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Respect, Defense, and Self-Identity

Profiling Parricide in Nineteenth-Century America, 1852-1899


Phillip Chong Ho Shon

Ever since Oedipus unwittingly killed his father and married his mother in Sophocles’ play, parricide – the killing of a parent or another close relative – has been a dominant motif in works of literature, film, psychoanalytic theory, and criminology. Yet, parricide, for much of the twentieth and twenty-first century, has been framed as an adolescent phenomenon, with child abuse proffered as the overriding cause related to the killing of parents. Respect, Defense, and Self-Identity provides a new way of understanding parricides by analyzing the behavior of offenders and victims at the scene of the crime in relation to the sources of conflict. This book examines the conflict between parents and their offspring across the life course and argues that parricides are shaped by factors such as respect, defense, and self-identity. Respect, Defense, and Self-Identity is recommended for classroom use in courses such as criminology, homicide, family violence, and social work.
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Although fables, myths, and works of fiction have been fruitfully mined as sources of data and inspiration for literary critics and psychotherapists regarding the dynamics of parricide and the purported motives of offenders, the publication of Paul Mones’s (1991) When A Child Kills and Kathleen Heide’s (1992) Why Kids Kill Parents recalibrated the parameters of parricide as a subtopic within the discipline of criminology; their works demonstrated that the study of parricide need not be dependent on the creative imagination of literary critics and filmmakers (e.g., Bunker, 1944; Carpetto, 1984; Kanzer, 1948; Freud, 1945). By examining the offense characteristics of parricides and interviewing offenders as sources of primary data, the two works empirically substantiated what previous works on parricide had only been able to claim tentatively and equivocally: first, that parricides represent a rather infrequent class of homicides; second, that parricides resemble general homicides in that they tend to be a male-dominated phenomenon, as victims and offenders; third, that parricides are not necessarily intrapsychic crimes since they ebb and flow with the undulations of general violence in society (Marleau & Webanck, 1997; Shon & Targonski, 2003).

Yet, despite such sociologically-informed findings about the characteristics of parricide, throughout much of the twentieth century, models for ← 1 | 2 → understanding parricide have been shaped by Freudian assumptions, with explanations dominated by references to its Oedipal roots—parricide interpreted “as a defense against hostility or incestuous desires” or an explosive culmination of “unresolved incestuous conflict” or excessive maltreatment (Bourget, Gagne,...

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