Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Victim of Circumstances -- Writer's Poke #357

The death of Jacek’s sister sets in motion a change of events that leads to Jacek committing murder and receiving the death penalty. At least this seems to be the suggestion. After all, if Jacek and his friend hadn’t been drinking vodka and wine, if Jacek’s friend hadn’t accidently run over his friend’s sister, if grief did not force Jacek to leave home, he never would have ended up in a taxi cab, and he never would have had reason or opportunity to kill the driver.

From the moment of the present, it is easy to view the past as a series of unchangeable events. Each event “causes” what happens next. It would be too simplistic, perhaps, to suggest that the death of Jacek’s sister directly causes Jacek to murder the taxi cab driver, but her death does led him down a certain path he otherwise would never have traveled, and that is the real point.

Jacek’s lawyer apparently doesn’t know Jacek’s story until he meets with him one final time before his execution; however, the lawyer always assumes that such an explanation as Jacek offers exists. There must be some explanation, as people just do not go around killing other people for no reason. And the story Jacek tells convinces the lawyer that his convictions are correct. That is, Jacek does not deserve the death penalty. The taxi driver is a victim, certainly, but so is Jacek. Jacek is a victim of circumstances.

The lawyer never grieves for the taxi cab driver, but he does grieve for Jacek. In a sense, the death of Jacek’s sister has caused three deaths, but the lawyer only has the power to prevent one of the deaths – Jacek’s – and his failure to protect his client's life affects him just as much as the death of the sister affects Jacek. The lawyer and his wife have just had a son, but he must wonder if he will be equally helpless to protect him.

Jacek’s murder is a violent act, and under the law he is guilty of the crime he has committed. Explore why his lawyer is so upset. Do you agree that Jacek’s story matters? What role should previous circumstances play in the assessment of a proper punishment.

“I believe that people would be alive today if there were a death penalty.” – Nancy Reagan

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- Writer's Poke #356

A young man named Jacek carries a heavily-worn picture of a child. Who is the child? Is it his sister? Did she die far too young in some tragic way? Perhaps the young man has never forgiven himself for her death, even though he was in no way responsible. Perhaps her death has made life meaningless.

The truth of the matter is this: the young man feels helpless. Life has no purpose. He feels as though he has no control over his life, just as he had no ability to protect the child from death. It’s by no means a rational thought, but he convinces himself that all deaths are random and beyond the control of the living.

With this thought in mind, he finds a metal pipe and some rope. He plans a random act. He will hire a taxi and kill the driver. Who is the driver? It doesn’t matter. Whoever drives the cab that picks him up will do. 

When he puts the rope around the driver’s neck, the young man discovers that death doesn’t come easily. The driver struggles, and eventually the young man finds that he must start beating the driver with his pipe. As he drags the body from the cab to a nearby lake, Jacek assumes the driver is dead, but somehow the driver lives on. 

After Jacek had hit the driver in the head with his pipe multiple times, he was so sickened by the sight of the driver’s bloodied head that he covered it with a blanket. Now he hears the driver’s gurgling pleas. “Please,” the driver says, “I beg you.” But the young man will have none of it. He must complete the killing. Knowing that the pipe didn’t do the job properly, he finds a big rock, and he slams it down purposely on the covered head. Once. Twice. Three, four, five times. 

Now the job has been completed. The young man proves to himself that he has the courage to kill. Having proven to himself that he is in control and that living has not made him into a coward, he allows a brief smile to escape. 

Is there any explanation for the young man’s actions which would cause us overlook his brutal actions?

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer