Mitford: The Curtain is Pulled

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How would you like to be put on a cold metal tray and have your body invaded taking out your blood and filling you with fluids to preserve your organs, all while your family has no idea about it? This is the issue Jessica Mitford brings to the table in “Behind The Formaldehyde Curtain. ” She raises questions about the legality of embalming and ends up going into gory detail expressing exactly what goes on in the back room of funeral parlors nationwide. She talks about how the family of the deceased does not know that they are being embalmed, how to make a body look life-like, and what goes on at the burial site.

Jessica Mitford writes an excellent article and it is reinforced by her graphic words explaining the issue, and the information she has presented. However, there are some flaws in her article, including her tendency to over elaborate, her lack of credible sources, and her one sided view on embalming. In the essay, Mitford uses excellent words to explain the process of embalming. She is using words that help in her explanation of embalming, and they are so graphic, whether you want to or not, you can picture what is going on in the room.

Using words like “sprayed, sliced, pierced, pickled, trussed, trimmed, creamed, waxed, painted, rouged, and neatly dressed” practically lays the whole process out for you in a step by step order (181). You start out by spraying the body, and in the middle are cleaned and have make up applied, and then they end up nicely dressed, ready for their debut. Another way she uses words to explain the process is by naming some tools needed for the process. She talks about a “dermasurgeon” and the equipment he uses, “scalpels, scissors, augers, forceps, clamps, needles, pumps, tubes, bowls, and basins” (182).

These words were great for her to use so we know that embalming is like surgery, they use the same tools. Although these words are used, she does not tell us what they mean. Not everyone knows what augers, clamps, or basins are. Mitford should explain into what these words mean, and what each tool is used for. Another reason Mitford has an excellent article is that the information provided is great, and as far as we know it is very accurate. The fact that she goes into the process using details supports the notion that she knows what she is talking about.

She tells us words and then tells us what they mean, which shows us that she has some knowledge on the topic. “The next step is to have at Mr. Jones with a thing called a trocar. This is a long, hollow needle attached to a tube” (183).

By explaining what she has previously talked about indicates that she knows what a trocar is. Continuing on she explains what the trocar is used for, thus making us believe she also knows what it is used for.

Also, she goes into great detail letting us know things that we would never know, and neither would she, unless she did her research to get the information she presents. Lip drift can sometimes be remedied by pushing one or two straight pins through the inner margin of the lower lip and then inserting them between the two front upper teeth,” shows that she has talked to people who know the processes involved, and have knowledge of the situation which she has passed onto us, the reader (185). We would never know how to prevent lip drift, if Mitford wouldn’t have gone out in the field to find out for us. One of the flaws in the article is her ability to over elaborate on the situation.

Although all of her knowledge is appreciated, she says some things that make you feel like she is just saying that for emotional appeal. Some things like, “he is covered with a sheet and left unmolested for a while” is an example of one of her exaggerations (184). Using terms like unmolested leads us to believe that the body has been touch or prodded in ways that it should not be. This is a big exaggeration because in no way is the body ever “molested” that it needs to be left unmolested. Also Mitford exaggerates on the intentions of the funeral director.

She says that the funeral director prefers to have the ceremony in their funeral home, to show it off to people who are close to dying, making their funeral home an optional place for their own funeral, suggests that the funeral director is only interested in his needs, and could care less about the needs of the grieving family (186). This also leads us to believe that the funeral director is looking for clients to have their funeral services in his parlor. I bet he has a line of shoppers wanting to reserve their place there, fulfilling his expectation of another funeral.

The author does have a lot of great and interesting facts, but she does not have the sources to back her up, making her paper less credible. All of the information provided is necessary for us to understand what she is writing about, but we do not know if the information is true because she not tell us where she got the information. “If Mr. Jones has died of jaundice, the embalming fluid will very likely turn him green” is a great bit of information, but how does she know that (185)? If Mitford would have stated that a funeral director told her this, we would be more likely to believe it.

With her background, or lack there of, of the whole embalming process we would be just as likely to believe her if she said he would be turned purple. She does use a lot of quotes in her article but she often forgets to tell us where they are coming from. At one point she says, “Another textbook discusses the all-important time element: ‘The earlier this is done, the better, for every hour that elapses between death and embalming will add to the problems and complications encountered…. “(183).

Although this is very important and needs to know information, she does not state the textbook from which she got the information, leaving us to wonder what kind of textbook it is. Also, the paper seems to be one-sided, only stating the negatives and never the positives. She puts down the funeral directors in her essay. She says that they are possibly afraid of people finding out about the process, eventually deciding not to have it done making suggestions that even the embalmer themselves doesn’t like the practice and is embarrassed of it (182).

She is assuming that they are ashamed of their career, when in actuality not too many people like to discuss the issue, which could lead to the reason why they do not speak of it outside of the work environment. Also, she making accusations that the family members of the deceased have very little say in what happens at the funeral home. She states “the family is never asked whether they want an open casket ceremony; in the absence of their instruction to the contrary, this is taken for granted” makes us believe that the funeral director has the final word no matter what (186).

The use of the word never makes us think that not only does the funeral director never ask for the opinion of the family, but also makes us think he doesn’t care. A funeral director, who always has compassion because he is always around grieving people, has to care about the wants and needs of his clients, or else he would be out of business. Without the resources and hard core facts to back up what you say, no one can tell whether they should believe you or not. You want people to value your opinion but you also want them to think that you are knowledgeable on the subject.

The use of examples and the ability to see the argument from both sides increases your chance of being thought of as knowledgeable. Jessica Mitford seems to have a lot of textbook answers and opinion in her paper, making us unsure of how knowledgeable she is. So back to my opening question, how would you like to be put on a cold metal tray having your body invaded taking out your blood and filling you with fluids preserving your organs, all while your family has no idea about it? Consider all of the information and how credible Mitford is when you think about this.

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