Crime and Punishment

Winter 2004

Fear of crime impacts all Americans, no matter what age, race, or social class. This fear has only intensified with the rise of our realization of international terrorism. Installing home security systems and questioning ourselves before we go out at night or travel abroad are obvious responses that can paralyze us. Nevertheless, we seem fascinated with crime on television shows and film as well as our news media. If tax increases for funding additional police and prison support are proposed, we do not necessarily support them. When the government responds to our perception of danger with restrictions on liberty, we are not sure of the price we might have to pay. And, what about the consequences for lawbreakers? Where do we stand on retribution and rehabilitation? In this series we will explore the complexity in the myriad of issues about crime and punishment through reading five incredible novels in modern literature. If you want the stimulation of being exposed to the minds of five provocative and entertaining writers on this theme, please join us for this “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” reading and discussion series. Some of our country’s finest contemporary writers are prepared to challenge us to explore multiple points of view about the relationship between the law, crime, and justice.

Oklahoma City University invites participants to make this theme come “alive” in the readings of this five-part series. At each session, a Humanities scholar will make a 30-40 minute presentation on the readings. Small group discussion will follow with experienced discussion leaders. At the end, everyone will come together for a brief wrap-up. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to preregister and borrow the reading selections and theme brochure by calling Harbour Winn at 521-5472, emailing him at or dropping by OCU’s Walker Center 171 (southwest corner of the building at NW 25th and Florida).

The series will be held in Walker Center, Room 151, on the Oklahoma City University campus from 7:00 to 9:00 PM on Tuesdays, beginning January 13 and continuing on alternate Tuesdays through February 24. The final session will then be one week later on March 2nd. “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” is a cooperative project of the Oklahoma Library Association and the Oklahoma Humanities Council. Books, theme materials, and brochures for this series were provided by a grant from the Inasmuch Foundation. Funding for this series is provided by a grant from the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


1/13/2004 Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye

In American Detective Fiction, Chandler’s hard-boiled detective, Phillip Marlowe, uses his sense of honor to circumvent the law, engage in cover-ups, and protect the guilty if he sees they should be. Marlowe focuses on a “common person” hero oppressed by the system, but who still manages to outmaneuver it. Chandler’s novel will launch our series exploration of social issues and the legal system as well as thrust us into the moral dilemma of how to live with disturbing relationships between the law and justice.

1/27/2004 Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

Never not being read or reread, Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells the story of a quiet southern town rocked by a young woman’s accusation of criminal assault. This misty evocation of 1930’s childhood in racially tense Alabama engulfs us within the vision of small town lawyer Atticus Finch and his daughter Scout. The distinction between the law and our concept of justice might make us wonder “Where have all the lawyers gone!” “Where have all the judges gone!”

2/10/2004 Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood

Called “the best documentary account of an American crime ever written,” Capote’s masterpiece presents a vivid portrait of the famous 1959 murder in western Kansas. The murder, often described as the type “committed in cold blood,” leads Capote to create two of the most detailed portraits of criminal psychology ever written. This journalistic, non-fiction novel renders how a brutal slaying traumatizes a community and triggers the reign of suspicion.

2/24/2004 Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange

Set in a futuristic city dominated by lawless juvenile gangs, this controversial novel focuses on a maladjusted youth who commits a series of violent crimes. When he becomes the subject of a government sponsored behavior-control experiment, Burgess charts us on a journey to a science fiction dystopia where the state tries to rule the lives of all. As if it were written yesterday, “Clockwork” confronts us with our contemporary concerns over the degree to which a state can use repressive measures to protect us. To what degree should a government be able to tamper with an individual’s freedom of choice? What rights, if any, does a prisoner have?

3/2/2004 Ernest J Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying

In this 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award winner, Gaines evokes a particular time and place to dramatize fundamental issues in our series theme: the importance of individual dignity, the efficacy of a community’s view of justice, the “crime” of punishment, the determination of the common good. An unforgettably moving novel to close with.