Exploration of the Cadaver

nonfiction write up on Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversWhen a person dies, they have the option of donating their body. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers explores what happens when a body is donated. The novel follows author Mary Roach as she learns about human cadavers. Each chapter in the book highlights a different current or past use for cadavers. This includes not only medical school, but also the origin of surgery and up close cosmetic surgeries. In Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, the author combines personal presence with flexibility of form and veracity to explore a brief background of human cadavers.

Roach allows the reader to experience each event as a first time viewer. Although she begins stating that the first cadaver that was saw in real life was her mothers and a barrier was created between her and the viewer; the barrier was broken when she explained the term and gave the reader a visual. Many people that one meets in a life has been to at least one funeral, or seen something dead; allowing a wider audience to understand what Roach is writing about.

One of the scenes, Roach depicts the room wonderfully using a combination of metaphors and visual detail to describe the lab room that she is walking. The most interesting part about her descriptions in the book is that the author uses details that cause the reader to go through a range of emotions. Roach is able to do this by describing both the beauty and the horror of each scenario.

“Now you see stumps, and the stumps are not covered. They are bloody and rough. I was picturing something cleanly sliced, like the edge of a deli ham. I look at the heads, and then I look at the lavender tablecloths. Horrify me, sooth me, horrify me.” (Roach 20). Roach first describes the grotesqueness of a situation then adds something calming to smooth out our feelings. The interesting part of this scene is adding the metaphor with the visual. Not only does it create a vivid mental image but it sets the mind up for what it will face throughout the next pages of the book.

Roach goes back and forth with using her actual experience at different cadaver locations then adds information that was later collected in interviews and through research. There is a segment in the first chapter where Roach uses a placement of a historical event that not only adds to the story but also sends the reader on a ride of emotions. Roach was talking about how the new kind of on-the-job training for surgeons is by watching the procedure a few times and then being asked to help with different parts of the procedure. Then she adds an information section about how people first started to learn about surgery, how patients felt everything and how germs were more likely to kill a patient back in the 1800s than modern society.

“After digging with his finger for some ungodly amount of time, he got up from his seat and “measured fingers with those of other gentlemen, to see if any of them had a longer finger.” Eventually he went back to his toolkit and with forceps, conquered the recalcitrant rock-a relatively small one, “not longer than a common Windsor bean”-brandishing it above his head like an Academy Award winner. The quivering, exhausted mass that was Stephen Pollard was wheeled to a bed, where he died of infection and God knows what else twenty-nine hours later” (29). 

In these couple sentences, Roach is able to not only transfer the reader into her different memories of research but to a world full of emotion. This is an excellent example of self-discovery and flexibility of form. The author wrote this at a non-scientific level allowing even the most horrible at science or history to understand that the patient was in agony and the doctor did not know what they were doing. Roach is also able to lend light to how horrible the teaching procedure used to be for surgeons, as they had no body to test on and no drugs to numb the pain of the different tools. The use of the phrases: “digging with his finger,” “ungodly amount of time,” and “quivering, exhausted mass” paint a vivid disturbing image that some may find shame in having imagined. For one example, the phrases create a disturbing visual of a finger for an indefinite amount of time with unimaginable weights of pain that combine to be one un-forgettable scene.

Many people have seen someone in pain or have been in pain themselves, thus people are able to connect to this piece. The way that one can attain a person’s interest is a lot similar to public relations, which is something that not all authors can do well; but Roach does an excellent job at this. In the scene stated above, the author makes reference to the rock in Pollard’s stomach to be the size of a Windsor Bean, but then right after talks about an Academy Award and a “quivering, exhausted mass”. Not everyone may know how big a Windsor Bean is, but Roach pulls the audience back in with a pop culture reference of an award show and a somber statement.

Through syntax such as this, the author is able to grab hold of various demographic audiences and educate the general public.Through a vivid mixture of historical facts, visual experiences, personal placement, Roach allows the reader to become heavily infused with the story. Throughout Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, the author is able to keep the reader’s attention through the characteristics of creative non-fiction. The end of each chapter will leave the reader left with multiple pros and cons to donating one’s body after she/he dies. 

Work Cited 

Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, 2003. Print.