Short Story #360: To Hell With Dying by Alice Walker

Title:  To Hell With Dying 

Author:  Alice Walker


Book cover to The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers - Langston Hughes.
Mr. Sweet is an old man suffering from diabetes and alcoholism.  Though he had dreams as a child, he eventually settled with a wife who had a child that she spoiled and the boy did not amount to much.  In his later years, Mr. Sweet is befriended by the narrator's family who seem to be essential in keeping him alive at times.  Whenever it seemed that Mr. Sweet was on the brink of death, the narrator's family would be called upon to visit.  They would circle around the bed and the youngest child (the narrator), would kiss Mr. Sweet's face all over and tickle him until he had recovered.  Mr. Sweet is a regular part of the narrator's life growing up.  He plays with the children and is well liked by many.  The narrator recalls him playing his guitar and being quite kind to her growing up.  She recalls the first time that she got to participate in the ritual as the kisser/tickler.  She remembers visiting with the family and hearing a doctor say that it was terminal, only for the family to revive him as they always did.  The years pass and around Mr. Sweet's 90th birthday, the narrator is called to help once more, though she is working on a dissertation.  She races home and with her family they visit Mr. Sweet.  She performs the ritual one more time but he still dies.  Though she is an adult and knows their ritual didn't necessarily have any power to prolong Mr. Sweet's life, she is devastated all the same.  She realizes that Mr. Sweet was her first love in her life.


The story is a beautiful telling of tradition, family, and nostalgia.  I like that the narrator identifies the man as her first love because there is indeed a purity and beauty to the relationship between the two that Walker traces out quite well.  
Short Story #360 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  12/1/2014
Source:  The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers, ed. by Langston Hughes.  Little, Brown, and Company, 1967.  This story can also be found for free at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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