The word “delightful” is one I rarely use, and yet it is the perfect descriptor for “The Funeral” by Richard Matheson. Although it reads as a product of its time, the story is timeless. I laughed out loud at points in the story and I would gladly share it with my five year old, who is currently infatuated with monsters.
The greatest value in the story besides its entertainment value is the way Matheson puts into practice various methods of vivid characterization. When we first meet Morton Silkline, his very name conveys the image of someone who is silky, likely smooth in voice and action, and one who may be given to spouting, “lines” on command. These impressions seem to be validated when Matheson tells us, “…Morton circled the glossy desk on whispering feet and extended one flaccid fingered hand. ‘Ah, good evening, sir,’ he dulceted, his smile a precise compendium of sympathy and welcome, his voice a calculated drip of obeisance.” (Matheson, 255). Not only does Morton’s composure fit a successful funeral director, but his movements are also quiet and serene. He knows what to say, as well as when and how to say it. The language Matheson uses to convey these points is unobtrusive and yet as smooth and formal as the character himself.
Then we meet the customer, Ludwig Asper. We know from Matheson’s description of him that he is someone who is used to being listened to. He requests the best of accommodations for his own funeral. When Morton accuses him of toying with him about the funeral arrangements, Mr. Asper never raises his voice. He only stands up and looks at Morton. However, Matheson describes the manner in which he did so as, “His eyes glowed now like cherry-bright coals. ‘And I expect this purpose to be gratified,’ he said. ‘Do you understand?’” (Matheson, 257). With these simple sentences, we know Mr. Asper is not quite human. He is a monster. By the time we see him “flapping out a small window” (Matheson, 258), we are sure he is Other.
On the night of the funeral service, Morton has already been changed slightly by his meeting with Mr. Asper. Instead of the smooth character who knew all the right words and affectations we first met, he has now experienced sleepless nights. His comportment further disintegrates as he meets the attendees of the funeral service. “Silkline hung against the wall, mouth a circular entrance way, hands twitching feebly at his sides as the chatting assemblage passed him by, headed for the Eternal Rest Room” (Matheson, 259).
Matheson gives the reader frank descriptions of this “chatting assemblage” that show they are all creatures of some sort. One is a hunchback, another wears a pointy hat, another has hairy hands and clicking yellow teeth (Matheson, 258). Yet, for all their differences, these beings are also very much like us. Just as many readers can likely recall an uncle who always arrives at funerals drunk and smelling like a brewery and the aunt who packs away all the food at the repast with no intention of eating any of it, these funeral guests are similar to the human bad actors we all know. When the crone indicates to Silkline, “Sit by my side. I likes the pretty boys, I do, eh, Delphinia?” (Matheson, 260) and is addressing the cat on her shoulder as she does it, we cringe in embarrassment for Ludwig. By the time the crone really cuts up and sets things around the parlor on fire, we are truly mortified for the count, over his unruly guests.
The conclusion of the story shows an obviously different Morton. He is a nervous wreck a week after the odd funeral and we see him twitching at his desk (Matheson, 262). Ludwig Asper has shown one final human quality in referring his friends to Morton for their final arrangements, since he was so pleased with the way Morton handled his. When one such friend comes into the office, Morton welcomes him with, “’You’ve come to the right place—uh…sir. Pomps—‘ He swallowed mightily and braced himself ‘—for all circumstances.’” (Matheson, 263). This is a different Morton from the onset of the story, one who is still looking forward to the money to be made for his services, but who has now accepted that he has a different clientele than he previously served.
Matheson, Richard. “The Funeral”. I Am Legend. New York, NY: Tor, 1995. 254-263. Print.