Date of Award

2006

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Communications Honours

Faculty

Faculty of Education & Arts

First Advisor

Dr Trevor Cullen

Abstract

This thesis analyses the way The West Australian presents natural death to its readers. Previous research involving death notices and obituaries has focused on gender and numerical analysis. There are hundreds of books dealing with death, covering legal, biological, physical, sociological and spiritual aspects of death, but books on death in the media tend to skirt around natural death. The diverse areas of death research fail to postulate a common definition of natural death. A similar diversity of views exists on the good death and the concepts surrounding life after death. This encourages the analysis of material from daily life, such as death notices, obituaries and editorial content, to add a contemporary interpretation of the way death is presented in The West Australian. As a research basis, 24 consecutive issues of The West Australian in February 2005 have been used. This yielded 33 obituaries, 57 articles dealing with natural death, 4046 death notices and led to the categorising of 11216 text elements under fourteen headings. During the collection of the data four major themes emerged: the "good death", the loss suffered by the family, the social context and the hope for a life after death. Confirming previous studies, males receive more attention after death. Death notices, which are placed by friends and relatives of the deceased, focus on the person. Obituaries focus on the life and achievements of the deceased, whilst editorial content dealing with natural death focuses on the manner of dying, the disease that has caused death. Society's preoccupation with longevity is not reflected in death notices -the older a person dies, the less they are missed, and the less death notices they receive. The difficulty of accepting death is manifested in the high proportion of death notices that address the deceased as if he or she were still alive, or notices containing reference to religion, suggesting widespread hope for a life after death. Neither death notices nor obituaries or articles dealing with natural death give clear indications if the people die a good death. Where obituaries mention death at home, it is invariably in a positive tone. The material reveals death notices as describing who a person is; they describe, in varying degrees, position in the family, friends, personality and enumerate the ways in which a person is missed. Obituaries and editorial material dealing with natural death describe people in terms of their achievements, their jobs, and their position in society. They describe what a person is.

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