chapter  3
28 Pages

New Emotions and Rituals in Death: The United States and Western Society

Signs of change were unmistakable by the 1820s, and by 1900 they had ac cumulated substantially. One specific example sums up larger cultural shifts. In 1820, a dead person would be laid out in the home, often showing the ravages of the fatal disease, and of course deteriorating further in the few days before burial, even when ice was used to slow decay. In 1900, an increasingly typical scenario involved a dead person embalmed, the traces of illness magically removed and deterioration prevented during viewing-and often not at home but in what WASREVEALINGLYCALLEDAFUNERALPARLOR0ARLORSHADEMERGEDASTHEFANCYVISITORS ROOMINMIDDLE CLASSHOUSESEARLIERINTHECENTURYTHEYWEREACTUALLYDECLINING by 1900 in favor of the more informal “living room,” but the respectability of the REFERENCELONGPRESERVEDITINTHENEWFUNERALBUSINESS /BVIOUSLYTHECHANGE toward a more removed and a more cosmetic treatment of a dead body reflected new commercial zeal and significant new or revived technology, including the use of chemicals and makeup. But there was more: The sight of death, routine in 1820, was becoming less acceptable, the emotions it aroused less welcome. Commerce and technology supported a major shift in cultural standards.