“The Romance of Revenge: An Alternative History of Jeffrey Dahmer’s Trial”. This literature piece by Samuel essentially dives into the irony of capital punishment and how it basically fails its very purpose. While drawing upon the juxtaposition, Samuel proposes a corrective method of punishment rather than a retributive one, by associating the concept of Capital Punishment with ‘revenge’.

Is Capital Punishment Mere Revenge?

“A liberal and civilized people should not seek revenge but improvement, of the offender or of society.”[1] As stated very well by Samuel R. Gross, I strongly believe in the same. According to me, in a progressive society, an individual should seek progressive revenge rather than a destructive one from the offender. Capital punishment does not bring comfort to those affected by violent and fatal crimes. Even now, in an increasingly conservative era when revenge is regularly described as a justification for punishment, it is renamed ‘retribution’.[2]

Dahmer had accepted his faith in dying and had no regret. The main motive of capital punishment had failed right there. Had Dahmer been punished with life imprisonment, maybe over the years, he would have desired to live like any other individual roaming freely in society and that is where the revenge would have been fulfilled. Moreover, a single execution is not truly an act of revenge, but it looks like one; it symbolizes our desire and our willingness to seek vengeance. When we single out one murderer, we can focus on what he did to deserve death. But if we were to conduct a hundred executions in close order, we would lose any illusion of individual vengeance; all we would see is mass slaughter by the state.[3]

The Hidden Purpose of Capital Punishment

Samuel in his literature piece discusses that the financial cost of pursuing a capital prosecution through to execution is high; by all estimates, it is considerably higher than the cost of a non-capital murder conviction followed by imprisonment for life.[4] This even from an emotional and practical perspective discourages the usage of the death penalty in the court of justice by the state. Moreover, as Gross suggests, even at fifty a year, executions would still be the exception rather than the rule after a death sentence – and they would still be slow, costly and unpredictable.[5]

Another observation by Hugo Bedau in his article is that – he has argued that many of those who say they favour capital punishment may want “only the legal threat of the death penalty, coupled with the judicial ritual of trying, convicting, and occasionally sentencing a murderer to death, rather than the actual execution.[6] These shreds of evidence also suggest that no matter how strong the public demands a death penalty, what they really want is the threat of it and not the death penalty in reality and a state is a society and the voice of the people who live in it. Thus, they should do what the state really wants i.e, abolish the death penalty.

Capital Punishment: A Retributive Measure

Capital Punishment falls under the retributive type of punishment. The State seeks to get revenge for the misdeed and wrongdoing that the charge submitted. As stated by Samuel Goss, in an undeniable era, the legitimization of the death penalty is in true words vengeance. This vengeance has been renamed to “retaliation” and further expels the component of avenging the miscreant by the injured individual’s family instead of something that has happened to the misdoer.

Samuel Goss also acknowledges the support for the granting of capital punishment which had expanded support for the real execution which the help for capital punishment didn’t really mean. What I would like to again emphasize is that Capital Punishment does nothing more than provide a sense of satisfaction to the near and dear ones of the ones in a loss in a state of a mishap. Such laws are not progressive for the societies of the 21st century. In order to build a more progressive atmosphere, the laws need to change too. A place derives its identity from its laws.

Furthermore, the public dispositions towards both were conflicting, recognizing what they need versus what they would do. They need capital punishment as a hindrance however are reluctant in needing to grant the death penalty. Samuel Goss states, “When we single out one killer, we can concentrate on what he did to merit demise. In any case, if we somehow managed to direct a hundred executions in close request, we would lose any fantasy of individual retribution; all we would see is mass butchering by the state. The imagery would change; the issue would now be the idea of our general public, our culture.”[7] No doubt, individuals fear change, particularly this huge. A change this tremendous would be against the fundamental precepts of Conservatism, which depends on the reason that the essential structure of the general public won’t change. Goss also discusses the extensive technique behind granting capital punishment and its intrigue.

Moreover, capital punishment in our occasions does not fill the planned need, which is looking for retribution, revenge, and vengeance. With everything taken into account, it is about time we understand that capital punishment just mirrors the sentiments of a couple of individuals from the general public who are not off-base on their part however are in that situation because of the conditions of a case, it also serves the wrongdoer what it deserves. It is not the most desired and wise decision which should be taken, considering the satisfaction of a few people. Vengeance and revenge do not lead to a content and peaceful society. Such irrevocable decisions can leave scars forever. Alternatives to the same can serve the purpose too. Such heavy decisions can be summarised in a single line – “An eye for an eye makes the world blind.”


Concluding my study, capital punishment is clearly an irreversible decision made by the state. While on the other hand, imprisonment is something an individual can be free of, but if the person has been punished with the death penalty it is an irreversible decision for the state. The issue here is, even in the rarest of chance, if in a capital case, it is discovered in future (after the death penalty has been given), that the offender was innocent, there is no way the innocent life can be provided with the justice he deserved. All that his family will remember is, that the state killed him unjustly, leaving a time immemorable scar on many such innocent families. On another hand, there is no systematic evidence that the death penalty for murder does deter homicide to a greater extent than lengthy prison terms. The best evidence suggests that it has no effect on homicide rates, and a few studies hint that it might increase the number of murders.[8] I would like to conclude with a very well-stated line by Samuel R. Gross – “The death penalty, in this society, is none of these things. It is slow, passionless, and impersonal, unreliable, and rare.”[9]

Author(s) Name: Sejal Chaudhary (OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat)


[1] Gross, Samuel R, “The Romance of Revenge: An Alternative History of Jeffrey Dahmer’s Trial.” 49

[2] Id. at 49

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 48

[5] Id. at 51

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 49

[9] Id.

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