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Amy Hempel’s “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” begins in medias res. Beginning the story in the middle of the action introduces the reader to the reoccurring concept of the story– fear of the inevitable. The narrator, a loyal companion to her sick and dying friend (also referred to as Best Friend), tells her friend strange and seemingly meaningless facts about the world while she keeps her company at the hospital. The sick friend does not want her mind to linger on the distressing thought of her inevitable death. To pass her time, she sits and listens to the narrator ramble about frivolous matters. It is ironic that the sick friend says that she is not afraid of anything, but the narrator is constantly in fear of her friend dying. “Was I the only one who noticed the experts had stopped saying if and now spoke of when?” (34) The narrator has conflicting emotions about staying with her dying friend at the hospital. She feels like it’s only right to stay with her friend until she passes away, but she also feels like she is missing out on her own life.

“‘I have to go home,’ I said when she woke up. She thought I meant home to her house in the canyon, and I had to say, No, home home. I twisted my hands in the time-honored fashion of people in pain. I was supposed to offer something. The Best Friend. I could not even offer to come back.” (38)

The narrator understands that her friend will spend the rest of her days in the hospital, which makes her want to leave all the more, and live her own life to the fullest before her time is up. She is afraid of death, and even more afraid of not having the chance to experience all that she wants to before she dies.

On the morning she was moved to the cemetery, the one where Al Jolson is buried, I enrolled in a “Fear of Flying class.” “What is your worst fear?” the instructor asked, and I answered, “That I will finish this course and still be afraid.” (39)

I see this passage as a metaphor for the narrator’s view of her life after her friend passes away. To me, this passage says, my worst fear is living my life, and at the end of it, still being afraid of death. The narrator’s Fear of Flying” represents her fear of letting go and living without her friend. However, the narrator also fears the thought of death, and fears that when it comes time for her to pass away, she will still be afraid to give up her life.


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