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Dead Man Walking

Sister Helen Prejean

Chapter 1

Summary Chapter 1

Two quotes from the French existentialist novelist and philosopher Albert Camus highlight the world’s injustice. According to Camus, a state can kill a man only if the man is absolutely evil, and the state is absolutely good. His other quotation proclaims that the “premeditated crime” of the death penalty is worse than the “pure violence” of the inmate’s crime. As Prejean shows, the state is imperfect and worse. It is itself an instrument of injustice. To a large extent, race determines, not only who is poor and who is rich, but also who will live and who will die. The very means of execution employed by the state—the electric chair—is torturous and violent. Given the failure of government in even minor matters of governance, how can society possibly entrust it to determine fairly and equitably who should live and who should die? For Prejean, the answer is clear. Governments, and therefore the people behind them, are far too fallible to shoulder such an enormous responsibility.