Palliative and Supportive Care

Original Articles

Humor and death: A qualitative study of The New Yorker cartoons (1986–2006)

Marianne Matzoa1 c1 and David Millera2

a1 College of Nursing, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

a2 University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma


American's experiences with dying and death have changed throughout the course of our history. As an agrarian society death, was seen first-hand on, often, a daily basis. Industrialization brought with it removal of the dying process to the hospital and burial became the responsibility of the undertaker. This separation of dying and death from society resulted in not only a physical barrier but a psychological one as well. Technology in health care once again raised issues of the dying process by asking people to make decisions about their health care in the realm of resuscitation, respirators, and the use of artificial food and fluids.

One way that Americans have been known handle the difficult times in their lives is through humor. When it becomes difficult to cope, tears and laughter are both cathartic. This study analyzes cartoons from The New Yorker in an effort to categorize contemporary notions of death as well as establish the correlation between societal events related to dying and death and the overall percent of death-related cartoons in this media.

(Received September 30 2009)

(Accepted October 29 2009)


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Marianne Matzo, College of Nursing, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, 1100 North Stonewall Ave., Oklahoma City, OK 73117. E-mail: