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Across Generations

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The events that occurred one hundred and fifty years ago are mostly remembered murder cases in the country’s history. A man climbed some gallows built specifically for him and bowed to an audience of some 6000 people. The crowd witnessed his execution as he carried a small Bible in his arm. A trial was carried out about six months earlier. It detailed how the offender (Peter DeGraff) seduced a simple young woman (Ellen Smith). The theme of murder is in a different context than The Ballad of Frankie Silver in that the criminal this time is male.

Murder: The trial went into detail describing how she followed him around after the death of their child at birth. He used the excuse that she was probably seeing other men, and for that, he often mentioned that he would kill her someday. He sent her a bad note wanting to meet her by a pond. There, he shot her through the heart from a close range such that the gunpowder singed the dress she wore. She had chosen the site thinking it was for a romantic get together only for her to die there.

She had not reached the age of 20, which enraged the society even more. Peter ran away from the scene and exiled himself for a while before returning for unknown reasons (Barry, 1999). He was captured, and he kept saying he was innocent. However, his death nail was the note he wrote to her still found tucked in her dress. The note sold him out for the crime committed and gave enough evidence to secure a conviction. In this case, crime befitted the punishment.

Gender Bias: The incident shows an alternate fair reaction compared to the first account. Both the stories are based on true accounts. There is a bigger gender bias in the first account against women than in the second account. The article by Barry (1999) shows the woman as the victim, and a society on her side. There is justice served at the end of the story. Sympathy lies with the bereaved, not the killer. The gender disparities in The Ballad of Frankie Silver led to sentencing of a woman; a punishment none in her gender had ever got under state law. It was unjust as there was feeling of more emphasis assigned given the gender.

Another interesting fact is that the society in this case did not side with the male. This is illustrated by the truth that the dignitaries at the time of execution gave a few words in the moment to respect the soul of the criminal. Similarly, the crowd seemed to enjoy the occasion. Peter eventually confessed to the killing of the girl, as his last words. He claimed that her last words were “may the lord have mercy on me” (Barry, 1999). He took a turn for religion in his death.

Atonement: In this sense, he warned people to stay off alcohol and women of lose morals as well as avoiding gambling addictions. Just before his death, in fact, he shook hands with everybody in the scaffold before handing his brother his personal bible. Supposedly, this was the last hanging in the Forsyth County. The murder case is the most memorable in the vicinity in that it stayed with the community long after the victim and the murderer were buried. It was in contrast to the articles’ description of most murders that fade from the public consciousness.

The Law: The other theme of legislation is in full force. The case was heavily against the defendant. The law, in this case, had no options of mercy on the offender, partly his gender accounting for it. He killed in cold blood, and thus, his hanging would return the favor. The law was rightly applied, and there was no way he could evade death except through escaping custody. The article goes on to suggest it may have been the case to dispel the culture of hanging in that area. The reason for this is the defendant himself, or the vile nature of the case, as well as the execution itself.

The grotesque nature of the event made the message of “let this be a warning,” which was worth the effort. As a result, the name of DeGraff became legendary and used synonymously with someone who drinks and gambles hard. In this article, people have a sense of decency as compared to other accounts of the era depicting people as bloodthirsty. Decency in that they can condemn a man to death and still feel the awkward emotion of not wanting to witness another in the same fashion.

Narration: Last, but not least, there was a concept of narration. The execution had an audience of about 6000 people. Some of them were children. They remembered that incident as a landmark event up to the point they told the younger generations. This story went on the other generations, in most cases in changed versions, and taking on many forms. The family of DeGraff lived in shame for a long time after that period, and never discussed the incident. It was a stain on their name, but a triumph for justice even though nothing could be done except avenging for a dead girl.

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