Mitford Jessica - The American Way of Death Revisited

Author : Mitford Jessica
Title : The American Way of Death Revisited
Year : 2000

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Foreword. This would normally be the place to say (as critics of the American funeral trade invariably do), "I am not, of course, speaking of the vast majority of ethical undertakers." But the vast majority of ethical undertakers is precisely the subject of this book. To be "ethical" merely means to adhere to a prevailing code of morality, in this case one devised over the years by the undertakers themselves for their own purposes. The outlook of the average undertaker, who does adhere to the code of his calling, is to me more significant than that of his shadier colleagues, who are merely smalltime crooks such as may be found in any sphere of business. Scandais, although they frequently erupt (misuse by undertakers of the coroner's office to secure business, bribery of hospital personnel to "steer" cases, the illegal reuse of coffins, fraudulent double charges in welfare cases), are not typical of the trade as a whole, and therefore are not part of the subject matter of this book. Another point often made by critics of the modern American funeral is that if there are excesses in funerary matters, the public is to biarne. I am unwilling on the basis of present evidence to find the public guilty; this defendant has only recently begun to present his case. I have not included the atypical funerals: quaint death customs still practiced by certain lndian tribes, the rites accorded Gypsy kings and queens, the New Orleans jazz funerals, the great movie and gangland funerals which had their heyday in the thirties and still occur from time to time. I have regretfully avoided these byways, intriguing though they are, for the main highway-the "average," "typical" American funerary practices, surely fully as curious as any of the customs derived from ancient folklore or modern variants. ...

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