Capital Punishment

The death penalty can possibly be considered one of the most debated issues in the United States. In this essay I am going to discuss what the death penalty is, and how it has changed over the course of time. I will also reference passages by two authors from our current readings and compare their point-of-views to my own. In the two essays, “Execution” by Anna Quindlen and “The Penalty of Death” by Henry Louis Mencken, you are able to see two outlooks on this controversial topic.

The death penalty is a judicially ordered execution of a prisoner resulting from some type of serious crime, which is typically the act of murder. Most convicted murderers face the possibility of execution dependent upon the nature of their crimes. For example, a person who is involved in an automobile accident that takes a passenger’s life may end up doing some jail time but will most likely not be sentenced to death. Where as a person who gets into their vehicle and starts mowing down innocent pedestrians with no regard for human life would defiantly be considered more of a prime candidate.

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In other words, the nature of the case is what decides whether or not the convict qualifies for the death penalty. In ancient times the death penalty was carried out in extremely harsh ways with beheadings. As time progressed we switched to gassing and now we have a cocktail of chemicals that will just put someone out for good. There are many people that oppose the death penalty and then there are just as many people who are for the death penalty. After reading the two essays, I enjoyed both point-of-views, as the two authors focus on the same subject, but each have a different perspective.

It seems Quindlen is attempting to connect with people from today’s generation, who follow current events and can relate or possibly remember the topics such as the Ted Bundy case & and Tim Walsh tragedy. When she states, “…if my daughter had been the one clubbed to death as she slept in a Tallahassee sorority house, and if the bite mark left in her buttocks had been one of the prime pieces of evidences against the young man charged with her murder, I would with the greatest pleasure, kill him myself” (page 480) the passage compels you to put yourself in the shoes of the victim’s family.

Her statement leaves you wondering; what if this happened to my family? Everyone wants to protect their loved ones; her statement makes it very easy to relate her point-of-view. On the other hand, Mencken focuses on ancient times and outdated punishments that are much more inhumane and cruel. He compares an antediluvian period to the present day. Mencken says, “He pictures B chained to the wall of a dungeon a hundred feet underground, devoured by rats and scorpions” (page 476). Also he frequently refers to “…Katharsis, so used means a salubrious discharge of emotion” (page 474).

He makes reference to this throughout his writing, a term from the late Aristotle, Katharsis meaning “purification” or “cleansing”. Despite the fact, these writers are describing two very different eras, but both, in the end, are opposed to the death penalty, though each discuss different observations to support their opinions. They each bring up very similar points. Mencken mentions, “The thing they crave primarily is the satisfaction of seeing the criminal actually before they suffer as he made them suffer” (page 475) as he discusses why people are for the death penalty.

Quindlen is trying to make a similar point when she states, “Our most profound emotional response is to want criminals to suffer as their victims did” (page 481). Both authors believe people want an eye for an eye. If someone hurts you, or your loved one, you want to see them experience the same grief, as humans we want them to feel what we feel. But is this really possible? Though I see both sides to nearly all issues and commonly this is a good thing, but on occasion it can have huge drawbacks as well.

I always seem to be stuck on the fence, and this is why I think I agree more with Quindlen’s essay. She is able to put herself in the different scenarios and she can admit it her option would change. Of the two passages read, I personally feel that I can relate more to her passage because; to me she was more convincing and persuasive. Her writing related more to the scenarios I have witnessed during my life. For instance, it is easier for me to connect to her because I am more familiar with Bundy than I am with Aristotle that Mencken discusses in his article.

I too would be biased depending on the specific scenario that presented itself in front of me. For example I would not feel right knowing that someone has been sentenced to death for something that was truly and accident but had cost a loved one their life. However if something morbid was done to one of my loved ones I couldn’t tell you which side of the fence I would be on. This is a very difficult topic on account of its controversy and your opinion could be misinterpreted by either side regardless of which side you are on.

This reminds me of the quote by Quindlen where she states “I think the killing of one human being as punishment for the killing of another makes no sense and is inherently immoral” (page 481). The fact that I only pick a side based on how it would personally impact me and my feelings makes me even more hesitant to choose a side. I too feel a bit like a hypocrite, since I do not have a firm stance on one side or the other. However that is what makes this an interesting topic.

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