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There’s nothing quite like What Remains of Edith Finch (2017). The way the game depicts the tragic deaths of members of the Finch family in a series of diverse, whimsical and often poetic segments remarkably manages to make the game feel as enchanting as it is devastating. In fact, even people who would usually thumb their noses at short, narrative-driven experiences have found themselves reduced to a trembling wreck by the time the end credits hit.
Like anything that has a lasting, emotional impact on its fans, What Remains of Edith Finch has been the subject of heavy discussion, with the most heated debates surrounding the curse that supposedly caused the deaths depicted in the story. Was the curse real or were these just a string of unconnected incidents? If it does exist, in what form? Did it cause every Finch to die prematurely? Did it kill all but one member of each generation? Was the curse a metaphor for a hereditary mental illness?
All these theories have been explored in great detail, but none quite fit all of the stories experienced throughout the game. There is an alternative however – a possibility that has been missed, but when you review the events, you’ll find plenty of evidence in its favour. That possibility is that there is a curse, but it’s not one of an untimely death, rather it’s the curse of incompetent parenting.
Whether you want to call it a curse or just an unfortunate family trait, every clearly explained death in What Remains of Edith Finch can be blamed on incompetent parenting. Some of these are cases of such ludicrous stupidity that they’d be comical if the consequences weren’t so damn horrifying. The most blatant examples are the death of Calvin Finch whose parents thought it a good idea to build his swing set at the edge of a cliff and Gus Finch, whose father let him fly a kite unsupervised in a storm.
One rung down the ladder of neglect, we have those that died due to ignorance such as Molly, whose parents sent her to bed hungry when there were poisonous berries in her room, or tragedies caused by a lapse in judgement such as baby Gregory who drowned when his mother left him alone in a bath.
Then there are the less obvious examples of Lewis and Walter whose deaths can be blamed on their parents’ inability to properly address their child’s mental problems and childhood trauma.
This theory is strengthened when you consider the children who did survive into adulthood. Let’s look at the accident that ended the life of Sam Finch – After losing two children before they reached the age of 14, Sam took his only remaining child Dawn on a hunting trip where he tried to make her pose in front of a deer they’d just shot. Dawn became upset by this and claimed that the deer was still twitching, when Sam came over to show her it was all fine, the deer bucked and knocked Sam off a cliff to his death.
If Dawn had actually listened to her father’s awful advice, she would have been the one killed, it’s only by sheer fluke that the deer took her father’s life instead. With her father’s passing, Dawn became one of the few Finches that lived into adulthood.
A similar situation surrounds Sven Finch who died when a dragon-shaped slide he was building for his children collapsed. Once again, had the children played on the slide as intended, they would likely have been killed. Sven had already lost two young children before his death, but after his passing, his two remaining sons survived until the ages of 33 and 53 respectively.
So with this in mind, the game’s ending can be interpreted very differently. In the story’s closing moments we see a representation of Edith giving birth to her child before cutting to her adult son reading the final page of his mother’s notebook while standing at her grave. Many people interpret this to mean that Edith died during childbirth, but I don’t think that’s the case.
I think it’s far more likely that Edith identified the pattern of incompetent parenting, gave birth, and then killed herself shortly thereafter to ensure that her child did not become another victim of the family ‘curse’.
There are a handful of elements that support this theory. For one, why would Edith write her diary in that way, expecting that she would never have the chance to speak with her son? There’s nothing to indicate that Edith had any illness that would make her unlikely to survive childbirth.
Even if she believed in the curse as traditionally interpreted, there’s nothing to evidence that this might happen – no one had died giving birth before, there was only one instance of a child dying before the age of ten and every parent had lived until their children were at least ten. The only reason she would expect to die so soon is if she intended it.
Then there’s the reason for Edith’s visit to her childhood home. It seems to be to investigate the alleged curse that afflicts her family and their long-hidden family secrets, but as shown by Edith’s notebook early in the game, she already knows about each family member, their date of birth and date of death, and as explained in the narrative, the circumstances surrounding death in several cases. If Edith wanted to know whether the Finches were cursed to die prematurely, she already had enough information to form an opinion and what she uncovered wouldn’t change that.
What Edith is really looking for is the detail surrounding the deaths and who’s to blame. She never wanted to return to her family home, but her pregnancy transformed her family secrets from a morbid curiosity into a matter of life and death. Edith may well have suspected the connection to inept parenting and sought more evidence to help her decide whether she would be capable of raising this child.
This all begs the question: What proof is there that Edith suspected that all Finches were incompetent parents and therefore doubted her ability to care for another life? The answer is found in one fleeting but all-important line. Upon approaching the pet cemetery Edith mentions that the pet cemetery always scared her more than the human one. She only speaks one line inside this location:
“Three of the gerbils here were mine, two were my fault”
This line not only indicates that the question of blame was weighing heavy on Edith’s mind and would have been present when uncovering her relatives’ stories, but that she knew that if this bleak hereditary trait was real, then she too possessed it. She may even have seen the connection at a young age, hence the comment about the pet cemetery scaring her so much – it served as a reminder that Edith would inevitably be tormented by this curse that had already brought her family so much grief.
Finally, the wording Edith uses regularly in her diary strengthens the theory that her death was intentional – “Maybe it’d be better if all this just died with me” “This is where your story begins. I’m sorry I won’t be there to see it” – these are the words of someone who knew they were about to die; this notebook wasn’t just a chronicle of a tragic family, it was a suicide note.
So there you are, that’s my theory. Are you convinced or do you have your own take that you’d like to share? Be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below.