A Savage Wisdom is a novel that chronicled the fictionalized life of Toni Joe Henry as inspired by the life and crime of Annie Beatrice McQuiston. She was the first and only woman to suffer the penalty of dying in an electric chair at a basement in a courthouse at Lake Charles. She was convicted of murdering a Houston businessman that was her lover.
She turned into a cold-blooded murderer because she was consumed with passion and feelings of betrayal. However, at the beginning of the novel she is depicted as beautiful, naïve, Southern girl that would elicit sympathy from the readers. Because of her naivety, she was taken advantage by Herald Nevers. It is unknown to the girl that Nevers is selling indecent pictures of her. Furthermore, Nevers allowed other men to watch them make love with each other.
She then realized that this man has turned her into a prostitute. She was eventually rescued by Arkie Burk. One incident leads her to the killing, while she and Burk were traveling; they encountered a hitchhiker that turned out to be Nevers. Consumed by anger, she lost control and killed Nevers. After the death of her ex-lover, she was imprisoned. While in prison, she had a love affair with a deputy that impregnated her. Before she was executed, she gave birth to a child.
The author has been successful in inciting feelings of sympathy towards the protagonist from the readers. That is exactly what I feel towards the protagonist’s predicament.
I do not necessarily like and agree to her life’s choices and her life’s decisions; however, she is not to blame. She appears to be a very beautiful, good, and naive girl that deserves love and attention more than what was given to her by Nevers. I pity her because her naivety was taken advantage of by Nevers.
Her act of killing him is a kind of revenge for the humiliation that he has done. Women abuse are palpable because of a common belief that women are naturally, biologically, and emotionally weak in relation to men. Cases of sexual abuse spawned from another common belief that it is difficult for women to defend themselves.
However, this was proven wrong by Toni Jo Henry. Her act of killing Nevers is exemplary. It serves as a model for men and even for women to take heed on the fact that women should not in any way be taken advantage of because they have the capacity to defend themselves by any means. This is where the title of the novel best works. It suggests the wisdom and realization that people get from the incident despite a savage one.
While the act of killing may serve a purpose and Henry had a reasonable justification for it, I still believe that she deserves to be punished. I understand that she did the crime because Nevers has done her wrong. She needs to fight for her right as a woman and as a human being that should be respected despite her status in life. But that does not justify the killing itself.
I believe that she has to be punished for the crime that she has done. It was no doubt an act of retaliation and revenge that would not be justified in the eyes of criminal justice. For her to attain justice is to make the law work for her and not against her. A wrong done would not be made right by doing another wrong. I believe she has reasons to kill but those reasons are never justified in the eyes of the law and morals.
German, Norman. A Savage Wisdom. Thibodaux: Thunder Rain, 2008.