Review: Like Hazlitt’s description of the bare knuckles fight, this essay is a detailed description of an execution by guillotine of a heartless murderer, who maintains his composure and his determined claim of innocence until his death—attended by a large, excited crowd, a few notables, and, of course, the executioners. The narrator does not want to attend but he is worried that people will think of him as a coward. So he becomes a voyeur to an execution.
Construction of the scaffold, the narrator’s thoughts during the final minute of the execution, his tortured, guilty thoughts that he is witnessing another murder, and his purpose in revealing these details because he wants to supply people who are opposed to capital punishment and public executions with evidence in excruciating detail.
Quote: “But not one of us, absolutely no one looked like a man who realized that he had been present at the performance of an act of social justice. Everyone tried to turn away in spirit and, as it were, shake off the responsibility for this murder.”
Quote: “But at the sight of that composure…all the feelings in me—the feelings of disgust for a ;pitiless murderer, a monster who cut the throats of little children while they were crying ‘Maman! Maman!’—the feeling of compassion, finally for a man whom death was about to swallow up, disappeared and dissolved in—a feeling of astonishment. What was sustaining Tropmann?”
The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate.
: Anchor Books. A Division of Random House, Inc. 1995. New York