Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English Composition



First Reader/Committee Chair

Marshall, David


This article explores Caitlin Doughty’s “death positivity” as an evolved form of the medieval memento mori, and how this medieval genre serves as a genre function for current day thanatophobic audiences. This is specifically done by analyzing Doughty’s book titled Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, as well as some of her other death positivity mediums. By modeling her rhetoric of death positivity after memento mori, Doughty can effectively deliver her anti-death fearing message to the very audiences that fear death.

Furthermore, analyzing Doughty’s rhetoric as operating within the genre function, a concept put forth by Anis Bawarshi, reveals death literature as being highly navigatory in nature; that is, navigatory of the specific ideological and social environments to which the death literature is being delivered. While in the medieval period, memento mori was used as a Christian device to encourage audiences to live pious lives, memento mori, through death positivity, now must address a far more diverse, even secular, audience. By doing this, her content achieves her goal of sculpting death positivity as a type of “activism.” In this way, we can observe that death positivity, as a new genre of death, must rhetorically highlight positive thinking of death in different ways than it did in the past. Recognizing this feature of death in literature can reveal new ways of critically reading death in literature and drawing analyses of the social and ideological implications of its presence in texts.