Penalty of Death-Analysis


[1]-Title, Author, etc.
-The Penalty of Death
-Written by H.L. Mencken, 1926.

[2]-Thesis
-The thesis of the essay is on page 395, and is the last sentence of paragraph 3. It states:
"What I contend is that one of the prime objects of all judicial punishments is to afford the same grateful relief (a) to the immediate victims of the criminal punished, and (b) to the general body of moral and timorous men."
-Means that in the authors point of view, one of the key points of punishing a criminal is to give some sense of relief to the victims, and even to the law-abiding public in general
-This obviously implies that he is pro death penalty

[3]-Main Arguments/Points
-To start the essay off, the author attacks two of the main arguments used by people who are against capital punishment. These points are clearly illustrated on page 394 in the first paragraph.

-The first one reads: Hanging a man (or frying him or gassing him) is a dreadful business, degrading to those who have to do it and revolting to those who have to witness it.
-He attacks this by saying it "?is plainly to weak to need serious refutation"
-Basically saying this argument is not important enough to abolish the penalty?all it says is that the work of the hangman is unpleasant.
-Goes on by first stressing the unimportance of the statement by saying that other necessary jobs are also unpleasant such as that of the plumber, soldier etc.
-Then he falsifies it by saying that there is no evidence stating that hangmen complain of their work, and he knows many who delight in and are proud of their work

-Second statement he attacks states: "[Capital punishment] is useless, for it does not deter others from the same crime".
-Attacks this by saying that people who state this wrongly conclude that this is the only reason why it is in effect
-States that this is only one of at least a half dozen reasons why it is in effect.

-Then reaches main argument: why the death penalty is effective
-Saying it is commonly called revenge, he borrows a better word from Aristotle?catharsis
-The meaning is stated in paragraph 3 as "a salubrious discharge of emotions"
-Followed by an example: "A school boy, disliking his teacher, deposits a tack upon the pedagogical chair; the teacher jumps and the boy laughs. This is catharsis.
-He states that victims of murders crave, more than anything, to see the perpetrator suffer, as he made them suffer
-Says majority of people enjoy peace of mind knowing that the accounts are squared, once this is achieved they are much more comfortable
-States that this feeling isn't necessarily moral, but it is common w/ most human beings
-gives an example of this in paragraph 4: {Bottom of page 395 (read to class)}.

-Goes on to defend death penalty by saying it is not used for ordinary crimes, even ordinary homicides.
-States for crimes involving the 'deliberate and inexcusable' taking of a life, to 9 out of 10 men, this is a just punishment.

-Also argues on the side of the punnished {sort of} by saying the wait to be executed is too long
-He states that this wait is 'horribly cruel'
-Says that not even caniballs would torture their victims in this way
-Also wonders why they need to wait at all
-Suggests executing them the day after their trial
-Says that while time is allotted in between trial and execution to make peace w/ god, it does not take that long, and concludes his essay by saying: "[Making peace w/ god] may be accomplished, I believe, in two hours quite as comfortably as in two years. There are, indeed no temporal limitations upon God. He could forgive a whole herd of murderers in a millionth of a second. More, it has been done."

[4]-Conclusion
-This essay is rather inconclussive, seeing as it is debating an important argument (found in Argument section of book)
-However I feel that he did a good job of concluding the main arguments he was trying to make

[5]-Style/Techniques
-Being a critic, and debating his topic, Mencken uses a lot of attacks throughout his essay to make his opposion's points seem weaker, making his look better
-Many examples are used throughout the essay explaining various things. For instance, the example used on the bottom of page 395 explaing the use of catharsis in capital punishment situations.
-A few rhetorical questions are used in the end of the