The potency of the noose—as device, spectacle and ritual—laid raw and bare.
Shuler (American Literature and Black Studies/Denison Univ.; Blood and Bone: Truth and Reconciliation in a Southern Town, 2012, etc.) makes the hangman’s knot and death by hanging transfixing but agonizing reading: the rope with its wicked cultural baggage and the act so barbaric yet so widespread and enduring. Much of the sting of this work comes from the extensive literature on the subject, which Shuler has distilled into an infusion as bitter as hemlock. In 1940, the Tuskegee Institute wrote that a lynching “occurs when three or more people kill someone illegally and when the killers claim they were serving justice, race, or tradition.” The knots alone have a magical, talismanic power, while the spectacle of a hanging, judicial or extrajudicial, is a cruel demonstration of power, “the ritual reenactment of community values and norms...a grand act of education and, possibly, indoctrination.” In the United States, it was—and is, if less pronouncedly—an indiscriminate act, claiming men, women and children of all races, creeds and persuasions, though few will protest, certainly since the witch trials, that it has also been a piece of “ ‘folk pornography’...the ‘ideal’ white woman against the ‘villainous’ black man” or, to widen the scope, that “black people must be controlled, and lynching is one way to do it.” This is trafficked ground, and Shuler does not claim it as his own, but he does cut his own path in taking readers to sites and eras in which hangings have had profound impacts—they all, ultimately, do—from the Iron Age Tollund Man to 12-year-old Hannah Ocuish during the Age of Enlightenment to small American towns and backcountry crossroads to John Brown to In Cold Blood. The author also ably explores how deeply etched the noose is to the Native American and African-American consciousnesses.
A panoramic, unforgettable rendering of “the long fade of strangulation.”