Sifting Through the Madness Two Models of Determinism as a Means for Understanding Prison Literature

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Description: Criticism of prison literature tends towards heavy reliance on sociological studies and anecdote in order to impress upon the reader the urgent need to reassess modern American corrections. In doing so, this breed of criticism aligns itself with the present academic push for interdisciplinary studies and turns away from purely textual analysis. However, critics and anthologists such as H. Bruce Franklin, Bell Gale Chevigny, and David Guest have compiled a more literary minded body of writings that acts as a jumping off point for the present study. Prison writers alternately employ and write up against two deterministic views of crime: crime as socio-economically determined and crime as psychologically determined. The former establishes commonality with the readership ("in my shoes you would do the same"). Informed by the racial writings of Frantz Fanon and the growing body of statistics on incarceration rates in the United States, writers such as George Jackson, Leonard Peltier, and Iceberg Slim are acutely aware that environment plays a large role in criminality. On the other hand, the jump from criminal psychology to abnormal psychology to Western/Judeo-Christian concepts of guilt is one that prison writers are concerned with addressing preemptive of readers doing so. The second half of the study will discuss ways in which prison writers (Abbot, Braly, Bunker) employ the cloak of "abnormality" to gain rhetorical capital ("my story is one worth the telling because it is so abnormal"). The push-pull in prison literature between attempts to establish commonality and exceptionality is the central focus of the study.
Language: English
Format: Degree Work