Tamanna Zamani Dr. Jason Bourget English 1130-053 22 Jan 2013 Analysis of Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain In the Article “Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain” Jessica Mitford does an excellent job of providing a detailed and informative criticism of American funerals and embalming the dead. Mitford believes that the entire process of embalming the dead is disrespectful and sickening. She makes her opinions quite clear and achieves her purpose, which is to expose the horrendous acts which are happening in a funeral home by using sarcasm, evocative imagery, and questioning the legality of this process. Throughout the article she uses sarcasm to reveal the sham that takes place behind the curtain of what the corpse goes through.
Mitford also uses evocative imagery by using strong gruesome vocabulary to attract the reader and create an image in the reader’s mind for a better understanding of the process. She also targets the entire American population for being gullible to fall for this act. The purpose of this essay is to analyze Mitford’s “Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain” and distinguish the various methods she uses to express her opinion. Mitford’s uses a sarcastic tone in her article to describe the process of embalming the dead, making it informative for her readers. She mocks this embalming process but she doesn’t do it directly. For example, in the article she describes how the entire procedure is in the hands of someone who is not qualified to be executing it, “The preparation room in any of the better funeral establishments has the tiled and sterile look of a surgery, and indeed the embalmer-restorative artist who does his chores there is beginning to adopt the term ‘dermasurgeon'” (Mitford 311).
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She also informs the reader how terrible they treat the body for viewing, “Head off? Decapitation cases are rather routinely handled. Ragged edges are trimmed, and head joined to the torso with a series of splints wires and sutures” (Mitford 313). Mitford uses her sarcastic tone making the restoration process sound normal when she’s really describing how poorly they handle the body. To paint a better picture for the readers of the entire process, Mitford also uses evocative imagery. The reason why she goes into such details is so she can create this picture in her reader’s mind so they can understand her feelings.
Mitford does this by using strong language and describes the embalming activities in full detail. One could withdraw from reading the article finding it horrifying or containing too much information but Mitford maintains interest in her readership with strong and detailed vocabulary. She uses evocative imagery when discussing several products which are used to embalm a body including a “Special Cosmetic Tint, a pink shade ‘especially indicated for young female subjects'” (Mitford 312). If the customer wants “velvety appearance of living tissue,” “Lyf-Lyk tint” (Mitford 312) is used. This informs the reader about the abundance of materials used which demonstrates her central point that embalming the dead is inhumane and disrespectful towards the dead. In addition, Mitford also targets the gullibility of the American population and questions the legality of this process. “One must wonder at the docility of Americans who each year pay hundreds of millions of dollars for its perpetuation, blissfully ignorant of what it is all about, what is done, how its done.
Not one in ten thousand has any idea of what actually takes place” (Mitford 311). Here, Mitford reveals how the family members of the deceased are paying so much money for this when in reality they have no clue about the terrifying things that are being done to the body to make it look beautiful for the American population to view. Mitford also frequently questions the legality of the embalming process, “Is all this legal” (Mitford 311). She refers to the accepted law practices in other states regarding the procedures following the afterlife. “In most states, the signature of the next kin must be obtained before the autopsy may be performed, before the deceased may be cremated, before the body may be turned over to a medical school for research purposes” (Mitford 311). Mitford accomplishes her purpose to educate the American population about the funeral industry and question their beliefs about funerals and practices. In conclusion, Mitford blissfully maintains the attention of her readers by using various styles and approaches to indirectly prove her point.
She’s portrayed a very detailed picture of the entire process of embalming the dead using a sarcastic tone, evocative imagery, and targeting the gullibility of the American population.