The Absurdity of Punishing a Fellow Human Being

Essay by onvinhtanCollege, UndergraduateA, November 2004

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The short story "Some of us had been threatening out friend Colby" by Donald Barthelme is a satire about human cruelty. The author showed how irrational it could be for a group of people to enforce punishment on a fellow person, especially in the case of capital punishment. The author begins the story by declaring a bunch of friends wanted to have a friend, Colby, hung. The reason of this shocking action was mentioned very briefly and casually, as Colby's behavior had "gone too far." (1) After that the story swiftly moved onto detailed discussions of the ways his hanging was going to be carried out. The contrast between the obvious seriousness of the action with the lack of detail devoted to its justification underscores the profound prejudice Colby's friends held. For them, that Colby deserved to be so severely punished was a matter worthy of no more discussion.

The beginning set the tone for the story.

It went on with excruciating details of the planning of the hanging "event" by these friends, showing how cruel and cold hearted human can be when passing punishment onto others. The friends meticulously worked through issues like keeping the operation under budget, getting the spectators invited and bussed in and whether to serve drink, how to make sure the gibbet worked, etc., apparently unconcerned by the loss their friend was going to suffer from. This contrast was the consistent theme throughout the entire story, beginning with the music selection at the event. The victim's wish was rejected in favor of a lower budget production. Then it was the choice of the method of execution. Again the victim's "preference" of a firing squad was rejected because the friends intended to deny him the "unnecessary theatrics." (5) Because it was written as black humor,