Crime and Punishment

Today on MetaFilter: a link to a report of a Pennsylvania man who, accused of spitting at a police officer, has been sentenced to read To Kill a Mockingbird. The discussion focuses mostly on those texts with some apparent punitive value, the things they made you suffer through in eighth grade. But I wonder: if, as Richard Rorty claims, the social and political value of literature is in its ability to help us build a sense of solidarity with those whose life experiences are very different from our own, is there a better way to frame such a reading sentence? If the task were not punishment but rehabilitation, what would you assign, and for what offenses? Or, conversely, what offenses would your favorite novels serve as remedies for?


  1. Great question. Well, this year’s favourite so far, Mil Millington’s ‘Things My Girfriend and I Have Argued About’, would be good for rehabilitating bossy partners and dodgy bosses, while last year’s, Ian McEwen’s ‘Atonement’, would be perfect for the over-righteous, as would (in a slightly different sense) the runner-up, Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’. Not sure if those are actual crimes in Pennsylvania, though.

  2. Oooh. Atonement’s a great choice. Now I’m thinking (following on the Ian/Iain link) that The Wasp Factory might be a good assignment for those accused of making sexist/essentialist assumptions about gender?

    This is a tougher question than I’d anticipated…

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