Death Attitudes in Science and Culture


The issue of death has always remained a terminal and a defining matter for humanity. As such, it became a widely pondered topic of discussion which is reflected in both scientific fields and popular culture alike. As quoted in the Marvel movies, “We don’t get to choose our time” (Doctor Strange), which summarizes the central theme of death perception among individuals. Due to its unpredictability, the subject has produced numerous responses which ponder about facing death and its consequences. As such, the scientific and everyday products of human activity revolving around death allow gaining an insight into the individual response to the challenge of life’s ending.

On the one hand, the core issues around death form a basis for thanatology, a scientific view on the matter. It copes with the mechanics of death and its influence on people. These influences concentrate both on the dying person and the individuals around them. Thus, multiple accounts on the phenomenon of death allow achieving the knowledge of the human attitude, which is usually displayed by the affected parties. On the other hand, the scientific view would be incomplete if it was not supplemented by the expressions of culture which appear due to the phenomenon. In the end, these two sides of the coin open a way for understanding attitude towards death physically and spiritually.

The topic was chosen due to scientific interest, as well as for personal reasons. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, death remains something inevitable and feared, which is why humans developed several prisms to look at it. These looks would lead to a general understanding of the different tendencies which individuals or the groups potentially display while facing their or others’ passing. Secondly, I happened to be among the people who have already encountered the deaths of the closer ones. Such moments have left me wondering about the demise as elimination of personality. Thus, my curiosity is also connected to my wish to learn about the ways to view death.

Scientific Approach

First, one must learn the dynamics of the death attitude using the available scientific data. It can unveil the tendencies which individuals tend to demonstrate in the issue of death and dying. The existing researches offer a vast base that concentrates on the issues surrounding the death persecution. Among those specific issues, one can find several categories, including personal attitude towards own death, especially in a disposition of dying, and the concern about the passing of precious people.

While utilizing the approach, the meaning of death for the personalities can be displayed through several directions. According to Fortuin, Schilderman, & Venbrux, the central niches of death understanding include canonical, utilitarian, and expressive fields (341). In other words, if the individual faces death, they frequently turn to religion as a way of explaining the demise for themselves. However, the practical issues of death organizations often mix in and currently overwhelm the look of faith, due to the necessity of dealing with the material consequences. The expressional side of death does not seem to lack a significant value either. Furthermore, it allows individuals to express their feelings regarding the death and shape them into thoughts, talking, and artistic representations.

While the expressional forms mainly belong to the cultural manifestation of attitude towards death, the individuals’ interviews and surveys still enable them to gain the material for proceeding and analyzing. These materials brought some light to the current dynamics of death facing in society. Firstly, the thoughts about the nature of death significantly depend on the age of the people. They might be more frequent amongst youth rather than aged men. According to Wittkowski, the aged group of people even displays less anxiety and more acceptance of the fact of death (330). The tendency can be explained by the fact that older people face death as a close event, while the fear of possible end may appear too powerful for youth.

Secondly, the men on the verge of dying display more practical actions towards preparing their matters for the demise. As Fortuin, Schilderman, & Venbrux state, such preparations often cover the farewell with the closest ones, the funeral ceremony, and finishing any business at hand (342). Thus, the distance and the predictability of death affect the individual response. It is uniquely expressive in the pragmatic field since dying individuals are more capable of realizing the consequences of demise.

What is more important, the expressional attitude towards death demonstrates specific laws as well. As one can guess, the personal reaction on the issue of death is closely connected to one’s age and position, plus individual traits. However, there are general types of death understanding that explain the perception of death as an inevitable phenomenon. For example, according to Corr, Corr, and Doka, such models can be classified into “tame of death, death of the self, remote and imminent death, death of the other and death denied” (58). The following means that in one’s perception, the person has several options of facing death. Among them, the individual can accept it as a fact, struggle for self-preservation, distance from the perspective, or denial of the possibility. For a defining example, one can use the case of the Amish community in the USA. According to Corr, Corr, and Doka, they demonstrate the attitude by faithfully accepting death and dealing with it as simply as possible (47-48).

Hence, the laws of the attitude to death, while dependent on the faith, culture, and individual habits can be compressed into several behavioral scenarios. Carver & Connor-Smith state that the scenarios appear as responsive tendencies which can vary between personalities (qtd. in Wittkowski 320). Situations are influenced by the tolerance of death, defined by age and predictability, and include psychological answers to the thread of death expressed through the attitude. For this reason, individuals typically choose to ignore, accept, or deny the treat.

The Approach Through the Culture

The artistic side of the death phenomenon not only determines one’s vision of death and dying but results in the creation of cultural monuments. These monuments usually emerge from the worries about the imminent end of life. They contain the most profound impressions of a person and individual fears or views regarding their or someone else’s death. The expressions can become a source for a more in-depth analysis that considers not only the guidelines of approaches but their specific applications as well.

One of the essential expressions is poetry since it allows putting into words the most important and thorough details of personal struggles. It provides different examples which are shown as an artistic compression of the attitude towards death. It is necessary to proceed with several cases of death visions in the poetical constructs so that the research can emphasize the individual properties expressed.

First, one can use the poetry of Hillary Downey, particularly, her Changing lines. In these lines, the author mentions “a barrier created, that could not be overcome” (qtd. in Dobscha 299). Moreover, the writer reflects on the memories of the previous life that disappear, and the acceptance of a door that one must walk through (qtd. in Dobscha 299). In other words, the author explores several tropes which are characteristic of envisioning death. Firstly, the poetry contains the focus on a border between the world of the living and the inevitable afterlife. Secondly, the lament about previous life shows that a person stepping into the realm of death regrets the loss of everything they leave in the living world.

Next, the prominent example can also include Terrance C. Gabel, and his This Is It poetry. In-between the lines, one may find similar, but somewhat distinct notions. Firstly, the author calls death a time “you are not supposed to hope for” (qtd. in Dobscha 301) and, secondly, muses about close people and preparing for death. This reflection allows making an account of numerous notions. They include the value of precious people and the unwillingness to let go. Moreover, both impressions might appear as a parallel to the beliefs of ancient Greeks. Their view of the afterlife divided close people and left the dead in regrets for all eternity.

However, poetry is not the only instrument for understanding the death attitude. Several essential features can be found in other expressions of modern culture, particularly the movie culture. For an exemplification, one can use Marvel’s Doctor Strange movie. The film is heavily focused on the unstoppable nature of time, which leads to death in the end. The characters must face the fact that one cannot see beyond the death of oneself. However, it is crucial to note that they learn to accept it. Tilda Swinton’s character, The Ancient One, admits she is not ready to die. However, according to her, “Death is what gives the life meaning – to know your days are numbered, your time is short” (Doctor Strange). Thus, the main hero, Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) learns the lesson about things that cannot be controlled and stay as a natural part of life.


In the end, one can sum up the critical points of the attitude towards death and its dynamics. Most importantly, only the view through a prism of both scientific and cultural intelligence would allow achieving a complete picture. Within this picture, one might be able to encounter several tendencies and notions. Firstly, the research demonstrates that the personal view on death depends on the age and current situation – the older and dying people are more prone to accepting the inevitable. Also, they tend to be more precautious regarding the direct consequences of their death. Moreover, these factors also build up an individual answer to death as a perspective. The reaction can range from acceptance to denial or even ignorance.

Secondly, general tendencies appear as more detailed accounts if one uses the themes around death, which remain as an actual topic for poetry and movies. In poetry, even simple examples of Downey and Gabel reveal the personal images of death and dying. Among them, one may find such tropes as barriers between life and afterlife, the lamenting about the loss of loved ones, and clinging to life. In moves, as exemplified by Doctor Strange, there are noticeable tropes as well. They revolve around the fact that human life is limited, and everyone must learn to accept that they cannot control it.

Works Cited

Corr, Charles A., Corr, Donna M., Doka, Kenneth J. Death & Dying, Life & Living. Cengage Learning, 2018.

Dobscha, Susan. Death in a Consumer Culture. Routledge, 2015.

Doctor Strange. Directed by Scott Derrickson, performances by Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton, Marvel Studios, 2016.

Fortuin, Nienke Pauline Margriet, et al. Death and The Search for Meaning: Canonical, Utilitarian and Expressive Thanatological Cultural Niches. Mortality, vol. 22, no. 4, 2016, pp. 339-355.

Wittkowski, Joachim. “Coping and Attitudes Toward Dying and Death in German Adults.” OMEGA — Journal of Death and Dying, vol. 72, no. 4, 2015, pp. 316-339.