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Violence, of course, is all around us in reality, and perhaps we like to talk and read about it to make it understandable to us. How is it possible that someone could cut off someone’s head? we wonder reading the news or even watching the beheading by a masked man who speaks our language, English, to us on a video.
Where does such evil come from? And why does it continue to fascinate us? Why do all the heads turn when there is an accident on the road?
Why do we read about violence not just in the newspapers but also in murder mysteries, or even in the great novels where murder is enacted by a hero or even heroine.
There are many notable examples in the modern or sometimes not so modern novel.
One of the most famous murder scenes which comes to mind, where we can follow the thinking of the protagonist and even understand, though we may not identify with the character, is the great murder scene in Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”. Here Raskolnikov goes to the money- lender’s apartment with an ax. He needs money desperately but this woman, too, seems to be a useless human being to him, someone whose life is not worth saving.
He had not a minute more to lose. He pulled the axe quite out, swung it with both arms, scarcely conscious of himself, and almost without effort, almost mechanically, brought the blunt side down on her head. He seemed not to use his own strength in this. But as soon as he had once brought the axe down, his strength returned to him.”
We feel that the murderer is in some way not really responsible for his act. He seems distanced from it, and thus hardly implicated in the evil of his crime.
In Camus murder scene in “The Stranger” Mersault seems to kill almost because of the extreme heat on the beach where he sees the Arab. There are the sound of the waves, the sun, and in the distance a small ship passing. The shadow on the Arab’s face seems a smile. The sweat drips down Mersault’s forehead and he steps forward. The Arab pulls a knife. Blinded by the sun, the world seeming to vacillate around him, Mersault fires and then fires four more times.
Another description of a violent murder is in Marquez’s brilliant “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” The butchery here is described in great detail with honesty and precision in the last pages of the book. “Shit cousin,” Pablo Vicario told me, “You can’t image how hard it is to kill a man.” Having used the whole of this novella to work up to this death, Marquez milks it for all it is worth. The mother sees her son, Santiago Nasar, “In front of the door, face down in the dust, trying to rise up out of his own blood. He stood up leaning to one side and started to walk in a state of hallucination holding his intestines with his hands.”
We wonder why we read of such violent acts with such interest. They are all around us, and perhaps by writing about them and placing them within the structure and order of a story we may believe that we are able to control this violence that lies surely partly within each one of us.
Author: Sheila Kohler, author of many books including Dreaming for Freud, Becoming Jane Eyre, and Cracks