Social Norm Analysis: Among The Living By Dana Levin

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When we feel that we--or our world--is falling apart, we sometimes fail to comply with social norms. When under stress or in anguished circumstances, we are often unable to uphold societally conditioned and accepted practices. “Among the Living” by Dana Levin presents a scene and brief exchange in which a bystander comes forth and offers validation and recognition to a woman so deep within her own human experience that she fails to follow learned protocols--something that incites judgment and discomfort from those around her, as witnessing such a scene disturbs those existing on a subdued emotional plane. In a cafe, or perhaps a diner, the speaker witnesses the strange curiosity of a young woman failing to follow the protocols of ordering …show more content…
The content is so strong that it does not require a more traditional or experimental form to make it more effective or “poetic”. The imagery and dialogue comes through the page to come alive in the mind of the reader. The concise and abstract dialogue is vital to the poem and offers a glimpse into the minds--souls, even--of two strangers. The poem 's title gives us many clues and jumping-off points for interpretation speculation. The young woman is among the living, in the land of the living--she has experienced or is going through something that has so far removed her from “the living”; those lucky ones who are currently functioning well (or at least well enough to order pie in a way that will not have people passing judgment on their mental stability). The themes within and story behind the book from which the poem is taken, Sky Burial, offers further clues. The manic young woman may very be struggling to cope with loss. Her world has come crashing down around her and she feels between worlds. She is traumatised, possibly grieving, and her pure, concentrated emotions all run together at the surface of a …show more content…
The young woman wanted something--pecan pie--and when she learns that there is no pecan pie, that she will not receive what she had her mind set on, she breaks down further. She cries. She digs through the trash and calls out that she is “just looking for a piece of pie” and the people around her watch her intently while simultaneously ignoring her as if she did not exist. Why is it that some people will stand back and not offer empathy to or try to understand someone in a state of such obvious suffering? In “Among the Living”, all but one person ignored their fellow human in distress, a person in such close physical proximity to them, close enough to reach out to. All silently ignore her while passing judgment, writing her off in their mind by labeling her as “crazy”--all but one. The speaker shows empathetic understanding and was so disturbed that they were unable to go on eating while the young woman rummaged through the trash. They got up, got their coat, and offered her their pie--a seemingly small gesture, but a gesture that in that moment meant the world. The speaker sees that whatever she is experiencing is manifesting in a way that is alienating her from those less attuned to the subtleties of the more confusing and dark avenues of the human experience. They chose to make a connection with the woman who was so far into her own foggy

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