An essay on Sherman Alexie's use of humor in his short story, "The approximate size of my favorite tumor."

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Can You Laugh at Death?

What would you do if you found out you were dying of cancer? Would you able to make jokes and laugh it off as though it were nothing? Would your humor be a way of denying the truth? People use humor in different ways. In "The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor", Sherman Alexie tells how one man tries to use humor to deny the reality of his terminal disease. He shows how humor can be taken too far. This story demonstrates how humor can destroy one part of your life as it helps you cope with another.

Jimmy has been diagnosed with cancer and knows he is going to die. He uses humor as a way of dealing with his disease. His ability to laugh and joke about his situation does not impress his wife, Norma. Instead, it has the opposite effect and causes her to leave him. The story shows two sides to humor. It shows its ability to help a man deal with, or deny, his certain death and its ability to destroy what he loves.

For Jimmy, using humor is his own way of coping with his disease. He continually makes jokes about his tumors until Norma finally tells him, "If you say anything funny ever again, I'm going to leave you" (159). His response is to tell another joke. Keeping her promise, his wife leaves him to deal with his disease alone. Was his joking a way of dealing with his disease? Or was it his way of trying to deny the existence of his disease? In a review of this story, Joseph Coulombe states "His humor seems like an effort to hide from the reality of cancer" (par. 13). Humor is Jimmy's way of keeping himself in denial about his disease and his certain death. At first it appears as if he is being brave by being able to joke about his terminal illness. As you read, you begin to understand that he isn't using humor because he is brave; he is using it because he is afraid.

Humor is Jimmy's way of hiding his fear. By joking about his disease, instead of confronting it, he is able to put on a brave face and appear as if he has risen...
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