Capital Punishment and Sensitive Societal Issue

Last Updated: 17 Aug 2022
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Punishment Punishment, Witness, and dehumanization are common in the world today illustrated in poems such as, “Punishment” by Seamus Heaney and “Capital Punishment” by Sherman Alexie. The poems give the world a different perspectives based on the authors viewpoint, yet both authors seem to favor punishment. Therefore everyone in their life deserves to be punished based on the authors work or even a witness for one reason or another to speak for something they have done or witness. These authors wanted to show a strong feeling towards punishment whether or not the crime was minor or major.

In “Punishment” the speaker was a witness to dehumanizing punishment of the bog women. In “Capital Punishment” the cook was a witness to a cruel punishment. Even though both authors focused on different types of punishment they both expressed how witnessing and dehumanization have a vital role in different situations. Can punishment and race have factors that can change one another? Can the ethnicity of a criminal effect the severity of the punishment bestowed upon them? The ethnicity of a criminal or witness can determine how cruel and usual a punishment can be towards the criminal or witness.

Witnessing is seeing an event, crime, or even an accident take place. In the poem the author talks about witnessing a horrible event. Punishment begins with a person possible the speaker or even the poet hanging with a noose around her neck and seems to be dead. The speaker seems like he could have witness the entire death. He describes the bog woman as, “she was a barked sapling that is dug out oak- bone, brain firkin: her shaved head like a stubble of black corn, her blindfold a soiled bandage, her noose a ring to store the memories of love” (Heaney, 1157).

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Even though he describes her as a scapegoat why does the speaker not speak up for this cruel dehumanizing punishment. The punishment was so outrages that the audience felt her pain. However, the speaker first says “my poor scapegoat” (Heaney, 1157), and we feel as if he feels the sorrow the readers do, shortly after he says, “I almost love you” (Heaney, 1157). With his participation of the punishment it leaves the audience believing that the woman deserves the punishment because of her past. “Capital Punishment” is told in first person, a cook is preparing a last meal for an Indian man.

He says “I sit here in the dark kitchen when they do it, meaning when they kill him, kill and add another definition of the word to dictionary” (Alexie, 1164). The line "I am not a witness" is repeated throughout the poem, it is said after Alexie addresses a sensitive societal issue. Topics such as capital punishment are very difficult for the cook to explain. The speaker of the poem is sympathetic with the condemned man and knows that the reason he is on death row is due to the color of his skin.

After the narrator describes and tells the reader what he is thinking and observing, he uses a line saying, "I am not a witness" symbolizing that the narrator can only imagine but relate to what the Native American is going through. He changes from "I am not a witness" to "I am a witness" (Alexie, 1162) when the narrator tells the reader a story about how the society can hang two people but throw both people in one grave. The line symbolizes that two wrongs do not equal one right. The cook sympathies with the criminal because he knows that his punishment is only that sever because of his ethnicity. I am a witness" is Alexie's way of saying this type of punishment is happening and is something that cannot be ignored or overlooked. The author asks the question, who are we to judge? Who decides someone's life is over? Alexie says at the end of the poem, " ... If any of us stood for days on top of a barren hill during an electrical storm then lightning would eventually strike us and we'd have no idea for which of our sins were reduced to headlines and ash. " (Alexie 1165). Alexie was trying to say no matter what, a sin is a sin, the terms in which the sins were committed are meaningless, and the bottom line is that a sin was committed.

However, if we were killed for our actions how would we know if the condemned would make up for that sin or turn out for the worst? Both poems prove that the author's point of view of each punishment in the poem shows significance in the writer's everyday life. Seamus Heaney's "Punishment" shows bitter love and can somewhat symbolize the relationship of the love of his life. Sherman Alexie's “Capital Punishment” symbolizes the punishment people experience especially through racial discrimination. In addition, by Alexie being Native American too, that proves he was making a statement about bitter punishment towards his culture.

The ethnicity of a criminal or witness can determine how cruel and usual a punishment can be towards the criminal or witness. Work Cited Alexie, Sherman. "Capital Punishment. " Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. By John Schilb and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. N. page. Print. Heaney, Seamus. "Punishment. " Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. By John Schilb and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. 1156-157. Print.

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Capital Punishment and Sensitive Societal Issue. (2016, Dec 31). Retrieved from

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