Life and Death in Sinan Antoon's The Corpse Washer

Published: 2022-09-01
Life and Death in Sinan Antoon's The Corpse Washer
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Literature
Pages: 8
Wordcount: 1939 words
17 min read

The narrator of The Corpse Washer, Jawad, is the son of a corpse washer who performs the ritual of washing and shrouding of corpses before burial in Baghdad. The nature of death changes with time as Jawad attests that ''death back then was timid and more measured than today'' (Antoon, 2013, p.3). From Jawad's observations, the behavior of death during his father's generation is different from the behavior of death in his generation. When death changes to be more violent and unnatural, Jawad's perspective on death changes as well. At the beginning of the novel, Jawad understands death and life as two separated aspects, but as the story progresses, he realizes that indeed death and life coexist and they are interconnected. From Jawad's new perspectives on death, it is evident that death acts as a mail carrier. Jawad's comes to understand the dead and the living people as interconnected since the dead are living their afterlife. This essay focuses on describing the significant changes in Jawad's mentality regarding death after he begins personifying the same and the consecutive understanding of death in dramatic ways. Jawad understands the existence of interlinkage between life and death in a variety of ways. For instance, the existence of life and death continuum, the capability of death to penetrate individual lives, and the presence of death throughout a personal life.

Trust banner

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!

Jawad realizes that his life and death are inseparable through the significant experiences with death at a personal level. At first, Jawad develops prejudgements about death by watching the interactions of others with death. Through interacting with death at a personal level, Jawad manages to overcome his previous preconceptions about the phenomenon. Individual exposure to different realities is vital to gaining a more profound meaning about them (Easterby-Smith &Cunliffe, 2017). At first, Jawad claims that ''I was astonished by my father's ability to return to the normal life so easily each time after he washed as if nothing had happened'' (Antoon, 2013, p.17). From his initial viewpoint, Jawad thought that his father would leave death behind every time he finished washing a corpse. When Jawad gets accustomed to demise, he realizes that both life and death are eternal, they exist at the same time and are intertwined. Importantly, death and life are present everywhere at each particular moment in time.

Jawad understands death and life as having the capability to share responsibilities. Vitally, human beings are co-workers with death, and they play the role of life (Nilsson, 2018). Jawad's view of death and life as entwined starts when he begins personifying death. Jawad depicts death as having the breath of life and a body to act. For instance, the role of death as a postman is to post letters to Jawad on a daily basis (Antoon, 2013, p.3). Jawad's part after receiving death letters is to wash them and to send them to their last receiver, the grave.

Jawad changes his perception about death after watching it permeate and redirect his own life. Jawad had the hopes of becoming an artist, and through death taking the life of his father and brother, it penetrates in his own experiences by robbing him of his destiny. Jawad hopes to become an artist with statutes all over the city. However, the opposite has happened since while others have great jobs, Jawad affirms that, ''my desk is the bench of death'' (Antoon, 2013, p.107). Indeed, he spends his whole life in the profession of shrouding and purifying the dead.

Towards the end of the novel, Jawad adopts a pervasive understanding of humanity and afterlife. Too many people died while Jawad was a corpse washer with the estimated number of fatalities amounting to 100,000 during the American Invasion in 2003 (Rutledge, 2017). As the number of fatalities increases, Jawad develops an understanding of the dead to be just like fellow human beings. Jawad affirms that he would earlier on view bodies like corpses waiting for cleaning. However, with time, he confirms that the, ''dead always returns to life'' (Antoon, 2013, p.151). Such thoughts introduce a difference in his viewpoint, ''I had earlier on had the thought that life and death were two separate aspects with clearly marked boundaries/But now I know that they are conjoined, sculpting together'' (Antoon, 2013, p.151). Jawad's unique understanding of death confirms his attempts to overcome the sectarian divisions between life and death.

Jawad upholds dynamism in every situation, and it makes him ready to understand death as it unfolds itself. When death reveals itself to be working in close association with life, Jawad is swift in following the new revelations. It also makes Jawad willing to change his stern beliefs about the different aspects of life (Viereck, 2017). From the point of understanding death as a significant force to reckon with, Jawad begins understanding death in loving detail. Jawad's tendency to accept new ideas is evident in other areas when he overcomes sectarian tensions and takes his son's Shiite identity. Moreover, Jawad has a propensity to console himself in the advent of challenging circumstances, and it contributes to the positive mentality that leads him to a deeper understanding of death (Antoon, 2013). For instance, although Jawad does not desire to inherit his father's profession, he never develops bitterness towards it.

Jawad comes to understand life and death as entwined through revelations in dreams and nightmares. For instance, Jawad ex-girlfriend, Reem, appears in a nightmare, Jawad cannot tell whether he is alive or dead and the fantasy makes him search Reem. Through dreams, Jawad comes to understand that death is in constant conflict with life (Vallat et al., 2017). Jawad also learns that there is a tendency of death to win disputes over life. From Jawad's experiences, it is evident that the motive of death is to make the life of an individual unbearable and to make people tired of living. Jawad asserts that ''death is not content with what it takes from me in my waking hours, it insists on haunting me even in my sleep'' (Antoon, 2016, p.3). Jawad is a slave to death during the day. Jawad offers services to death eternal guests by preparing them to sleep in his lap. He comes to think that death might be punishing him for the attempt to escape its plans upon his life.

Jawad comes to understand death to have the capability of changing with time just like life experiences are not similar all the time. Jawad argues that death is wiser and more violent at the moment compared to any other time in history. From Jawad monologue, the heightened intensity of death can be judged, ''Father! Tenfold more than what you used to see in the span of a week now pass before me in a day or two'' (Antoon, 2013, p.2). Death is now all over, and everyone has a deceased relative or friend. Jawad has lost his father, and it restrains him from leaving away from home since he has to look after his sick mother. Also, death is tormenting him with nightmares about the demise of his girlfriend, Reem.

Jawad acknowledges the existence of life-death continuum. A belief that makes him aware that life is inherently interlinked to death. Since he attests many people die, he comes to believe that individuals can embrace the reality that something dies at any minute (Kralova, 2018). Jawad, an artist, understands his country as an exhibit of dust. Importantly, he views himself as hovering in the mystical terrain of his country, one that is between life and death. Through his profession as a corpse's washer and his background as an artist, he comes to get a deep understanding of dying visually (Antoon, 2013). Importantly, Jawad views his job to be an act of preparation of the dead to the afterlife. Therefore, he visualizes the linkage between death and life transparently since death is vital for the transition from the living to the afterlife.

Further, Jawad comes to accept that he will not live forever since as many others death will eventually conclude his life. The physical space of Bagdad gets transformed by war; the reorganization of the residential areas and permanent losses makes Jawad feels lost in the same city where he grew up. Importantly, he comes to understand that he has all over a sudden become a stranger in his hometown. At this juncture, he reveals the belief that 'one is not a stranger in any foreign country including Yemen or Syria but indeed an individual is a stranger to his shroud during burial and his grave (Antoon, 2013). At the same time, everyone living in the town feels like a stranger since death is too close and it can strike at any moment. Most of the people are tired of escaping death, and their fatigue is evident in their faces.

Jawad's understanding of the interlinkage between life and death arises while he begins to understand himself as a living dead. He argues that ''I am like the pomegranate tree, but all my branches have been cut, broken, and buried with the dead'' (Antoon, 2013, p.151). The new understanding of himself arises from the continued alienating encounters that separate him from experiencing liveliness. Jawad's profession alienates, and his inability to sustain loving relationships equally alienates him. Still, the lack of chance to pursue his life goals alienates him. It is not easy for Jawad to come into terms that he has not achieved anything in life. After the attack on the Art Institute Jawad is deeply concerned from the way he laments on the stench of the fallen infrastructure. The physical and emotional alienation heightens as the novel progresses and Jawad is forced to admit his fate as a co-worker with death.

Jawad develops deeper meaning about death due to his inherent fear about death making him think about the same throughout his life. While he was young, he would not stop thinking that death bought the food they ate and it provided for their daily needs since his father was a corpse washer. Throughout his life, Jawad does not become comfortable with death at any given time, and he develops a habit of internalizing death during his daily encounters (Antoon, 2013). Although death intervenes positively in Jawad's life as a source of livelihood, Jawad is preoccupied with the negative qualities of death. Beyond encountering death at the corpse washer and in his mundane life, Jawad develops a habit of confronting death in dramatic ways (Kralova, 2018). Finally, Jawad views death as following him everywhere including when he is at home or asleep.

Jawad understands death as having the capability to give life to plants by making them look healthy and beautiful. Jawad defies the standard way of understanding death and oppression. Jawad relates his experiences with the pomegranate tree outside the Mghaysil that was nourished by the water poured on it after washing the corpses. Jawad thought that the pomegranate is a ''wondrous tree/drinking water of death from decades now, but always budding, blossoming and bearing fruit'' (Antoon, 2013, p.150). Jawad and his creator Antoon adopt a Persian style of describing the horrors of death.

Jawad understands that death desire to achieve its goals makes it work towards ensuring interconnection with life. Jawad's tendency to personify death makes him realise that death as desires to gain a sense of self-fulfilment. Working in close connection with life is vital for death to realize the minimal chances to take away individual lives (Corr&Doka, 2018). At first, Jawad thought that the value of life would improve after Americans intervention to deal with the dictatorship government (Rutledge, 2017). However, Jawad affirms that ''The Angel of death is working overtime, as if hoping for a promotion, perhaps to become a god'' (Antoon, 2013, p.107). Moreover, Jawad claims th...

Cite this page

Life and Death in Sinan Antoon's The Corpse Washer. (2022, Sep 01). Retrieved from

Request Removal

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the SpeedyPaper website, please click below to request its removal:

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism