Letter to The Boston Globe Magazine 7 August 2000 about Elizabeth Cox’s short story, “The Last Fourth Grade

From William A. Percy
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ATTENTION: BOB HARDMAN
The Editor
The Boston Globe Magazine
7 August, 2000


Dear Editor,

Elizabeth Cox’s short story, “The Last Fourth Grade” (August 6), a quietly devastating fable about a schoolteacher’s complicity with her husband’s child molestation, deals with a range of subtle psychological issues, but predicates its plot on the teacher’s shotgun murder of her husband. “’It was Harry or the children,’ she cried. ‘That was my choice.’”

Violent solutions to personal dilemmas long have been a staple of fiction, of course, a theme that Ms. Cox handles with some dexterity. I find it troubling, however, to see in print yet another piece that implicitly condones the idea that sexual deviants—no matter how awful the particulars of what they may have done—deserve to be “shot on sight.” Ms. Cox scarcely can be accused of encouraging vigilantism. But her short story echoes a sentiment that one sees ever more frequently in news from the real world: kill the monsters before they grab your kids. I wonder what this means for a society that prides itself on the due process of law. An English tabloid newspaper recently ran a “Name and Shame” campaign against convicted child molesters that resulted in mob action against victims of mistaken identity who had no criminal history. While the Globe’s publication of Ms. Cox’s story scarcely constitutes such a campaign, it does make me wonder: Are media at some level pandering to public anxieties about the sexual safety of children, in the process demonizing people perceived to be sexually deviant who, in fact, pose no threat at all? Will this contribute to innocents being shot on sight?


William A. Percy III

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