What is the bardo, and how does it function in George Saunder’s book? In what way does the bardo apply to those who are living as well as the dead?
The bardo, in my mind, acts as a sort of purgatory. The dead, or ghosts, in the novel, are placed in their “sick box” and are left there. The “sick box” is clearly a coffin, but it is interesting that the ghosts don’t recognize it as such. The adult ghosts, with substantial concentration, manage to remain in this state of purgatory, reflecting, while children are quicker to pass on. If the children cannot, they are subject to odd forms of torture, and this is the challenge that Willie faces, as he is not yet ready to pass on. After a quick search, I discovered that the term “bardo” is a Tibetan term that roughly translates to an “in-between state.” This origin makes sense in terms of the ghosts, as they linger between whatever lies beyond death and the land of the living, but I suppose the term also represents forms of grief. The depiction of Lincoln in the novel is of a man who cannot seem to let go of his son Willie and often contemplates his death, hence the title: Lincoln in the Bardo. Both Willie and Abraham Lincoln linger in their own in-between state throughout the novel.