Chapter 3: The Cycle of Grief

Patchett’s third chapter of Bel Canto tells the story of the accompanist’s tragic and final conclusion. A man with passion, the accompanist follows his heart and isn’t afraid to let his true feelings show, regardless of what others think. Those around him portray his actions with significant contrast as his story is fully unraveled and understood. Here, I explore the effects that death has on a human’s opinion toward another – before, after, and during.

The accompanist starts out as only a minor annoyance; no one is particularly opposed to his presence as he shields the one he loves from the terrorists. But as the scenes unfold into the bulk of Chapter Two, the hostages and us – the readers – begin to really show our hatred of the character and wish for his departure. And during the third chapter we finally meet our bitter goal – the accompanist dies. His death, however, is not as direct result of the terrorists’ actions but of his own; he chooses to spend only a few more moments with Roxanne Coss at the cost of his inability to source a syringe of insulin to save his very own life. Of course, we initially find his actions foolish and immature, although we quickly come to realize just how significant a figure the accompanist really is.

We are actually given more information on the relationship (or lack, thereof) between Roxanne Coss and her accompanist than the other hostages are. We learn of how he is fully and completely in love with her and is determined to prove that his feelings are true and organic. Unfortunately the significance of these gestures is not realized until after the accompanist is no longer a part of the story’s plot. The turning point in our opinion of the character is complete when Roxanne Coss discovers her accompanist’s need of insulin – he’s a diabetic. We learn he absolutely had not feigned his illness and that the symptoms he experienced were nearing the upper limits of physical and emotional distress. “A certain forced respect had been shown to the body of the accompanist, their accompanist, and now they had to try and live up to the standards he had set.” The hostages feel so connected with the accompanist after his death that they even begin to identify him as one of their own – a member of their “family.”

Humankind is a peculiar species. We oftentimes wrongly judge those of our own only to realize after it’s too late that those we judge have been more true all along. Beverly Raphael writes in the article on “The management of Pathological Grief” that humans react to death in primarily two ways: extreme anger and extreme guilt [1]. In the case of the hostages, most seem to express a form of extreme guilt, where they begin to feel a deep connection to the accompanist after his death. The hostages show their “greatest vulnerability and capacity for change” at the time of the accompanist’s death; this trend is inline with those observed by Beverly.

Even the terrorists seem somewhat moved by the death of one of their hostages. They had not set out to kill anyone – their plan was to kidnap the President and leave. Instead, they hold the entire party hostage and even wind up feeling somewhat connected to those they hold. After the accompanist’s death, the terrorists slightly let down their guard by allowing the hostages more freedom to move around, eat, and socialize amongst themselves. The younger terrorists even begin to drift in and out of consciousness as they grow tired resting against the walls of the Vice President’s residence.

The grief cycle follows the courses of “shock and denial,” “anger,” “dialogue and bargaining,” “depression and detachment,” and finally “acceptance,” according to author Gareth Chick in his article on “The Cycle of Grief” [2]. As the accompanist dies not long ago – we’re still in Chapter Three – the hostages have no had time to fully traverse the cycle and are only exhibiting signs of the earlier “anger” phase. “Shock and denial” is demonstrated when Roxanne Coss kisses her accompanist’s dead lips one last time. And the hostages begin to feel angry when they consider their own bodies readily producing insulin when all their friend needed was the very same. German pharmaceutical business tycoon Lothar Falken feels anger when he ponders his company’s high sales of insulin. He also shows anger as frustration when he vocally shares with Gen the fact that the dead accompanist would not bleed if later shot.

To conclude, Patchett brings the hostages closer together in her third chapter through finally bringing the accompanist to his tragic end. We can’t help but feel sorry for him not only because the death is brought about by his body’s physical lack of insulin, but also because of his choosing to keep true to himself and remain with his love – all while ignoring his body’s warnings. How will the cycle of grief play a role in the forthcoming chapters? Will the hostages ever make it to the final stage of “acceptance?”

Works Cited




4 thoughts on “Chapter 3: The Cycle of Grief

  1. slaudeman says:

    I think that it is very important to talk about the connection that the group feels towards the accompanist. You bring up a great point when you talk about the way that his death brings everyone, the terrorists and the hostages, together. I think that this alone could be an interesting research topic – an investigation into the manners in which humanity reacts to death, not just loss or grief. Additionally, I feel that the tension of the situation only serves to heighten the acuity of their emotions. They are angered beyond what any one of them might experience in isolation. Equally, they are tied together in their acceptance of the situation. I think that this dynamic is particularly interesting because of the fact that the stages of grief could offer a deep foreshadowing. Also, the shift in the group towards equality is interesting to me. We see the terrorists and the hostages at the end of the chapter becoming far more at ease with one another, settling into a rhythm of a sort of acceptance, and I wonder if this idea of the stages of grief could be extended to the whole situation.
    In the first chapter, we saw shock and denial, the second the anger and disbelief at their situation. As the generals interview the hostages, we see dialogue and bargaining, when the last 40 hostages are told to stay, there is depression and a sense of detachment from their situation, and as Patchett tells us that they are calling this place home now, that is a sense of acceptance.

    –Sara Laudeman


  2. annawallace003 says:

    I think it is important to talk about the change of feelings towards the accompanist. As a reader, I couldn’t quite figure out what my feelings toward the accompanist were during the course of chapter three. Your analysis put reasoning behind those opinions and I was able to relate to the change in feelings towards the accompanist. At first I felt a lot of sympathy and concern for the accompanist while others were already irritated with him. So for me, the accompanist didn’t appear to be annoying until chapter 3 and then shortly after my feelings changed, he died. Although I hated to see him die, I was relieved that Roxanne Coss then felt the need to share a bit of their history. This allowed me to connect the dots and understand the reasoning of the accompanist’s actions. Like you said in your post, this might be her way of coping with the death due to some form of possible guilt. It is interesting to read about the cycle of grief because now I can go back and further analyze how the characters in the book reacted. The examples that you referenced made the stages of grief much more clear in regards to the reading. Your research will be useful later on in the book as we watch how the characters cope with the loss of the accompanist. The questions you left with are going to be helpful when trying to get a deeper understanding of the reading during chapter 4.


  3. ballen68 says:

    Colin, I think this is a cool topic of discussion. I really wish you had shown more of your research in your blog post though, I wanted to hear a lot more about the cool things that you found on the cycle of grief. Maybe next time talk about the research and then relate it back to Bel Canto at the end in a conclusion of some sort. Just a suggestion, but go wherever your research and thoughts take you! However, I did think this was really cool that you noticed this cycle of grief that the characters were having, and wanted to explore that. It made me start to think about different times in my life that I have gone through this cycle. Some experiences I have had have made me actually live out this cycle recently. The thing that is cool, or maybe just strange, is we don’t always go through the cycle in order. We don’t even always go through each step, we may totally skip some areas while grieving. Grief is a very complicated emotion, as it sends our emotions often times into a spiral causing mixed emotions and lack of clarity. With my recent encounter with grief, I am still not fully over it, but I skipped the first part of denial. I didn’t experience denial because I was the one who actually made the decision that caused the grief to myself and others. I am curious to see how the cycle plays out with my own situation, but also with Bel Canto as we continue through the novel.


  4. courtfesette says:

    Hey Colin!
    I liked how you pointed out how everyone, including the reader, was a bit annoyed with the accompanist. His actions were extreme but his intentions were pure, or as you say “organic.” I find it interesting, and had never really thought before, how annoying everyone found him, but in the end he ends up being a standard by which they must all live by. I also liked how you used the word connected in this sentence: “The hostages feel so connected with the accompanist after his death that they even begin to identify him as one of their own – a member of their ‘family.’” It’s funny how connected one feels to a person when they are not here anymore, as if their presence is finally recognized by their absence. We see this by Roxane’s appreciation for him after he dies for her. It’s sad that he had to go to such an extreme to get the attention of the one he loved the most.
    I find your research to be very insightful since I, as well as everyone else, have experienced both sides of what you say is the human’s reaction to death- anger and guilt. Just like the majority of the characters in the book, I tend to experience more guilt than anger. I question myself and why I did not spend more time with the one who had deceased; how making a simple effort for a ten minute phone call could have affected the one who passed away.



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