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?

5 thoughts on “Crime and Punishment

  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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