To Hell with Dying, by Alice WalkerPresentation Transcript
Dr M. Fahmy Raiyah
AliceWalker• Born in 1944.• An American novelist, short story writer, poet, and political activist.• Her best works include The Color Purple.• She is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1983) and The National Book Award (1983)
Summary Mr. Sweet is a neighbor of the narrator, who is initially a little girlsummoned with the rest of her siblings whenever Mr. Sweet is threatening todie. The narrator describes how she and her brothers loved Mr. Sweet,despite the fact that he was an indifferent cotton farmer, a frequent drunk,and an inveterate smoker. Somehow the faults of the old man, including hisfalling-down bouts of drunkenness and his slovenly personal appearance, arenot impediments to the devotion he inspires or the affection for him on thepart of the narrator and her brothers. Each time the children are summoned, Mr. Sweet is reputed to be atdeaths door. "To hell with dying," the narrators father would say. "Thesechildren want Mr. Sweet!" Then the youngsters would leap on the man in bedand begin their miraculous revival. By turns tickling and kissing Mr. Sweet, theneighbor kids manage to revive him time after time. The narrator comes tohave faith in her unfailing ability to bring him back to life, and several timesthe children succeed when the local doctor had given up hope. Nearly two decades pass, and the narrator is in graduate school whenanother summons comes. She flies back to the rural South and hastens to thebedside of the old man, now over ninety. But this time, after a brief return toconsciousness, Mr. Sweet dies.(from http://litmed.med.nyu.edu/Annotation?action=view&annid=1240)
Point of ViewFirst person point of view. SettingIn the house of Mr. Sweet, in the American South,during the late 1950s.
ThemesLoveThe story is about the saving power of love and how it can be a very effectiveremedy to hopelessness and depression. Mr. Sweet’s failures in life, hisunfulfilled goals to become a doctor, a lawyer, or a sailor, and his failure to marrythe woman he loved seemed to overcome him and make him turn to the bottleas a refuge. Drinking, playing the guitar, and having fun with the children are hisonly consolation. The children, especially the narrator, succeed in giving him asense of self-satisfaction and worth. His frequent bouts of depression arefollowed by near-death episodes, from which he is magically rescued by thechildren. The father’s “to hell with dying. . . The children want Mr. Sweet,”followed by kissing and tickling from the children, works magic on him and he isrevived. On the other hand, Mr. Sweet manages to give the narrator a sense ofmerit; he makes her feel pretty and calls her “my princess.” Her academicsuccess is the result of the sense of self-worth that Mr. Sweet is able to fill herwith. He saves her as she has saved him many times before.RacismMr. Sweet grew up in a time period of racial segregation and protest. Mr. Sweetwas ambitious as a boy and wanted to be a doctor or lawyer or sailor, but he soondiscovers that he wouldn’t be able to achieve his goals because of his colour.Consequently, he turns to fishing and playing the guitar to prove himself.
EscapismSome people who fail in facing life challenges tendto find solace in various things. Mr. Sweet burieshis failures in wine and the guitar. Moreimportantly, his deathbed scenes are another formof his escapism. Unconsciously, he chooses to dieand run away from his problems. His bonding withthe children is his only link with life.
Characters Mr. Sweet Little is the main character. Because ofhis failures in life, his inability to choose the career heliked and his inability to marry the woman he loved,he tends to escape from life. In playing the guitar, heescapes from life into art. In the songs he plays, heexpresses his dissatisfaction with reality. His deathepisodes are more notable examples of his escapefrom life. The children’s expression of love and thefather’s “to hell with dying,” and “the children wantMr. Sweet” show him that he is still wanted and lovedand that his life mattered, and this succeeds in savinghim from death. His bond with the children and theiraffections for him are his lifebelt.
Symbolism The guitar is a symbol of creativity. Playingthe guitar compensates Mr. Sweet for his failurein becoming what he wanted. Leaving theguitar for the narrator is a symbol of passing thegift of creativity to her. This a reference toWalker’s success as a writer. The guitar can also be a symbol of Mr.Sweet’s escaping from life into art.