Death at Intervals by José Saramago – A novel about a world without death


What would the world be like without death? What would people do if they received the much-desired immortality? These questions are answered in José Saramago‘s novel, “Death at Intervals”. This novel is part of the Portuguese writer’s series of chronicles and allegories; the series begins with ” The Stone Raft” and continues with “Blindness”, “All the Names”, ” The Cave” and ” Seeing”. In all these novels, Saramago uses satire to deal with unusual themes, which make the reader re-evaluate their moral values.

When death goes away

The events in the novel take place in a nameless country, where death has decided to give up the symbolic scythe and offer people immortality. The effects of death’s decision are disappointing. People can no longer bear the presence of the “living dead” because they are in a constant need of care. They suffer the agony of death endlessly. Thus, families choose to take their dying relatives beyond the borders of the country. Here they can finally receive the sweet release of death. It won’t be long before an organization emerges that takes advantage of people’s weakness and controls the country’s borders, demanding money from those who wanted to get rid of their dying. And so people lose their morality, and instead of a biological death, moral death occurs. The question then arises: is physical degradation the worst thing for men? Or is the degradation of the soul a much greater danger to the individual? However, readers alone must find answers to these questions.

When religion has no meaning

The lack of death will not only affect individuals, but also many state institutions. And the church is certainly the one that suffers the most in this context. The absence of death will reveal the truth about religions: all religions are based on people’s fear of death. Religion promises people a new beginning after death, creating the illusion that life will not end with death. Only through faith and prayer can the human soul last beyond the grave. With the disappearance of death, the promises of religions no longer matter. Religion seems to have nothing to offer. It seems that even religion, that should save people’s souls, speculates on their weaknesses. The priests attempt to convince people that the disappearance of death is just a hardship sent by divinity to test their faith, but it is clear that they have no idea what to do anymore.

When death falls in love

In the second part of the novel, death falls in love and we get to read an unusual love story between death and a cellist. This cellist seems to defy, without realizing it, death, living longer than he should’ve. Death receives back the purple letter destined for this man and decides to take on a human appearance and hand her the letter herself. But she will not be able to do this, love overcoming death, making her give up her duty.

The novel seems difficult to read at first, given the author’s writing style, which does not mark dialogue and has very long paragraphs. But along the way, the novel becomes more and more captivating, the reader’s attention focuses completely on the action and the text seems to flow smoothly.

In “Death at Intervals”, the author deals in an unusual way with the issue of death, depicting a humanized death, and dehumanized people. The book determines the reader to see death from another perspective and to meditate on the philosophical ideas sprinkled throughout the action.


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