociology
Vol. 29, No. 4 (November 1995), pp. 597-613
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42855607
Page Count: 17
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HEROIC DEATH
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Abstract

This paper shows how individuals in late modern social conditions seek to imbue dying, and caring for the dying, with meaning. Accounts provided in a survey of 250 individuals who knew people who had died in the UK are examined. The analysis counters the view that the denial of death is widespread in conditions where religion no longer offers individuals a meaningful narrative for the dying self. Scripts for proclaiming heroic self-identity in the face of death are promoted by cultural experts and appropriated by many lay individuals. This involves a struggle against external and internal enemies to gain knowledge, the opportunity to demonstrate courage and a beatific state of emotional accompaniment in which 'carers' and dying people participate. Unlike more traditional forms of heroism, this script deviates from celebrating solely masculine qualities and includes a female heroics of care, concern and emotional expression. At the same time, some deaths cannot be written into this script, which is particularly well suited to deaths from cancer and AIDs. The deaths of the very old, the mentally confused and sudden unexpected deaths are often difficult to interpret in these heroic terms. Additionally, a rival script exists amongst some lay individuals that stands in opposition to the professional consensus on the desirability of open awareness. This emphasises the benefits of continuing the everyday project of the self oblivious of oncoming death, with others shouldering the burden of awareness in an attempt to protect the dying person against the strain of knowledge. This rival script, however, commands decreasing allegiance in a society where the project of the self is rarely given over to the care of others, and trust is commonly negotiated in confessional moments.

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