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Dead Man Walking | Study Guide

Sister Helen Prejean

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Dead Man Walking | Motifs



Family plays an important role in the text. Prejean contrasts the justice system's effects on poor families and on well-off families. She uses her own family as an example of how a strong, supportive family may guide children to grow into more responsible and noncriminal adults. The sometimes broken families of the poor cannot offer the same support to their children. Sometimes family members are in jail and the parents and siblings at home cannot provide the support needed to help children become law-abiding adults. Poor families also cannot afford to pay for the competent legal representation a child in prison needs during a court trial and appeal.

Prejean also reveals the terrible cost of murder to the family of the victim. She describes their seemingly endless suffering in excruciating detail. In this way she stresses the humanity of the victim and the victim's family and how such families can be shattered by the murder of a family member. Prejean shows enormous compassion for victims' families, although her compassion for them does not diminish her compassion for the condemned perpetrators and her insistence that murdering them can never be justified.

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