Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

There can be no question that a major theme in The Quare Fellow is the place of capital punishment in civilized society. Regan offers the clearest voice of opposition to what he regards as an utterly dehumanizing and futile exercise in legal revenge. In his view killing is killing, no matter on which side of the law it occurs.

In a compelling moment, he stands in the prison yard at night, staring up at the stars, wondering if punishments like this exist elsewhere in the universe. He wonders if somewhere there is another condemned man looking up at Earth for the last time. He wearily concludes his speculations by noting,Though I never saw them [condemned men] to bother much about things like that. It’s nearly always letters to their wives or mothers, and then we don’t send them—only throw them into the grave after them. What’d be the sense of broadcasting such distressful rubbish?

All the talk and speculation about the hanging reveal a curious irony surrounding the ritual. On one hand, there is great concern and empathy for the condemned man—special meals, an unlimited supply of cigarettes, a chance for religious penance (which the murderer does not allow his victim); on the other hand, there is the mechanical cruelty of the punishment itself. The incongruous shifts in tone and action underscore the horror of the ritual and its dubious moral justification.

The conversations reveal another major theme of Brendan...

(The entire section is 466 words.)