The last day of a condemned man is a novella which was written by Victor Hugo and published in the year 1829. This novella was designed to show the futility of the death penalty.
This novella is the thoughts of a condemned man who is given six weeks to live. When it comes to the prisoner we never find out what his name is, nor the crime that he has committed. The reason for this is because they are not relevant – this novella is a exploration of the punishment that the condemned man is sentenced to and not the crime itself.
The only real piece of information that is given about this man is that he has a daughter (aged around four). She makes a brief appearance towards the end to say goodbye to her father.
Throughtout this novella the reader delves into the thought and fears of a man that we never really get to know in a sense. But are only told he has committed a crime that had led him to be sentenced to death. But this was the point that Hugo was making – that capital punishment is so inhumane that it should not matter the crime, or the details, or who a person is, only that the sentence is so cruel and unusual that it should not be an option.
Another point that can be linked to this is that by Victor Hugo leaving parts of the information out; the reader cannot judge the man, instead we can only read his pleas and also put ourselves in his shoes as the man counts down the hours until his final fate arrives.
In France, during the time that this novella was written and published the guillotine was still being used and Victor Hugo had witnessed several executions.
The witnessing of these executions led Victor Hugo to campaign on the issue which resulted to several countries abolishing the death penalty.
This novella is haunting, horrifying and in some cases hypnotic. It is a powerful written, thought provoking and poignant piece of writing that has a timeless plea for compassion and humanity. As well as that, this novella has some beautiful prose that shows the conviction and dedication that Hugo had to this cause.
Overall, this classic is brilliant and definitely is appealing to a reader on a psychological level.
Dostoevsky said this was
Absolutely the most real and truthful of everything that Hugo wrote.
Read Originally ~ 6th October, 2015
The edition that I read was an Oneworld Classics.
(Image from Google Images)