Behind The Formaldehyde Curtain: an Analysis

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About this sample


Words: 541 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Mar 8, 2024

Words: 541|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Mar 8, 2024

In 1967, the journalist Jessica Mitford wrote an exposé for The Atlantic Monthly entitled "Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain." Her article shed light on the embalming industry and the ways in which it exploits grieving families and obscures the reality of death. Over fifty years later, Mitford's work remains relevant, as the funeral industry continues to use euphemisms and shrouded language to avoid discussing death openly.

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Mitford's article can be broken down into five main sections: the history of embalming, the embalming process, the funeral director's role, the cost of funerals, and alternatives to embalming. In each of these sections, Mitford highlights the ways in which the funeral industry manipulates its customers and obscures the truth.

Firstly, Mitford explains that embalming began as a way to preserve the bodies of soldiers being transported home during the Civil War. However, over time it became a standard practice for all funerals, despite the fact that there is no legal requirement for embalming and that it is a costly and unnecessary process in most cases.

Next, Mitford describes the embalming process itself, revealing how invasive and gruesome it is. She documents the use of sharp tools to puncture the body, the draining of blood and bodily fluids, and the injection of deadly chemicals. Mitford notes that all of this takes place before the family even sees their loved one's body, and that the end result is often a "stiff, unreal doll-like" figure.

The role of the funeral director is also discussed at length, with Mitford describing the ways in which they exploit grieving families by pressuring them into expensive caskets and services. She also notes that funeral homes often create a "false sense of urgency" when it comes to making arrangements, causing families to feel rushed and unable to make informed decisions.

The cost of funerals is a major theme throughout Mitford's article, as she documents how funeral homes routinely charge exorbitant prices for basic services. She notes that many families go into debt to pay for funerals, and that the industry capitalizes on their vulnerability and grief.

Finally, Mitford presents alternatives to embalming and traditional funerals, such as cremation, and argues that these options are more affordable and more environmentally friendly. She also points to the growing movement of "natural burials" and "green funerals," which emphasize simplicity and sustainability.

Throughout her article, Mitford uses vivid language and graphic descriptions to make her point. She also employs irony and sarcasm to ridicule the funeral industry's language and practices, such as calling embalming "modern funeral art" and referring to the casket as a "protective shell." By doing so, she underscores the absurdity and cruelty of the funeral industry's manipulation of grieving families.

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In conclusion, Jessica Mitford's "Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain" remains a powerful critique of the funeral industry and its practices. Though it was written over fifty years ago, its themes are still relevant today, as the industry continues to exploit vulnerable families and obscure the reality of death. As Mitford herself wrote, "The funeral industry might well be described as a 'shell game' in which the undertaker hides the ball, and the public, by and large, is willing to be hoodwinked." It is up to us as consumers and citizens to demand transparency and honesty when it comes to death and funeral practices.

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

Cite this Essay

Behind The Formaldehyde Curtain: An Analysis. (2024, March 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“Behind The Formaldehyde Curtain: An Analysis.” GradesFixer, 07 Mar. 2024,
Behind The Formaldehyde Curtain: An Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
Behind The Formaldehyde Curtain: An Analysis [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Mar 07 [cited 2024 Jul 15]. Available from:
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