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"The message could be delivered by any present-day liberal, about any extreme punishment." —Amnesty International
Posted June 11, 2003
Throughout the course of The Last Day of a Condemned Man, Victor Hugo displays several excellent literary qualities. Hugo brings the harsh reality of 19th century prison systems to a cruel light. Due to his bias against capital punishment, this light is overwhelmingly gruesome. Hugo uses his prisoner to display this idea. The convict is a rounded character: 'baffled, doubtful, remorseful, and angry. Anyone can relate to him.' Despite the ingenuity of this literary quality, Hugo¿s lack of plot is disappointing. Most of the story takes place in a Paris prison cell. This, however, makes the psychological essence of The Last Day of a Condemned Man more enjoyable. How would someone react if they knew they had six hours left to live? Hugo¿s response to this intriguing question tells the reader that the prisoner should be punished with more sympathy, not with the death penalty. Although this tale of pain and mental suffering is strongly biased, it is a fascinating story told by an exceptional writer that deserves more attention in the literary world.
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Posted December 25, 2010
Victor Hugo's "The Last Day of a Condemned Man" may be a short read, but it is by no means an easy one. Not necessarily enjoyable in the usual sense, "The Last Day..." is an important and powerful work in opposition to the death penalty. The book reads like the thoughts and journal of a condemned man in France, who is given six weeks to live. The reader is forced to delve into the thoughts and fears of a man that we never really get to know in a sense; we are told very little about his life, and told practically nothing about the crime he has committed that has led him to prison and to be sentenced to death. But that is Hugo's point -- that capital punishment is so inhumane that it should not matter the crime, or the details, or who a person is, only that the sentence is so cruel and unusual that it should not be an option. This was an especially interesting read for me as I work in a law office that represents people on death row in their appeals, and some of the ideas in this short novel are interestingly at odds with the work we do. One thing David Dow mentions in the foreword is how death penalty litigation is heavily focused on individual stories and individual cases, trying to show how and why a certain client should not be put to death, but that Victor Hugo's novel approach to death penalty discussion, the idea that it does not matter who the criminal is or what the circumstances are of the specific case, is an important one. It was fascinating to feel how compelled I was and how sympathetic the main character could be even when I knew nothing of his circumstances or what he had done. This short novel can definitely be tough to get through (it's quite short page-wise but took me a few sittings because I could only take in so much at a time) but I think it's an incredibly important intellectual work to read if one is interested in the death penalty. This should honestly be required reading for anybody involved in the criminal justice system, if not everybody period.
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Posted January 7, 2009
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