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In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried: A Summary

If you’re a fan of literature that delves into the complexities of human emotions and relationships, you may have come across the short story “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried.” This poignant tale, penned by Amy Hempel, masterfully captures the essence of friendship, coping with loss, and the vulnerability that comes with confronting life’s inevitable challenges.

Synopsis of “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried”

Amy Hempel’s “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” is a succinct yet emotionally charged narrative. The story revolves around the protagonist’s visit to a friend, who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. The protagonist recounts their interactions, revealing moments of vulnerability, shared memories, and the challenges of being present for someone facing impending death. The story’s title references the famous singer Al Jolson, whose burial site is symbolic of the inevitable destination awaiting us all.

Themes Explored

The story delves into several profound themes:

  • Friendship and Compassion: The narrative underscores the depth of friendship as the protagonist navigates the complexities of supporting a dying friend.
  • Mortality and Impermanence: The looming specter of death prompts reflections on the impermanence of life and the inevitable end that awaits everyone.
  • Isolation and Connection: Despite being surrounded by others, the characters grapple with feelings of isolation, highlighting the complexity of human connection.
  • Grief and Coping: The story portrays the different ways people cope with grief, from humor to emotional vulnerability.

Character Analysis

The protagonist, whose name remains undisclosed, serves as the storyteller and central figure. The dying friend remains nameless as well, emphasizing the universal nature of the experience. Their interactions and conversations reveal a deep bond and unspoken understanding.

The Writing Style

Hempel’s writing style is characterized by brevity and emotional depth. The concise sentences and carefully chosen words amplify the story’s impact. Through the use of personal pronouns and vivid descriptions, she creates an intimate connection between the reader and the characters.

Impact and Reception

“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” has garnered widespread acclaim for its emotional resonance and profound themes. Its exploration of human vulnerability and the intricacies of friendship resonates with readers from all walks of life.

Personal Reflections

Reading this story can evoke a range of emotions and introspection. It encourages readers to contemplate the nature of their own relationships and confront their feelings about mortality.

Connections to Real Life

The story’s portrayal of friendship and mortality reflects the experiences and emotions that many individuals face in their own lives. It reminds us to cherish the moments we have and be present for others during their times of need.

Emotional Resonance

The story’s emotional impact lies in its ability to capture the essence of human emotion in a few carefully crafted paragraphs. It invites readers to empathize with the characters and reflect on their own emotional journeys.

Coping with Grief

Through humor and vulnerability, the characters demonstrate various ways of coping with grief. The story gently reminds us that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with loss.

The Power of Short Fiction

“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” exemplifies the power of short fiction to convey profound messages in a condensed format. It demonstrates how brevity can enhance the potency of storytelling.

Memorable Quotes

  • “And I say, ‘Do you think it would hurt if I put this pillow over your face?'”
  • “Then I begin to speak. And through a mouthful of crackers, I begin to speak.”

Lessons Learned

The story imparts several valuable lessons:

  • The importance of being present for friends in their times of need.
  • The significance of vulnerability and emotional authenticity.
  • The universality of human experiences, including loss and grief.


“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” is a literary gem that reminds us of the fragility of life, the power of connection, and the inevitability of mortality. Through its beautifully woven narrative, Amy Hempel invites us to confront our own emotions and appreciate the profound impact of human relationships.