Here are two literary references to the taking of human life.
The first one is from Henryk Sienkiewicz, recipient of the 1905 Nobel Prize in Literature. I read his popular adventure novel for boys titled “In the Desert and the Wilderness” (orig. “W pustyni i w puszczy”) when I was in second grade. It is a story about two children of British empire’s civil engineers in Egypt, a fourteen-year-old boy Stan and a younger girl Nell, who are abducted by Arab rebels and transported to Sudan as hostages.
While traveling through the Sahara, Stan gets a hold of a rifle and kills his captors. After a series of adventures in Africa in their quest to reach British soldiers or explorers in Kenya, he and Nell are rescued and reunited with their families. In telling his story to his father, Stan gets to the part where he killed the men and looks at him apprehensively. His father says, as translated by me:
“Listen, Stan, don’t deal in death lightly, but if someone threatens your homeland, the life of your mother, sister or the life of a woman placed in your care, put a bullet in his head with no questions asked and don’t burden yourself with any remorse.”
The second fictional account of killing — two killings, to be precise — is from Krzysztof Kieślowski’s one-hour film “Decalogue 5.” The eleven-minute clip below shows both homicides, each in graphic detail: the brutal murder of a taxi driver that starts at the beginning of this video and the killer’s resulting execution by hanging, which starts at 5:45.
The anguished-looking man in the execution scene is the convict’s lawyer, a young idealist who is very emotionally involved in the case and at one point (not shown in this video) is reprimanded for being too delicate for his job.
In my past conversations about the film — in which the taxi driver is rarely mentioned — sophisticated liberals have pointed to “Decalogue 5” as an impassioned case against capital punishment. As far as I know, Kieślowski himself was against it. But an artist’s conscious mind and what he transmits through his art can be two different things.
When I watch the execution scene, I feel sincerely sorry for the kid but I am also satisfied that the punishment redeems his humanity and ours.