Mens Rea and Narratives of Violence: The Guilty Mind in Twenty-First-Century American Literature

  • Joanna Wilson-Scott University of Edinburgh
Keywords: Violence, premeditation, guilty mind, mens rea and actus reus, twenty-first-century American literature

Abstract

This article presents two twenty-first-century novels that deal with particularly charged and contemporary expressions of violence in the United States: Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock and the threat of armed students in school, and John Updike’s Terrorist and the threat of Islamic extremism. High profile acts of violence of this kind in the United States leading up to and into the years following the turn of the millennium prompted significant concern surrounding the identification of would-be perpetrators, including those in the premeditating stage of their intended attacks.

This article argues that stepping away from the violent act and focusing instead on the violent mind situates premeditation as an integral part of violence and its conceptualization. Further, interest in the internalized aspects of violence can be seen as a response to very real socio-cultural concerns in the United States. In order to achieve this analytical focus, the article adopts the legal concepts of mens rea (the guilty mind) and actus reus (the guilty act), interweaving them with literary criticism in order to suggest that novels can serve as Momusian windows into the premeditating stage of violence through immersion into the violent mind. In so doing, they contribute more robustly to broader understandings of violence in the United States as it evolves from concept to action.  

Author Biography

Joanna Wilson-Scott, University of Edinburgh

Joanna Wilson-Scott received her PhD from the University of Leicester in 2018, and lectures in literature at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln, having previously taught at the University of Gloucestershire and the University of Leicester. In 2019 she was a Postdoctoral Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, and is the Susan Manning Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh for 2021-2022.

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Published
2021-12-01
How to Cite
Wilson-Scott, J. (2021). Mens Rea and Narratives of Violence: The Guilty Mind in Twenty-First-Century American Literature. American Studies in Scandinavia, 53(2), 23-41. https://doi.org/10.22439/asca.v53i2.6390
Section
Articles