A Death in the Stadium by Robert Nathan
In A Death in the Stadium by Robert Nathan we have the theme of mortality, voyeurism, acceptance, fascination, entertainment and satisfaction. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator the reader realizes from the beginning of the story that Nathan may be exploring the theme of mortality. The narrator along with his friend have gone to the stadium to see Principus die. As too have others who appear to be fascinated with the idea that Principus is dying in order to support his family. Which is somewhat ironic considering that his earning potential is best served by his death rather than by continuing to work as an actor. This may be significant as it suggests that people will pay money to witness or voyeuristically look upon the death of a man. It is as though society revels in the death of Principus, a leading actor of the time. The Englishman also plays an important role in the story as he brings a disconcerting voice into the story. If anything he normalizes Principus’ death by suggesting that in England they had deaths in stadiums long before others. Even going as far back as the Romans and Druids.
This normalization of death for profit is interesting as it is possible that Nathan is suggesting that society might not necessarily appreciate life. It has become a commodity that can be bought and sold, which is very much the case when it comes to Principus. Who remains silent throughout the story. This too might be important as it is possible that Nathan is suggesting that Principus has accepted his fate. He knows he is going to die and has accepted it. His family will be looked after however one cannot help but think there are better ways in whereby one can support their family. Death is final and as such Principus is no longer able to provide for his family. One suspects that he is leaving them too early and without any type of planning beyond the initial payment for Principus’ participation in the death.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The setting of the story, a stadium, allows for Nathan to highlight society’s role in Principus’ death. If anything the stadium is a slice of society. A society in whereby voyeurism is more important than living. How normal the situation Principus finds himself in also suggests that society does not really value life. If it did it would not allow for Principus to die. Something that the crowd demands and Principus subsequently obliges them. The bottles of lemonade that some in the crowd are drinking also normalizes the position that Principus finds himself in. The women fainting is also significant as they act to serve as entertainment for the crowd. They pretend to be shocked at what is happening but they only want a piece of Principus’ fame in death. The piece of cloth that the Englishman collects as a souvenir is important as Nathan appears to be using the cloth to highlight the fact that those in attendance have glorified Principus’ death.
The end of the story is interesting as Nathan appears to be exploring the theme of satisfaction. The crowd are satisfied when Principus has died. It is as though he has kept his side of the bargain and obliged society. However it may be a case that Principus’ death was in vain as there is a sense that the crowd, or society in particular, are not completely satisfied and long for more deaths in order for them to be entertained. For that is what has happened. The crowd went to the stadium in order to be entertained. The fact that someone has died does not seem to have dawned on anyone. The crowd have to be pleased and they have been. With no suggestion that a man has died in order to provide entertainment to society. Albeit that he has consented to his death.