Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Link to Victoria Tice-Alarcon's Senior Art Thesis  

Mary Higgins  Clark

Victoria  Tice-Alarcon 

Gangs and Political Power: Mara Salvatrucha and Black Shirts

Empathy as a Motivator in Mary Higgins Clark’s Mysteries

Mary Higgins Clark’s murder mysteries portray empathetic protagonists who, in the midst of their investigations, fall victim to cruel antagonists with a passion for killing. At the outset of Clark’s novels, the central characters are often struggling with grief; in some cases, the source of their woe is marital discord and in others, it is the loss of a loved one. However, rather than retreating into their own pain, these traumatic experiences cause Clark’s protagonists to feel more empathetic towards others, even the criminals they encounter in their investigations, and to be possessed by the desire to solve the crimes. By contrast, the antagonists are devoid of empathy, and often prey on the vulnerabilities of others, including the protagonists, in order to fulfill their desire to kill. In this way, the plots of Clark’s novels are fueled not only by their murder investigations, but also by the protagonists’ personal conflicts.

While Mary Higgins Clark depicts the protagonist as vulnerable while she grieves over the loss of her loved ones, the Black Shirts and Mara Salvatrucha gang members supported their grieving confederates. While the Mara Salvatrucha mourned those lost in the Salvadoran Civil War, the Black Shirts mourned their unrealized territorial hopes in the post-war settlement. Both gangs, the Black Shirts and Mara Salvatrucha, began as support systems, offering members empathy and a sense of belonging, but they eventually became destructive forces, in part because of poor leadership decisions. Both groups began among men with a common ethnic background. The men shared similar motives, but the leaders held different goals. Because of the government officials’ attempt to destroy the gang member’s sense of brotherhood and mutual support, they took aggressive action to overpower the police force. With violence, the Black Shirts and Mara Salvatrucha hoped to become a political power and influence the people they ruled with their extreme acts of violence, which eventually caused each group’s downfall and destruction.

Major Works Consulted:

A&E Networks Television. “Benito Mussolini Biography.”
Breve, Federico. “The Maras” "1." In Military Review: The Professional Journal of the U.S. Army. Volume 87, Number 4, July-August 2007. Ft. Belvoir: Defense Technical Information Center, 2007. 88,89,90,91.
Clark, Mary Higgins.  Remember Me. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
---. Where Are You Now. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.
Photo Credit: Clark, Mary Higgins. Silent Night: New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.


 Link to Victoria Tice-Alarcon's Senior Art Thesis