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Abstract

In his article, "From Redskin to Redneck: Atrocity and Revenge in American Writing," Terence Martin argues that one of the basic narrative patterns in American writing is that of revenge for the violation of innocence. Martin explores in his study Robert Montgomery Bird's Nick of the Woods, Brian Garfield's Death Wish, and John Grisham's A Time to Kill, texts in which ambiguities of the pattern are expressed in a dramatic and disquieting fashion. After brutality to innocent victims precipitates the action, each of these novels identifies predators and revenge figures and thus sets in motion an escalating spectacle of retribution. Typically, predators are drawn from groups society views with disdainful hostility -- Indians in the frontier setting of Nick, nameless and vicious "bad guys" in the New York of Death Wish, or rednecks in the Mississippi locale of A Time to Kill. Set against such antagonists are the avengers, frequently fathers who become obsessed with the need to destroy the destroyer. As the selection of predators reveals social biases and frustrations, so the actions of the avenger manifest a need to get even for something no longer possessed. Additionally, as part of a fascinating sub-drama in these novels, the avenger tends to become the creature of his obsession; he is thus prone to resemble the predator in unsettling ways.

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