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48 pages 1 hour read

Michel Foucault

Discipline And Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1975

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Part 1Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 1: “Torture”

Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary: “The body of the condemned”

The book opens with a detailed description of the public execution of Damiens the regicide on March 2, 1757. Foucault’s account of the event is graphic; he describes how Damiens was covered in boiling oil and molten lead, as well as the repeated attempts to quarter the body by using four horses pulling each limb. The only breaks in his torture were brought by the court clerk, who asked if Damiens had anything to say. Each time, Damiens asked for God’s forgiveness, and the torture reconvened. Foucault juxtaposes Damiens’s story with a cold listing of rules for Paris prisoners in 1837. Each hour is regimented with time for work, prayers, recreation, and instruction.

The 80 years between the execution of Damiens and the list of rules mark a shift in Western thinking about punishment and crime. European countries abandoned the public spectacle model. Prisoners were removed from the public eye altogether; the United States dropped its practice of shackling prisoners to dig ditches in view of the public, and France abolished public execution a few years after the rules for prisoners were drafted. Some believed that the brutality of public punishment desensitized citizens to violence.

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