“The Dark Voicelessness in Which the Words Are the Deeds”: Considering Death and Grief through Reading and Writing

Plan Author

  • Haley Peters, 2015

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Literature & History of the First World War
  • Course: The Psychology of Grief
  • Tutorial: The Psychology of Grief
  • Tutorial: Creative Nonfiction

Project Description

Mo(u)rning in Yoknapatawpha: Son-Rise in As I Lay Dying

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

    • Joanne Hayes, Greenfield Community College


This Plan is an examination of themes of grief, mourning, and post-traumatic growth in 20th-century literature, focusing on work by William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, and Toni Morrison, supported by original work in creative nonfiction. The first paper is an analysis of Addie Bundren’s central and enigmatic monologue in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and the second explores the concept of post-traumatic growth through Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. A third paper examines Toni Morrison’s novels Beloved and Sula, specifically how each of them deals with the process of grieving. The Plan ends with a work of creative nonfiction titled “Shapes in the Dark,” in which Haley explores her own grief and memories of her father following his death from cancer.


The major question Beloved poses – as a novel, as a ghost, as a living body – is what to do with this past. The epilogue insists four times: “This is not a story to pass on” (156). The world outside disremembers and tries to forget her, in the same way that the reader – at least myself – will try to rationalize to forget the depth of the world we’ve witnessed. Beloved asks about the power of this past to define, not only the sixty million lives slavery claimed, not only the lives of those who escaped with nothing but their scars, not only for the lives that came from those who escaped, but the lives that continue now and in the future, rooted in that past.

When the show was over, I walked down to the performer’s tent. I looked into the eyes of the woman whose leukemia was in remission, and I told her, That song, the one about your illness – it meant a lot to my dad. He’s really sick with cancer. He was too tired to come down here and tell him himself. But your performance meant so much to him. She shook my hand and told me she wished him the best, and would I please tell him that. I bit my lip. I was hurt because she was going to get better. She could decide whether she was going to be here again next year. She was going to play and write more songs. She could even learn to play “Wish You Were Here.” She could play any song.


The inspiration for my Plan was the grief I experienced and the way these novels helped make sense of my experience. What I remember most was the kindness and support of my family, my sponsors, and my friends as they cheered me on when I didn’t know if I could make it. In one of my Plan tutorials, every Thursday John and I would meet to talk about my Plan. He’d talk to me about whatever I needed to talk about, and would help me work through whatever I needed to work through.