I published my students’ lovely pictures of Death from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak a couple of weeks ago; I had one more project turned in after that, by an enterprising student who felt his artistic skills were not up to drawing a sketch of the character.
He may be lacking in artistic skills with a pencil and paper, but he is certainly not lacking in creativity. He came up with these two alternate medium sketches of Death.
The first is Death as expressed by mathematics:
Not satisfied with that, he came up with another idea: Death expressed by music:
D E A T H
4 5 1 20 8 (number of the letter in the alphabet)
This piece is in the key of A, since the middle letter of the word Death is an A.
To generate a chord progression:
I = A, obviously, since it’s in the key of A. But also because A is the 1st letter in the alphabet.
IV – D, the 4th letter of the alphabet and also the IV chord in the key of A. Also happens to be in the word Death.
V – E, the 5th letter of the alphabet; the V chord in the key of A. Likewise just happens to be in the word Death.
vi – F#m. Because the next letter in “Death” is T, which is the 20th letter of the alphabet, and F# is 20 notes above an A. An F#m chord is the submediant in the key of A, or the vi chord.
8 –> I = A again. Because if the names of the notes kept going alphabetically on the keyboard, the 8th note above A would be an H. However, after G the names start over again at A, so the H in Death correlates with A.
So the word Death follows a I-IV-V-vi-I pattern: A – D – E – F#m – A
Then he “threw together a little riff” following the above chord progression. And since he is a very thorough student, he printed out the sheet music for it.
When I played it, I was surprised that it was in a major key. This should not have been a surprise, because I can read music so I can clearly see it’s major. It wasn’t until I heard it, however, that I realized I had somehow expected it to be in a minor key because, well, it’s Death.
And then I thought again and realized that Zusak does not characterize Death the way it is normally characterized:
“By the way, I like this human idea of the grim reaper. I like the scythe. It amuses me” (75).
“You see? Even death has a heart” (242).
“I do not carry a sickle or scythe. I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold…” (307).
So perhaps the major key was just fine for Death. Perhaps minor would have been cliche.
And perhaps I am giving this far too much thought.
* * * * *
Also, did you notice I just used the literary device anaphora? I used to use literary devices without realizing what I was doing – or at least, without realizing what the name of the device was. Thanks to this unit on The Book Thief, I am now consistently aware of every device I use.
I think this is a good thing.