The Spectacle of Death: Populist Literary Responses to American Capital Cases

Overview

In 1787, Benjamin Rush cautioned that public punishments were dangerous to the social and legal authority of the new nation. For Rush, irrepressible human sentiments all but guaranteed that public punishments would turn spectators against the institutions responsible for the punishments. Although public executions of criminals ended early in the 19th century, debate over the morality of capital punishment has continued to this day.

In this unique and fascinating glimpse into ...

See more details below
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (12) from $1.99   
  • New (6) from $6.26   
  • Used (6) from $1.99   
Sending request ...

Overview

In 1787, Benjamin Rush cautioned that public punishments were dangerous to the social and legal authority of the new nation. For Rush, irrepressible human sentiments all but guaranteed that public punishments would turn spectators against the institutions responsible for the punishments. Although public executions of criminals ended early in the 19th century, debate over the morality of capital punishment has continued to this day.

In this unique and fascinating glimpse into public reactions to prominent executions, from colonial times to the 1990s, Kristin Boudreau focuses on the central role of populist, often ephemeral literary forms in shaping attitudes toward capital punishment. Surveying popular poems, ballads, plays, and novels, she shows that, at key times of social unrest in American history, many Americans have felt excluded by the political and legal processes, and have turned instead to inexpensive literary forms of expression in an attempt to change the course of history.

Among the significant capital cases that the author discusses are: the Haymarket anarchist trial of 1886; the lynching of Leo Frank in 1914; the murder of Emmett Till in 1955 and its effects on the Civil Rights movement; Norman Mailer’s treatment of the Gary Gilmore case in the 1979 novel, The Executioner’s Song; and the 1998 execution of Karla Faye Tucker, a convicted murderer who became a born-again Christian on death row.

In the concluding chapter, Boudreau examines contemporary writers, musicians, actors, and other artists who are using their artistic media to influence official policies of states that permit capital punishment.

By examining these neglected texts, Boudreau brings to light a compelling story about ordinary Americans fighting an entrenched legal system at times of great national crisis.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This exploration of execution literature offers not only close analysis of literary works—from bestselling books to little-known poems—inspired by publicly sanctioned deaths, but also vivid retellings of some less than judicious episodes in America’s past….Boudreau’s…consideration of literature of the public conscience—whether watershed or nearly anonymous—is thought-provoking and timely."

- Publishers Weekly

"The Spectacle of Death ... is a very readable and fascinating trip through American history. It ... makes an important contribution to our knowledge of America's vexed relationship to the ultimate punishment."

- Austin Sarat
William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591024033
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/2006
  • Pages: 265
  • Product dimensions: 6.03 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Kristin Boudreau is the Paris Fletcher Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and Arts, the head of the Department of Humanities and Arts, and associate dean of arts and sciences at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. She has written about the literature of slavery, the labor movement, capital cases, and modernization in more than twenty refereed journal publications and book chapters and in four books: Sympathy in American Literature: American Sentiment from Jefferson to the Jameses (University Press of Florida, 2002); The Spectacle of Death: Populist Literary Responses to American Capital Cases (Prometheus Books, 2006); Henry James's Narrative Technique: Consciousness, Perception, and Cognition (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); and Henry James's Daisy Miller (Broadview edition, 2012; Boudreau was co-editor and wrote the introduction). She holds a BA in English from Cornell University and an MA and a PhD in English from the University of Rochester.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Theoretical introduction to execution literature : early American criminal narratives, the power of reading, and the problem of public sentiments 19
Ch. 1 Rewriting the fall river murder : a factory town turns to sentimental narratives 37
Ch. 2 The haymarket anarchist trial of 1886 67
Ch. 3 Wisdom, justice, and moderation abandoned : the lynching of Leo Frank 105
Ch. 4 No other remedy : community awakening and the lynching of Emmett Till 129
Ch. 5 Witnesses to an execution : Norman Mailer's spectacle of death 163
Ch. 6 The sweetheart of death row : Karla Faye Tucker and the problem of public sentiments 187
Conclusion : artful uprisings : the campaign against capital punishment 207
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)