By: Eryka Martin, Britteney Arnold, & Brittany Rosario

Through reading Eagleman’s Sum, we determined that the most interesting short story in the series was ‘Metamorphosis’. It is an observation of the afterlife, where the audience is told that there are “three deaths”. In this blog, we comparatively analyze the three stages of death with the stages of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis.

The first death is one that creates familiarity because it is the basic definition of death that all living creatures encounter. It is when the body ceases to function. At this stage of death, loved ones say their goodbyes, celebrate and mourn the life of the dead and remember the person who has passed on in a positive light. This is represented in the caterpillar stage when the egg becomes a larvae that says hello to a new world from a place of previous nonexistence. The death of a living being is now entering a new world– a heaven or hell, a purgatory, or an afterlife.

George Oates, European Butterflies and Moths, flickr creative commons (2015)

The second death takes place at the grave. This is when the stories of the deceased are being shared amongst loved ones, and their memory is “refreshed”. This is symbolic in the cocoon stage, which represents a coffin at the grace where the caterpillar no longer exists as just a caterpillar but is changing into a new life-form. The deceased in buried and moving on.

Finally, there is the third death where the last person who remembered the deceased in life, has either finally forgot about them, or has passed on themselves. It’s been years since they have gone through the first two stages of death. During the long wait for the memory of their life to disappear from the living world, there is a “lobby” for the ones waiting to move on, which is essentially a purgatory or judgment room. This stage is the fully developed butterfly who leaves its’ community and flies away to a new one. It is now an adult ready to fly on its’ own and explore a new world.

According to Eagleman, this could be something that everyone goes through. Given the information found in this short story, we can see how it relates to Herman’s basic elements of narrative:

           (i) situatedness,

          (ii) event sequencing,

          (iii) worldmaking/ world disruption and

          (iv) what it’s like.

Situatedness, refers to the plot setting. Basically where and what the story looks like. In ‘Metamorphosis’, we’re given a mundane environment: a lobby filled with aisle after aisle of seating. Eagleman describes it as “an infinite airport waiting area”. So if this is where the dead go for the next stage, they’re in for a very slow, monotonous wait.

Event sequencing, carefully puts together the structure of the story. At the beginning of ‘Metamorphosis’, the main character is described. This person seems to have just arrived in the lobby, and is just getting their bearings. Among the unfortunate souls there are those who are remembered not by the vast amounts of knowledge, discoveries, or talent they possessed, but by some twisted truth that keeps them there. This is the finale – those who remain in the waiting room are doomed to wait for decades, become desperate, and called forth to the other side.

Worldmaking or world disruption, refers to the “lives” of those who are forced to wait, unsure of whether they want to move on or not. Unsure of whether they’re ready to accept that no one on earth remembers them, or of if they’ll even be able to leave. Their conflicts are internal, and revolve round the belief that something good awaits them on the other side.

What it’s like, is based on opinion. We all feel relatively different depending on what we took away from the story. Some might feel pity for those who are forced to stay behind; others, curiosity. The characters themselves are all feeling differently as well.

After it is all said and done, no one really knows what will follow the three stages of death or if an afterlife exists. Yet a majority of society continues to believe that a heaven, hell, purgatory or afterlife exists. During life, we are conscious of the right now and we try to live to the fullest. We have a purpose as living creatures– especially as human beings– to evolve, sustain, grow and repeat. This is how we continue to survive as a society. We must not lose sight of our purpose.