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Mavis Gallant presents us with a disconcerting view of death in the short story "From the Fifteenth District," where dying is not a salvation from the pains of life but where the dead are forced to suffer eternally. In this story, the author sets out three distinct cases of 'haunting,' except that these hauntings are reported by the dead about the living. Major E. Travella, killed during World War I, is angry that he is being exploited by the church and the public. Mrs. Ibrahim is upset that her doctor and social worker are fighting over her death. Finally, Ms. Essling is frustrated that she is unable to get on with her 'life' after death because of her husband. All three of these individuals are harboring anger and hostility after death and are unable to move on and rest in peace.
Major Emery Travella feels as if the church is trying to capitalize on his death. When the Major visits the church for Communion he realizes that the congregation is not there to pay tribute to God but instead, "the congregation sits, hushed and expectant straining to hear [his] footsteps" (282) which signal his haunting of the church. The Major is upset that the church is allowing the congregation to make a mockery of the church by devoting their time to him instead of the Communion which should be the reason they are there. The church is also trying to profit by the Major's haunting by allowing cameras and tape recorders into their place of prayer. Travella feels that the church is sacred and is supposed to be seen as a place of worship, not a place to record abnormal phenomena. Major E. Travella feels that he is not being respected by the congregation, instead, he is being insulted by people only caring about him because he is a ghost, not because of who he was as a living person.
Mrs. Ibrahim is bothered that her doctor and social worker cannot settle their differences in opinion in their accounts of her death. She does not see the point of fighting over her because she is no longer living and has died of natural causes. They are both lying to save themselves from punishment, and even though no one was at fault, they were both trying to place the blame on the other.
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Ms. Essling is bitter that her husband isn't allowing her to 'live' a happy life after death because he keeps on saying how perfect and wonderful she was even though he never got a chance to really know her because he couldn't be bothered.
I must have one person, preferably female, on whom I can depend absolutely, who will never betray me even in her thoughts. A disloyal thought revealed, a betrayal even in fantasy, would be enough to destroy me. Knowing that I may rely upon some one person will leave me free to continue my work without anxiety or distraction. (284)
The quotation shows us that the husband was more worried about having an accessory to help further himself and his career than about finding a true love. Mr. Essling was not getting married for love but to acquire someone that could help raise his children and 'serve' him while he works on his lifelong passion. This took away her individuality and made her furious. Because he was so selfish, he was unable to see his wife's flaws and accept her as a person. Instead he saw what he wanted in her which was a loyal devotee. This shows that he is naive which again adds to her negative feelings towards him. When Mr. Lombrano asked Ms. Essling to go on vacation with him she felt guilty because she broke the marriage agreement of undying loyalty to her husband. From her guilty feelings she becomes mad as she sees herself as having been committed to a loveless relationship since the age of seventeen to someone who treated her as nothing more than a servant. Even after her death her husband is mocking her because he never gave any loving attention to her but is still content in telling everyone how perfect she was.
Mavis Gallant's "From the Fifteenth District," is a story that shows us that the dead, who are being haunted by the living, are unable to live a happy existence during death and are left to be miserable forever. Major E. Travella was unhappy thinking that the church was using him after death as a source of entertainment. He was being dishonored in a place of prayer by people who were more interested in his haunting than in their Communion. Similarly Mrs. Ibrahim was not impressed with the actions of the doctor and social worker who was supposed to help her. She felt that if the two could have settled their differences they would be able to work together and help people who needed it. Ms. Essling was a lost soul: she could not live happily as a living person nor could she live happily after her passing. After death she is getting more love and attention from her husband than she ever did when she was alive. These stories all contradict our secure and comforting views of life after death and show it as a place that can be eternal misery, sadness and anger.