“We all know that I stabbed my wife many years ago. We all know that,” -Norman Mailer. Mailer a controversial, combative, and egosotial writer known for writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Executioner’s Song. Unfortunately, Mailer is known for his alcohol-fueled fistfights, voicing his opinions about contraverisal topics, fascination with boxers and sometimes very public issues with the opposite sex.
He is a brilliant writer but not a thoughtful or caring person. Using his life experiences Norman Mailer utilizes his intelligence and life in order to further analyze critical issues such as capital punishment and murder to share authentic perspectives on people who have been misunderstood by society. Growing up, Mailer successfully graduated from Harvard with a degree in engineering, and a great writer until he made a huge mistake by stabbing his second wife injuring her, “In 1960, after a night of drinking and partying, he stabbed his second wife, Adele Morales, with a penknife, seriously wounding her.
” This tragic incident occured in 1960 and it happened because Adele said to Mailer, “he wasn’t as good at dancing as Dostoevsky. Since Mailer was charged with this awful crime, Mailer was arrested, but his wife declined to press charges, and he was eventually released after being sent to Bellevue Hospital for observation. The marriage did not last the incident. He used this experience to help write about his character Gary gilmore because he was arrested and knows what it is liked be portrayed as a dangerous and pitiful man. The Executioner’s Song is written from an authentic perspective regarding the sanity in a convict such as Gary Gilmore.
The Executioner’s’ song was a thematic study from the perspectives of his attitude toward the death Penalty and Gary Gilmore as a death convict,” says a critique analyzing Mailer’s book. The 1000 page book is broken into two parts, the first part is all about Gary Gilmore’s crimes. According to a review by Keith he explains, “we begin with Gilmore’s parole, and get an almost daily look into his struggle to assimilate himself into normal life outside of prison, especially in relations with women and family members concerned about Gilmore’s manipulative tendencies and violent temper, breaks it off with Gilmore, after which he commits the two murders that ultimately send him to jail,”(Keith, 2).
Next, the second part of the book focuses on the days leading up the Gilmore’s execution and the media surrounding him. “The second half averages from your standard true-crime, non-fiction novel, however, by making the chase for Gilmore’s story the actual story,”(Keith, 4). Instead of writing about how disgraceful a man can be because of his two murders, unconventionally Mailer takes a different path and examines the hard life of man and the good in him. The book is written in two parts to show each part of Gilmore’s life thoroughly. In addition, the book being broken up allows the readers to see that the second part of booko surrounds the controversy of the death penalty. Mailer does an excellent job showing all the characters views on the situation, moreover Mailer utilizes his opinions and life obstacles to show an in depth analysis on Gary Gilmore. The character Gary Gilmore is a real life person who killed two people and demanded to be sent to death as quick as possible.
Once he was given the death sentence, he expressed his opinion son wanting to die and wanted his execution by the firing squad as soon as possible. In order to write about this character Mailer used his own life to strengthen the characters traits. One critic Christopher Ricks explains, “There may have been much of Mailer in Gilmore, too, the religious, superstitious, existentialist Gilmore,”(Christopher Ricks, 3) This explains that many people who read his book can tell that Mailer wrote Gary Gilmore as if he was him, making the writing stronger. As noted, Mailer stabbed his wife twice which shows his psychopathic tendencies just like Gary Gilmore, “Mailer once notoriously said, “the decision is to encourage the psychopath in oneself,”(Julian Burnes, 1).
Mailer addresses how Gary Gilmore might be crazy but he in fact can still love and care about his family. Mailer may have been going through some of same things Gary went though and as a result, it is seen in his writing. The American dream, the thought of having a perfect life, perfect family, and a perfect home. The american dream is not what it is made out to be and Mailer uses this concept to show a different view based on what is expected versus reality.
According to Rick’s review he states, “-The Executioner’s song thanks again, and feels anew. American dreams are now pushed back to where they beyond, and what is contemplated by daylight is an American Tragedy,(Christopher Ricks, 3).” No one can ever achieve the american dream and even when you try to have a better life it can not be possible. Gary Gilmore was sent to prison when he was younger for petty crimes once he was freed he found a job, a girlfriend, and bought a car. Most notably, he earned money and fell in love but he reverted back to his old ways and started drinking and became violent. Mailer does an above average job displaying this, “Gary had to fight him right in the bar. He knocked the guy out,”(Mailer, 47). Even after Gary made a good change for himself he relapsed and started to have outburst and become violent, which shows how hard a person can try, they can never escape their bad habits.
Gilmore grew up in a nice family however he could never stay out of trouble, and his terrible decisions ended him. Nevertheless, Mailer uses the perception of the american selfhood showing a different perspective you have about someone, “In The Executioner’s Song, Mailer is exploring the uncertainties of an American selfhood and a society that build up into an intolerable tension in his main characters. Gilmore, for example, cannot control his compulsive and ambiguous behavior,” (Daniel Defoe, 2).
Mailer uses the perspective about how everyone thinks of a person growing up in a great family having their life be the opposite of the “american dream”, and this leads into how everyone sees a murderer and their opinions towards Gary are disgusting. In the second part of the book, Mailer talks plenty about the media surrounding the case and the thoughts of the society. Moreover, Mailer is trying to prove the point that how the society thinks is cruel and that the american justice system is corrupted. “He did a terrible thing and eliminating him would have left the world tidier.
Or so goes the logic of the last fifty years of American justice,”(Dave Eggers, 1). Throughout the book Mailer shows that the lawyers try to reverse the sentencing and not to have Gary be sent to death. The jury are the ones to make the final decision very swift, because Gary Gilmore wants to die. Even so, there should of been more consideration and just because someone wants to die and murdered two people, it doesn’t mean that it is right, and that it what Mailer was expressing during the second part of the book. “We throw away flawed people, people who have made terrible mistakes, with regularity and great alacrity. We jail drug dealers for decades, and we execute killers. We want them away. Out of sight,”(Mailer, 748).
This is how society reconciles with the thought of murderers among them and instead of giving them a chance to life the only reasonable answer is death. Not only does Mailer address the issues of the society only wants to punish felonies with death, but the issue isn’t just with the society but the problem is also with capital punishment. . During the second part of the book Mailer hints to problems surrounding the controversial topic of capital punishment. Gary Gilmore wanted to die and yearned to be sent to death. Although, his request should of been denied, the lawyers had to defend Gary’s right to have his punishment carried out, even though the lawyers did not want Gary to be executed. “-The lawyer now believes, about Gary, that, “If he had to stay in prison, he wanted to die.
But if he could get outside that was another game.” (Mailer, 908). Mailer shedded light on capital punishment by taking a standpoint from the lawyers view and showing the case unwind in the courtroom. He shows the cutthroat process of the trial of a man wanting death, and the Justice system will grant his request. In an interview Mailer stated, “The state takes charge of the right to live or die of persons convicted of a capital crime, the defendant’s rights to that decision have been extinguished, and the question that remains is what right the state has to kill a human being whose life and death are entirely within its control,”(Mailer, 3). The system has the life of a man in their hands and no matter what Gilmore’s family thought, death was inevitable for him.But as to the justifiability of the death penalty itself, Mailer’s position is not agreeing with it.
Some insight might be gained from an examination of the book’s title. While the vast majority of the novel is dedicated to the executed man Gary Gilmore, Mailer titles the work as “The Executioner’s Song.” So little attention is actually paid to the men responsible for carrying out the execution in comparison with the attention paid to the man receiving the death sentence.
It seems reasonable to assume that “executioner” refers to the state, rather than to the jury who carried out the state’s sentence. Throughout the book, Mailer implies that the legal, judicial, and correctional systems of the state have had a great hand in creating men like Gary Gilmore. And there seems to be a significant amount of irony in the fact that the state is also responsible for killing these same men.
This would mean that the title is putting the blame on the state Therefore, it is likely that he disapproves of state mandated executions. The legal part of the trial in the book can be said to provide Mailer’s literature with a venue for the discussion of important social issues and exploring issues involved in the legal setting. Mailer’s portrayal of Gilmore’s trial offers him the opportunity to explore the criminal justice system and publicize a critique of the legal rules that shape it. During Gary’s sentencing, Mailer quotes the prosecuting attorney as saying, ” ‘The system has really failed with this man, just miserably failed” (Mailer, 447). Thus the readers get the sense that even those who were committed to convicting Gilmore had their reservations about his personal responsibility in the crimes for which he was charged.
Mailer repeatedly underscores that the failures of the system at large, are primarily to blame for Gary’s sociopathic behavior. His description of arguments offered in court further strengthens the perception that Gilmore, at his core, is a good man but encountered problems growing up and the subsequent years spent trapped by a system that was meant to correct him which would have been a likeable, upstanding citizen.