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A Death in the Family

James Agee

Chapters 18–20

Chapter 17

Chapters 18–20, page 2

page 1 of 2

Chapter 18

The narrative shifts to Mary's point of view. She feels that she is coming to terms with Jay's death and that she has grown up overnight. She stands up and is going to walk out the door when her knees suddenly buckle. She falls to the floor. Hannah catches her, and Father Jackson says a prayer. Mary finally collects herself enough to stand up. She leans heavily on Father Jackson as she leaves the room.

Chapter 19

Mary and the children go and see the body, which has been laid out in the living room of her parents' house next to the fireplace. Rufus looks at his father's features and describes them in detail. Mary, Rufus, and little Catherine all kneel before the casket and say a prayer. Then Father Jackson comes up behind them and says another prayer, placing his hands on their shoulders. Hannah leads Rufus and Catherine out so that Mary can have a moment alone with Father Jackson and Jay. The fact that Mary is alone praying with father Jackson upsets Andrew and Joel, who are waiting in the hallway.

The children go to see their father one more time, in a different room. Then Walter Starr arrives to take them back home. However, instead of going right to his house, Walter turns around and lets the children watch the funeral procession as it goes down the street. He thinks that later on they will be glad they saw it. They watch their whole family exit the house and get into various automobiles and a streetcar to go to the graveyard. Then Walter takes the children back to his home.

Chapter 20

Little Catherine spends some time sitting on the front porch watching people walk by. The she wonders, "Where's Daddy?" and suddenly she wants to find someone. When she ventures upstairs, her mother and aunt are busy praying, so she goes into the bedroom across the hall and hides under the bed. Her mother and aunt come out and call and call for her, and when they finally find her, she runs crying into her mother's arms.

Andrew and Rufus go for a walk. At first they are quiet, and Rufus thinks that Andrew looks almost angry. Then Andrew tells Rufus that if anything could make him believe in God, it would be what happened that afternoon at the burial. He tells Rufus that as they were lowering the coffin into the ground, a butterfly came and landed on the coffin and stayed there until it was all the way inside the earth. Then it flew out and up out of sight into the sky.

Rufus feels glad that Andrew has told him about the butterfly, as it makes him feel better about not being at the funeral. But then Andrew gets angry again and tells Rufus that at the funeral, Father Jackson refused to read the complete burial service over Jay's coffin because Jay was never baptized. Rufus does not understand how Andrew can hate religion so much and still love Mary and Aunt Hannah. Rufus wants to ask, but cannot bring himself to do so. The pair walks home in silence.

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