CHAPTER FIVE: Danse Macabre
One winter morning, Bod notices the residents of the graveyard acting strange. His mother shoos him out of their crypt, claiming that she needs to get ready for tomorrow, and begins singing a song he has never heard. Bod passes by Mother Slaughter, only to find her also singing the same tune. Before he can ask her what the “Macabray” in her song is, she disappears. Bod hopes to play with the ten-year-old Fortinbras Bartleby, but Bod is turned away again when Fortinbras tells Bod they must prepare for tomorrow.
Bod finds Silas in his crypt later that day and Silas gifts Bod with new “nomal” clothes and shoes. Silas explains to Bod that the Macabray is a dance for the living and the dead. Because Silas is neither living nor dead, he has never danced it. Bod wakes up early the following day and follows a strange scent to discover three men and a woman, all living, picking white blossoms. Apparently, this is the first time in 80 years that the winter blossoms have bloomed. One of the men explains to the Lady Mayoress, Mrs. Caraway, that it is a town tradition to pick the flowers when they bloom and hand them out to everyone in the town. Mrs. Caraway thinks it’s nonsense.
Later that evening, Bod wanders around the graveyard looking for someone to talk to, but no one is around. Hearing music coming from the town, Bod squeezes past the gates and heads to the source. Bod follows the music toward the town square, receiving a white flower from a man who instructs him to pin the flower to his coat. Bod, along with the rest of the townspeople, stand in the town square, completely entranced by the music. The music ends and a clock begins to chime. Suddenly, Bod spots the ghosts from the graveyard walking down the hill and toward the town. Josiah Washington walks up to Mrs. Caraway and asks her to dance. As they begin dancing, the music starts up again, leading both the dead and the living to dance with one another throughout the night.
Bod sees Silas standing in the shadows with an unreadable expression, observing everyone else dancing. Bod shares the final dance of the night with The Lady on the Grey, who promises Bod that when it is his time he can take a ride on her horse. The next morning, Bod looks forward to talking with the ghosts about the dance, but no one seems to acknowledge that it happened. Bod grows even more frustrated when Silas denies seeing the dance. Bod becomes overjoyed, however, when it begins snowing.
The Danse Macabre—a dance for both the living and the dead—symbolizes the interconnectedness of life and death. The white flowers that bloom without warning signal the event of the dance and represent the idea that death also can come at any time without warning. The Danse Macabre turns the interplay between life and death in the novel into a literal dance, providing an opportunity for the living and dead to interact. No one is excluded as children dance with adults and bad people like Abanazer Bolger dance with good ones, highlighting the fact that death comes for everyone. The length of time that has passed since the last Danse Macabre, 80 years, parallels an average human lifespan, further underscoring the inescapable nature of death. The joyous atmosphere that the dance inspires implies that though death is inevitable, it is important to enjoy life to the fullest while still alive. The snowfall at the end of the chapter signifies the end of the dance and that life and death are separate once more. The fact that no one besides Bod seems to remember the dance at all symbolizes the avoidant way people deal with the uncomfortable matter death.
The imagery and wordplay in the chapter reinforce the interconnectedness of life and death that the dance embodies. Before and during the dance, the narrative employs many symbols of life and vitality, such as blooming flowers, music, and human handclasps. Flowers blooming in a graveyard in December exemplify life in the midst of death. The dance itself is full of energy and spirit. At the same time, the timelessness the dancers experience connects the dance to the dead, for whom time no longer passes. The appearance of the Lady on the Grey, whose gown is either made of cobwebs or looks like cobwebs, recalls the graves where Mrs. Owens was cleaning cobwebs off her own dress the previous day. The French word macabre has changed to Macabray to resemble its phonetic pronunciation in English, giving it the feeling of a child reading an unfamiliar word off a page. The imagery and language of the chapter show how life and death are intermingled and cannot be separated.