The Modern Story of Self-Indictment: Blog Post 2

By Lo's Blog. Originally published at Lo's Blog.

According to the Fifth Amendment in the US Constitution, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury” (Cornell University Law School).  Essentially, without a voluntary confession of guilt or indictment by a grand jury, a person cannot by found guilty in a court of law.  In Edgar Allen Poe’s famous short story The Tell-Tale Heart, the narrator volunteers his confession of guilt but not in the usual way.  He starts off by arguing that he is not in any way mad, his proof being that a mad person would not be able to plan out a murder so meticulously.  Throughout the rest of the twisted tale, the breakdown of the narrator’s sanity leaves the reader convinced that he is very much mad.  There is a code in the Constitution that states if the perpetrator is mentally ill in such a way that his ability to see the wrongness of his crimes is inhibited, then pleading insanity is a valid defense (Cornell University Law School).  Typically, one thinks of a confession of guilt as the basis of a plea bargain or some sort of deal.  Insanity to the point of not recognizing the consequences of confessing to murder seems fit to find its place in a horror story, but in real life it is out of the ordinary to say the least.

In Benjamen Reiss’ essay Madness after Virginia Tech we see a case that also seems fit for a horror story, and the tragedy of the real-life events that passed are just that; horrible.  Cho Seung-Hui mailed his confession video to NBC before he began firing on students and faculty at Virginia Tech.  In his video he seems to not understand the true atrocity that he’s about to commit.  Both the narrator of Poe’s story and Cho have one thing in common: their confession is less about the truth or making a deal and more about sharing with the world what they did and why they did it.  It’s as if they’re biggest fear isn’t the consequences of their actions but the thought that they could go done in history without the world understanding why they committed those actions.  This is a new type of confession, one that doesn’t have a place in the US Constitution because it’s not related to laws or a jury.  This confession is solely for the individual who committed the crime; an act of twisted self-preservation.  So where does this place these types of criminals?  Is it still considered a voluntary confession if it comes from a place not of guilt but of insanity, vengeance, and anger?

– Lauren Estell


Blog Two

By My blog. Originally published at My blog.

Under United States law perpetrators cannot be forced to testify in their own trial. Article 5 of the United States Constitution is the basis for the phrase, “taking the 5th” referring to ones refusal to answer questions that could possibly be incriminating. The result of the Fifth Amendment therefore, is that any confessions of guilt must be made completely voluntarily. That aspect of United States law sets the groundwork for many of the Miranda rights citizens receive. What happens when the pressure to confess does not come from the outside but rather the inside? What happens when the interrogator is ones own mind? This very scenario is played out in “The Tell-Tale Heart”. The narrator in the end is driven mad by what he believes to be the head pounding heart beat of a dead man. In this case those in law enforcement did not even pose a single question. They did not threaten or abuse the narrator but could we call his confession voluntary? Is the mental health of the perpetrator grounds for dismissal of the so-called “voluntary” confession? In the instance in “The Tell-Tale Heart” I would argue it was not voluntary. To be completely voluntary one must have control of their thoughts and be able to distinguish reality from imaginary. That was not the case.
A different but related argument can be made for Dr. Reiss’s essay “Madness after Virginia Tech.” Is it possible to be self incriminating through writing? If a piece of writing is self incriminating is it considered voluntary if it was made in a classroom setting? Dr. Reiss argues English professors are not prosecutors they are instructors. Putting them in the position of deciphering between incrimination and imagination is not fair to the student or professor. Reiss does not address the 5gh amendment directly but I believe he would argue the classroom should be inadmissible in court.

Blog Post 2: 1/28/2015

By My blog. Originally published at My blog.

We have all been there: sleepless nights and shaky hands accompanied by a gut wrenching feeling in your stomach, leading us to admit to something, however small, that we wish didn’t happen. Although we were the ones who uttered the words and took blame, is it fair to assume our confessions are always voluntary? Or is there something greater driving us? Is it the disappointment your mother would feel if she knew you lied? Or is it the anxiety surrounding everyday, hoping no one will find out? Under the Fifth Amendment, admitting to a crime can be used as evidence only if the suspect voluntarily provides the information. However, I believe one would never voluntarily incriminate himself. I believe that confessions stem from societal conventions or underlying fear and paranoia, rather than from personal desire. As seen in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the imagined sound of the dead man’s heartbeat drives the narrator insane until he confesses. The author writes, “They heard! I was certain of it. They knew! Now it was they who were playing a game with me. I was suffering more than I could bear, from their smiles, and from that sound” (Poe 67). The protagonist admits to killing his neighbor because of the paranoia he embodies as a result of the growing sound that he believes the police hear. The revelation does not emerge from a place of personal volition. It is a compulsory admission fueled by paranoia of getting caught. On the surface, this confession seems voluntary, as the police did not suspect the narrator. However, the narration reveals the murderer’s conscience and motivation, which uncovers the uncontrollable nature of his disclosure. Unfortunately, first person narrations do not accompany every suspect in real life. Therefore, it is ultimately impossible to determine whether a confession was revealed voluntarily. Benjamin Reiss discusses concepts of evidence and confession in “Madness After Virginia Tech.” This article examines whether we can use a student’s expressive work to determine his mental state and his potential harm to the greater institution. We must ask ourselves the following question: just as voluntary confession cannot be truly determined, can creative writing appropriately function as admission to mental instability and possible criminal intent? Reading an individual’s prose does not provide entrance to his conscience. We cannot use one’s compositions as evidence of mental instability or voluntary admission of a crime because we cannot uncover the true motivation behind the words, nor can we truly determine one’s psychological state through his creative creations. It is impossible to determine motivation behind one’s confession. There are always external factors, such as societal pressure, paranoia, or imagination, complicating one’s confession. These factors are impossible to access because we cannot get inside an individual’s mind. As such, the nature of a confession should not determine the accuracy of the delivered confession. Involuntary self-incrimination does not eradicate the suspect’s culpability. Thus, confessing to a crime, regardless of the reason, should always function as adequate evidence for conviction.

Define Mad

By My blog. Originally published at My blog.

Does someone become mad when they figure out they have been lied to? If someone has a mental illness can we call him or her mad? Were Romeo and Juliet mad for each other? The word “mad” has a plethora of meanings and connotations, some negative and others positive, which creates a task for the reader to discern how an author is making use of the word.

The word “mad” is used both in Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” as well as in Benjamin Reiss’s article “Madness After Virginia Tech,” however, Poe and Reiss employ the term in contrasting ways. While Poe uses the word “mad” to describe the mental state of his narrator, Reiss utilizes the term to depict the far-fetched and foolish ideas to monitor students’ writing and surveil potentially risky students that came about in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings.

Poe’s story is his narrator’s account of how and why he killed the old man he cared for, and as the story goes on, it becomes apparent the narrator has a mental illness. The narrator tells us he killed the old man because of the old man’s vulture-like eye. At the story’s conclusion, the narrator confesses to his crime in front of two police officers, tearing up the boards under which he hid the old man’s disassembled body. The narrator claims he uncovered the old man because the narrator could still hear the beating of the old man’s heart. Clearly the narrator is possessed by internal demons and ought to be checked in to a mental hospital. Thus, Poe uses the term “mad” to convey the mental instability of his narrator.

Benjamin Reiss on the other hand deploys the word “mad” to describe the way in which school administrators and government policy-makers responded to the shootings at Virginia Tech. Following the mass killings committed by Seung-Hui Cho, officials and administrators sought ways to tighten security on school campuses by monitoring students’ writing and behavior. As Reiss puts it, “college campuses across the country have enacted strategies and created policies to detect violent impulses in their students before they become manifest.” Colleges hoped that campus police, administrators, instructors, and the school’s counseling services would “intervene before violent acts are committed.” Reiss views tactics of monitoring students’ creative work to detect violent impulses as absurd. Preventitive intervention strategies consist of guidelines to teachers as to how to scrutinize and potentially report a student’s work. Reiss thinks this is a violation of students’ right to privacy and right to creative free expression, which is why he calls such ploys mad.

In conclusion, Reiss utilizes the term “mad” to denote an absurd reaction to the Virginia Tech school shooting, whereas Poe uses the term to describe his narrator’s defective state of mind. It is important to realize the versatility of words so that we as readers can understand the context in which words are used to better understand a piece of writing.




What is Madness?

By My blog. Originally published at My blog.

When many people read a story where the narrator plans to kill someone just because the person’s eye bothers them, many would say that the narrator is crazy. We automatically assume that when someone does something out of the ordinary, they are either weird or mad. However, we tend to assume the worst and do not even consider the possibility that maybe the “mad” person is actually just creative. This is what I learned after reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe and Benjamin Reiss’s article discussing the aftermath of the Virgina Tech shooting.

Poe’s short story tells the story of the narrator who methodically plans to kill an old man because the old man’s eye bothered him. Poe seems to portray the narrator as insane because the narrator not only repeatedly tries to prove that he is not insane, but also creates a sense of mania through his language. Poe ends his story with the narrator killing and dismembering the old man; however the narrator ultimately feels guilt and confesses his deed to police officers. Many, including I, consider the narrator to be mad for committing such a crime. However, when we decide Poe’s narrator is mad, we bolster our assumptions of what madness is and ultimately use it to label what we see in reality.

Our impression of madness is not completely the same as the madness that Reiss discusses in his article. Although Reiss acknowledges in his article that madness can sometimes lead to extreme cases of violence as seen in the Virginia Tech shooting, he also acknowledges that madness, in other cases, can lead to creativity. Reiss discusses how patients who were considered mad used to be placed in asylums and how “Inside such asylums, writing flourished” (Reiss 28). The madness that Reiss describes differs slightly from the madness that is portrayed in Poe’s story because although the narrator in Poe’s story does commit a violent act, he shows less creativity because he plans out the murder for a long time and sticks to his plan. Had he shown creativity, he would have acted more spontaneously rather than so methodically.







By Neeraj. Originally published at WRITING IN TIGHT SPACES.

My name is Neeraj Chawla. Welcome to my website! I study at the Emory College of Arts and Sciences of Emory University in Atlanta, GA (Expected Graduation: May 2018). I am from Bangkok, Thailand, and a prospective Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology (BS) major (Pre-Medical path). This website is primarily devoted to my English class, called “Writing in Tight Spaces” (English 181-007 (Spring 2015 semester) with Dr. Claire Laville), but keep your eyes peeled for other content that will be posted in the future.

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