I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They’re running at me.
The story’s narrator, Death, gives his view of war. He explains that young men in battle see their adversaries as each other. This viewpoint gives them a certain expectation of what will happen. However, in actuality they do battle with Death. Death does not mention, however, that young men’s inaccurate understanding, whether devised by themselves or promoted by their superiors, provides the foundation for all battles to take place.
“When death captures me,” the boy vowed, “he will feel my fist on his face.” Personally, I quite like that. Such stupid gallantry.
Death comments on Max’s defiant words. Max watched his uncle die with little complaint, and vows to fight death, even if he cannot avoid dying. Death admires Max’s brave spirit, even while acknowledging the futility of fighting death. Death does not assert his dominance in a mocking or threatening way, however. Nor does he seek out people in order to kill them. Death simply collects souls when their time to die arrives. He finds people fascinating, and he forces himself to ignore their stories most of the time so that he can get his job done.
They say that war is death’s best friend, but… war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.” So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, doesn’t thank you. He asks for more.
Death explains the distinction between what people think about war—and about death—and the reality. To Death, war does not serve as a friend but an employer, and a demanding one at that. Death does not have a preference whether people live or die, he just deals with the aftermath—the gathering of souls—and that task multiplies during war. Death disagrees with the idea that he likes his job; he does the work because the work needs to be done. He suggests he doesn’t function as the agent of dying, instead, humans bring about their own deaths.
“Have me,” they said, and there was no stopping them. They were frightened, no question, but they were not afraid of me. It was a fear of messing up and having to face themselves again, and facing the world, and the likes of you.
Death discusses the people who commit suicide. First of all, Death doesn’t decide if these people die as a result of their actions. These people alone decide to end their lives. Unlike most humans, they fear something in life more than they fear death, and choose to die to avoid it. Death addresses the reader when he suggests that these suffering souls wish to get away from their fellow humans, thus implicating humanity in general in their deaths.
[T]hey have one thing I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.
Death, of course, cannot die and voices his regret about this fact here. Readers learn that he does not choose who lives and dies, and takes perhaps pride but no joy in his sometimes arduous job. Death believes that dying represents a humane dynamic in the grand scheme of life. As an immortal, he experiences existence as an unending burden that humans by contrast don’t need to carry forever. The novel certainly suggests that living can be worse than dying.