Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Link to Lauren Anderson's Senior Art Thesis

Stephen  King

Lauren  Anderson 
History of the Death Penalty

Stephen King: The Loss of Innocence

Stephen King portrays a negative atmosphere in his stories, which directly influences the characters’ actions and personalities. King’s dark atmospheres in his coming of age stories reflect the theme of lost innocence. Characters in King’s stories lose their innocence both literally and emotionally. The novel, The Green Mile, communicates King’s criticism of society’s role in the loss of innocence through the execution of John Coffey, who was wrongfully accused of rape and murder. John Coffey willingly accepts his punishment, because he carries the suffering of the world on his shoulders. King once felt similar emotions while dealing with his own addictions, a point in his life when he lost his innocence. King’s personal emotions are incorporated into his characters, as they respond both negatively and positively, depending on their situations. The harsh consequence of John Coffey’s execution characterizes a cruel, unjust, and corrupt society which causes its people to lose their innocence.

Capital punishment came to the American colonies from Britain; since that time, popular support for the death penalty has fluctuated, especially in Massachusetts. Many state legislatures instituted capital punishment in order to keep citizens under control and to punish criminals. Although many debated the practice of capital punishment, the death penalty continued to be carried out in many states, except for a brief period in the 1970s. In states such as Massachusetts, the death penalty remained illegal. Critics of capital punishment called it cruel and unjust. The Supreme Court, in the 1972 case Furman v. Georgia, declared the death penalty a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Abolition of the death penalty did not last, however, and by 1976, in the case of Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court once again legalized capital punishment under certain conditions. Capital punishment cases in the Supreme Court helped to create new criminal laws in the United States. Critics of executions took some comfort in the fact that the death penalty could only be used in first degree murder cases, which both supporters and abolitionists agreed on at some level.

Major Works Consulted:

King, Stephen. Different Seasons. New York: Signet, 1983.
---. The Green Mile. New York: Scribner, 2000.
Rogers, Alan. Murder and the Death Penalty in Massachusetts. Boston: U of Massachusetts, 2008.
Vila, Bryan, and Cynthia Morris. Capital Punishment in the United States a Documented History. Westport: Greenwood, 1997.
Photo Credit: King, Stephen. Different Seasons. New York: Signet, 1983.