A Death in the Family

by: James Agee

Chapter 8

Summary Chapter 8

Agee uses this chapter to create a parallel between the two women, informing us that Hannah suffered a similar loss thirty years ago. As Hannah watches Mary come to terms with the possibility that her husband may be dead, she is reminded of her own experience: "she was with her voice and with each word opening in Hannah those all but forgotten hours, almost thirty years past, during which the cross of living had first nakedly borne in upon her being… Your turn now, poor child, she thought." It is in this passage that we gain more insight into Hannah's character than at any other point in the story. Watching Mary suffer—and suffering with her—has a profound effect on Hannah, who feels a strong realization of what it means to be alive, to suffer, and to endure.

Religion continues to play a prominent part. Hannah and Mary are the two most religious characters in the novel, and in times of trouble they turn to their faith for solace. Mary first prays by herself in her room before anyone arrives, and near the end of the chapter Mary and Hannah kneel down and pray together. However, when they kneel down to pray together, Hannah expresses inner doubt of her belief in God: "she could not rid herself: something mistaken, unbearably piteous, infinitely malign was at large within that faithfulness." However, as Hannah kneels next to Mary and listens to the earnest tone of Mary's prayer, she is comforted, and her moment of unbelief becomes a "temptation successfully resisted through God's grace." After they finish praying, Mary finds the strength to admit that Jay may indeed already be dead.