I had to keep my mental distance from the erotic aspect of the story for a reason mentioned above, but I'm glad that I've stayed with it until the end. It was well expected that the story would demonstrate a tasteful style knowing what PrPr is capable of as an author. But this paragraph also resonated with particular impact for me, since I believe it illuminates one of the interesting, but rather tragic characteristics of our nature.I would ask the reader to note that, with the exception of some brutish guards who exploited Mary’s helplessness for their own erotic pleasure, that none of the representatives of His Majesty’s government demonstrated any animus toward Mary or her family. The press-gang, the Lieutenant on the Victory, the constable who arrested her, the keeper at the compter, Sheriff Wilkes, the prosecutor and judges at the Old Bailey, the Recorder of London, the King and his Privy Council, the City Marshal and Under-Marshal, the Yeoman of the Halter and Edward Dennis the hangman, none of them acted out of malice, or desire to be unjust or cruel. All just did their jobs, their duty, following the laws and the rules. And because of that, young Mary Jones had to die and her children had to be orphaned.
The New England poet, Robert Frost said it well:
No one stands round to stare.
It is nobody else's affair
It couldn't be called ungentle
But how thoroughly departmental
A man with an exceptionally cruel disposition can surely do many horrible things. And he may even successfully find a small group of men to share his crimes with. But the very fact that his personality and actions are something regarded as exceptionally heinous by most people will limit the damage he can do to the rest of the world.
A famous criminal will be chased by men of justice, and a dictator will die by patriots. Even when some of them could evade their fate during their lifetime, they'll be condemned after their death. So, their wrongdoings are usually a short-lived one, and their damage won't last very long.
So, the greatest tragedies rarely come from exceptional brutality of a particular man, but they do from that of the time. It is when ordinary people share certain prejudices or become impervious to the cruelty that we can commit the most atrocious actions against each other.
Be it war crimes, genocides, or witch-huntings, we can only commit atrocities of such a scale when we are convinced that what we are doing is something ordinary and well-justified. And such an assurance is usually provided by commonly held beliefs and sentiments of a given time and place.
Maybe I'm overly dramatic to compare Mary Jone's personal tragedy with things like genocides. But how many more Mary Jones did we have at that time when ordinary people believed it is a perfectly acceptable thing to send an impoverished young mother to the gallow for stealing a piece of clothes for her baby?
As PrPr justly pointed out, it was not that the shopkeeper or the men of justice had particularly cruel nature, but it was the time and place itself which made them believe such an inhumane act was something ordinary, or even just.
As such, it gave me a small consolation to know that Mary Jone's tragic death helped them realize that defect in their society. Her story encouraged them to move forward, to the world we know of today where people no longer sent to the death row for stealing a petty sum out of necessity.
But probably we have our own versions of Mary Jones among us without our realizing it. And the future generation may look upon us as we see those 'cruel' shopkeepers or men of justice in the 18th century London. It's not easy to see commonly held prejudices and defects of shared sentiments of the time we live. So, probably the story may also be read as a cautionary tale to remind us of such a problem.
I didn't intend to write such a wall of texts when I hit the reply button. But reading such a fitting ending to this remarkable story, I couldn't resist.
I've yet to read Rebecca and the Bloody Codes you recommended, PrPr. But this story surely raised my expectation pretty high.
Thanks much for providing us such a great story, and I hope to see many more fine works from you in future.