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The narrator of the story “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” is a person with many fears. We are privy to many of her trivial fears – like flying – but we must infer much of her greatest fear, which is her fear of visiting her dying friend.
The narrator visits her terminally ill friend after her friend has been hospitalized for two months. She doesn’t stay for long, even though her friend desperately wants her to, and goes as far as to set up an extra bed in her hospital room. The ill friend seems to have always been the strong one in the two’s relationship, and now that the narrator has to be brave for her friend, she backs down from the challenge. It seems as though she is letting her fear of losing her friend interfere with her duty of supporting her best friend in a time of need.
Protagonists in works of fiction are usually brave (although admittedly flawed in some way). The protagonist in Amy Hempel’s story is definitely cowardly; she mentions being shocked by a friend’s story of a man who was scared to death in a car crash when he saw his injured arm, and draws a parallel to her friend’s illness, saying that, until now, she “hadn’t dared to look any closer. But now [she’s] doing it – and [is] hoping that [she’ll] live through it.” The main character is less likeable because she is reluctant to be there for her friend when she needs her the most, but she is also more believable because of her flaws.

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