I remember my first run-in with an authority figure that wasn’t one of my parents. I was seven, and I had to sit on the step for saying some cheeky rhyme with the word ‘bum’ in it, in front of the new preps. Rather than taking my punishment with a quiet dignity, I cried the entire time I was on the step – I wasn’t the most rebellious of youth.
Each person’s own unique and ongoing relationship to the rules they’re told to abide by, is fascinating and not always fair. Regardless of whether you choose to challenge or comply with moral or societal restrictions, the influence rules have in sculpting who we are, is immeasurable. And sometimes, as The Clash once warned us, you’ll fight the law and the law wins.
So if you’re in the mood to ponder the judicial process, here are a few bits of writing which are thankfully much shorter reads than Crime and Punishment (just don’t read Crime and Punishment I proper struggled)
The Trial (Franz Kakfa, 1925)
Like Kafka’s other stories, The Trial is often considered particularly chilling because it’s said to foreshadow life under Nazi occupation – an era which Kakfa never lived to see.
Originally written in 1915 and published posthumously, The Trial tells the story of Josef K. who wakes up one morning told he has been charged for a crime which is never revealed to him by a mysterious bureaucratic system. Josef K. hopelessly fights his case even though he doesn’t know what exactly he is being charged with, to a powerful yet invisible, system that’s structure is unknown.
Twelve Angry Men (Reginald Rose, 1957)
A short American screenplay which, as you’re promised, has twelve men in it that are sometimes arguing (it never escalates into a street fight though which is a bit of a let down).
Set in a sequestered jury room, the jurors need to reach a unanimous verdict on the 19 year old defendant accused of killing his father. If found guilty he’ll be sentenced to death. In short, the play is the jurors arguing into the night, attempting to determine whether there is a reasonable doubt. It’s also meant to make you think about how much personal prejudices can be put aside to ensure they don’t ‘obscure the truth’.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Oscar Wilde, 1898)
Written after his release, this powerful poem describes a hanging Wilde witnessed during his two year prison sentence of a Royal Horse Guards trooper, Charles Thomas Wooldridge who had murdered his wife in a jealous rage for suspected infidelity.
A statement against capital punishment, Wilde humanise’s Wooldridge by detailing his movements as he walks toward the scaffold. He attempts to capture the pain of witnessing a fellow man die ‘a death of shame’; his underlying point being that we are all sinful yet not all of us are forced to die this way. Repeatedly the poem describes the ‘wisful eyes’ of Wooldridge on this fateful day, and comes back to this one poignant verse,
‘Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!’
Inferno (Dante Alighieri, 1472)
I have two favourite parts of this classic epic poem/brochure of what to except if you’ve been a bit of a wrongin during your life,
- That God seems to be a fan of handing out very specific ironic punishments
- People who were unable to commit to the church because it was before their time-period are still sent to the first circle of hell for not believing in God. That’s a bit of a dick move.
The first of three poems (I have only read this one though, cause I thought it would be juicy), Inferno is about Dante getting himself lost in the forest and the ghost of Virgil needing to lead him through the nine circles of hell to get back onto his path.