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From Hammurabi’s Code to modern-day penitentiaries, a society’s chosen punishment models contribute to that society’s ethics. In Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland; or the Transformation (1798), characters interact with one another in an isolated community. These interactions center on Wieland’s murder of his family, and how his mind was influenced toward murder by Carwin, an ex-convict. Here, a reader is faced with deciding who to blame. However, solely focusing on criminal culpability ignores a rhetorical problem left unexamined by past scholars—that of criminal punishment in the novel. This problem involves two issues—first, the factors that motivate a society to choose certain punishment models, and secondly, a 21st century audience’s reaction to these motives. Thus, by analyzing the motives for punishment models in Wieland, and how these motives relate to our society, I argue that a reader should finish reading the text with a desire to reform our societal institutions.


Junior/Senior category recipient of the Library's Maria Dittman Award, Spring 2013. This paper was written for English 4510: American Literature to 1798, instructed by Dr. Amy Blair. © Mike Haen.

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