Criminals have been portrayed in many ways over the centuries. The oldest being Eve whom, it is said, introduced the source of all crime into the world… evil. Since then, criminals have in many shapes and forms. In Greek legends, the Gods themselves were, on occasions, perceived to be evil. War criminals such as Hitler and numerous Roman emperors are among the most notable historic figures. Many questions have been asked of these criminals, why do they commit crimes, what emotion can be so powerful to persuade a person to completely ignore their good side.
Are criminals truly what we perceive them to be, or is it merely a false perception implanted in our gullible minds by numerous authors and scriptwriters. We shall see? In order to truly observe the criminal mind, one must first observe their motives. Since the 20th Century writers such as Edgar Allan Poe have attempted to bring reason to the insanity that is crime. And so I believe this to be a fitting place to begin. The Tell Tale Heart portrays criminals in the most stereotypical of ways.
The criminal in question has already committed murder and is now preparing to tell his story. He instantly categorises himself as a madman. ‘You fancy me mad’. The killer then goes on to describe how he felt, how his senses were heightened, how he heard everything in heaven and hell. This further establishes the criminal as a mad man. He then describes his motive, which is something of specific interest to me. He states that it was the old mans glass eye that haunted him, this is an additional sign of insanity. ‘One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture’.
However, Lamb to the Slaughter has been written recently in comparison to the Tell-Tale Heart, and as a result, the portrayal of the criminal is slightly different. On this occasion, the murderer is completely sane. She instead suffers temporary insanity, however, her motive s unknown. The author instead gives the reader clues. This is a technique commonly used by Roald Dahl. A good example of this is when her husband must tell her something, and though the reader never finds out what, it is safe to say that it was the cause of the crime.
Up until now I have observed that all crime stories include murder, and the Lord of the Flies is no different. However, William Golding’s presentation of the murders is unique. He shows how evil resides in us all from the moment we are born. This is done by William Golding’s decision to make the criminals young children. However, Lord of the Flies is not strictly a crime story. In fact, it is more a show of human nature than a specifically insane criminal. This is perhaps why crime stories have such mass appeal.
There is evil inside us all, ‘maybe it’s only us (the beast)’, and so crime stories are a way of releasing that evil without truly committing a crime. However, William Golding decides to create an evil incarnate. The beast. This beast is the fuel for all the crime on the island. Simon’s death occurs because the children believe that he (Simon) is the beast. Jacks separation from the pack and eventual creation of his own tribe is partially due to the beast and the fear that it inspires. This eventually leads to piggy being killed when the two tribes meet.
Simons meeting with the Lord of the Flies confirms my belief that evil resides within us all, the beast says, ‘I’m part of you’. As a result of the beast, the motivation the crime on the island can be judged as mans original sin. It is the evil inside us all that is unleashed when we are desperate, as the children on the island were. Films also use stereotypical criminals. Nevertheless, occasionally a director comes up with a film that confronts the stereotypes created by man. One such film is the usual suspects.
The director creates a group of criminals, all of who are being charges for the same crime. The film then moves forward to the interrogation of Verbal, one of the criminals. Verbal is a helpless and seemingly done cripple. The interrogator uses this to his advantage, trying to force verbal into disclosing information about Keyser Soze, a legendary criminal said to have had his whole family slaughtered before turning to a life of crime to gain revenge. He is portrayed as being a merciless criminal genius that is impossible to capture. The interrogator believes that a man known as Keaton is Soze.
He forces Verbal to disclose information about Soze; oblivious to the fact that Verbal is Keyser Soze. This automatically lays rest to the saying, ‘crime doesn’t pay’. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Verbal is completely sane and has full control when he is committing crimes. This is a pleasant change from the typically insane, out of control criminal. And so it can be deduced that Keyser Soze was initially motivated by revenge, but he eventually becomes used to a life of crime and so it develops into a habit. The lesson that can be learned from this is that evil is addictive.
However, the portrayal of a criminal cannot be judged solely by the motivation and character. The language surrounding the criminals is vital to creating an effective atmosphere. Criminals have generally been associated with darkness; most people expect them to be accompanied by a violent storm. The Lord of the Flies is an especially good example. William Golding uses pathetic fallacy many times in his book. All these books play a huge part in the audience’s appreciation of crime stories. Many people will not only be intrigued but these books but there interest in crime stories will grow even further.