« Back to Boston | Main | Love and Lit »

March 28, 2008


Did you see that Mumia is going to get a new sentencing hearing?


As I recall, France used the guillotine _in public_. It seems to me that we in the US are able to disown our shadow on the death penalty because we keep it hidden. If our executions were public, maybe more resistance would result.

Thanks for this post.

On the earlier comment: I agree that making Americans watch executions might generatae opposition. I think being a witness to executions should be like jury duty - reandom seleciton of fairly large numbers of witnesses with no chance to get out of it. the selection can be linked to driver's licence database.

You might also read Allen Steele's terririfc short story "Doblin's Lecture" (1996) for a template on how to proceed.

On the ohter hand, whenever I suggest this sort of thing, people reply by saying that lots of Americans would volunteer to be spectators at executions.

Wow, thanks for the tips--I HADN'T head of Mumia's new sentencing hearing (and I think it's interesting that it's the British press that covered it), and I'd be curious to hear more. Why new sentencing and not new hearing?

Hadn't heard of the short story by Allen Steele either, but I'll look it up. I feel like there aren't many good stories about death penalty in any medium--film, novels, etc.--and I'm not sure why. When it appears, it's in an over-the-top sentimental way, usually with an innocent person being killed, like in "The Green Mile." It doesn't really get into the nuances of it. I mean, pretty much everyone agree killing innocent people is bad. What about when the person is guilty? What about when its not an electric chair--now so archaic--but lethal injection? "Dead Man Walking" is an exception--both the movie and book are fantastic--though of course its got the 'based on a true story' tagline.

"Dancer in the Dark," though, the movie, was incredible.

Maybe the invisibility of the death penalty in real life leads to its invisibility in fiction. Unfortunately, that leaves precious little windows into the experience.

About watching executions: I wonder how Saddam Hussein's hanging fits into this. Wasn't it one of the most popular YouTube videos for a long time? And there certainly where photos of it published, as there never are with executions in the U.S.

With lethal injection, it's an interesting change-up in the visual: rather than smelling burning flesh or hearing necks crack, rather than seeing blood or eyes roll into the back of the head, it looks like a medical procedure: hospital bed, doctors present, two simple shots. While this is supposed to be more "humane" to the victim, I think it's also about making it easier on those present to pretend that it's not a murder.

I wonder, if it was public, who would agree.

Regarding short stories of a guilty person being sentenced to death, Sartre's "The Wall" and Hugo's "Last Day of a Condemned Man" are excellent

Thank you for the suggestions! I'll definitely check them out--I didn't even know Sartre wrote short stories ...

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • Isak is a space to celebrate tales and truth in the curious, joyful way embodied by the writer for which it is named. The name "Isak," after all, means "laughter," as she was fond of pointing out.

    By tales, I mean fiction (especially short fiction), as well as other literary and artistic narratives. By truth, I mean the world in which we live. I especially have my eye on creative social justice.

    Isak: The Extended Version
join the mailing list
* indicates required

Choose Books

My Photo

Support Isak

  • For more than eight years, I've edited Isak, supporting it with my time and treasure. This site has always been ad-free. If you find this website valuable, and are moved to contribute a donation, I will be deeply grateful.