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Death Be Not Proud

John Gunther

Five and Aftermath

Death Be Not Proud: Four

Letters; Diary; A Word From Frances



Johnny's bulge disappears and is replaced by a long-awaited concavity. Still, he is worried about his health, bursts out defensively one night about his mental haziness, then lashes out at Mount for not releasing him. He also attacks Gunther's book.

Gunther transcribes Johnny's last letter. He wrote a note to the vacationing Frances describing his plans once he leaves the hospital. On May 15, he is checked out of Neurological Hospital. Gunther comments on the largeness of Johnny's brain, which he believes is proportionate to one's intelligence. At home, Johnny holds up decently, but the severity of his illness slowly dawns on him. He maintains an active intellectual life, however.

On May 25, Mr. Boydon, the headmaster of Deerfield, calls and announces that Johnny will receive his diploma because of his extra credits. Gunther and Frances cry, but Johnny tries to look nonchalant. They drive to Deerfield, and Johnny's turbaned appearance is at first unsettling to his classmates. Soon Johnny and his different look are accepted. Johnny acclimates himself to school, even taking a chemistry final exam, though his body is failing. He attends all the graduation events. On June 4, he marches to get his diploma despite his ill health and receives thunderous applause.

The family considers various experimental treatments, but none seem applicable to Johnny's condition. They repeat the earlier treatment—mustard, x-ray, Gerson diet, and possibly another operation, in that order of increasing intensity. On June 12, Johnny is sent back to Memorial Hospital. On June 23, Putnam and Traeger discuss the tumor after a consultation with Johnny; Putnam suggests x-rays. On June 27, Johnny suffers a worse attack of amnesia and the shivers.

Johnny maintains his drive for Harvard, even though he has difficulty feeding himself, and his shiver attacks seem permanent. He sleeps more and is less chipper. Frances visits on a Sunday, and on this day, Johnny regains his energy, enjoying a wonderful day with both parents, reading, and packing his books (mostly science) for his summer stay with his mother. The next day, June 30, Johnny is fatigued. Gunther takes him to Memorial for a last test before he heads to the country. The doctors are not too concerned. At home, Johnny has a bad headache, his most severe pain since his first operation. Morphine is sent to the house after Johnny vomits a caffeine pill. Gunther lies and tells Johnny he got accepted to Harvard. Johnny grows hazier, and Gunther calls Traeger to come over.

Traeger tells Gunther that Johnny is dying from a cerebral hemorrhage. Mount arrives, and says Johnny is even worse than before. After several complications, they transport him to a nearby hospital. There, he is given extensive medical attention, but it is not enough. Johnny goes to sleep and never wakes, dying at 11:02 P.M. His parents touch him.


Johnny wears a suit at his funeral. Gunther maintains that he is still alive to those who knew him—not in the spiritual sense, but in that his bravery still influences those who knew him. Since Frances is Jewish, they have a double ceremony, and a rabbi reads Johnny's "Unbeliever's Prayer." The family receives hundreds of condolence letters, and Gunther reprints three from doctors who express their sympathies and regret for the unfulfilled promise Johnny had. On the upside, Gunther discovers that the autopsy slides from Johnny's brain will be important in neurological studies, so Johnny does end up aiding science, as he had originally intended for his life's work.


Johnny looks "bored" or ignores poetry on death when he and Gunther read together. It is unclear whether he does this either out of fear or, as before, a desire not to let it get in his way, since he used to be more engaged with the idea of death in his conversations with Frances. Perhaps he is less comfortable discussing it with his father, but fear does creep into his life more. His hostility emerges early in the section with several flare-ups, a stark contrast to his regular self, but his anger also shows the strength of his conviction to get better. Still, all his capacity for life comes out that one Sunday when Frances visits, showing his last days were filled with some of his former vitality.

Furthermore, fear is eradicated near the end of Johnny's life. Gunther remarks that he will not explore the "whys" of death here, perhaps because they must remain unanswered. However, the "whys" of life—the reasons why we go on living—seem more than answered by the example Johnny set. Gunther says Johnny died without fear, "without pain, and without knowing he was going to die," but all along Johnny did know he was going to die, yet he still persisted fearlessly, rarely turning a blind eye to his fate. This foreknowledge, and the courageous acceptance of it, is what allows him to die with dignity. Boydon says the graduation is not a favor for Johnny (since he is missing one credit), but his "right." This is true: Johnny undoubtedly worked harder than any other student to graduate, and even for someone as academically diligent as Johnny, one credit is nothing compared to multiple brain surgeries. Gunther says Johnny's ability to walk and receive his diploma (with his weakened left hand) stands for his strength and will, and, more importantly, that those who witnessed it will never forget it. Johnny is not merely a student, but a teacher, inspiring others by his example. It is fitting that he makes a final contribution to science through his death.

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