by Julia Buckley
Beyond the tragedy of this occurrence is the surprising and equally tragic aftermath--that many people in Wood's new home town blamed her for her own death. She was, many long-time residents said, in the wrong for not wearing orange during hunting season. (Yankee Magazine wrote an article about the case in 1989; you can read it here). Wood, the victim, could obviously not defend herself or her actions, and many people, most of them fellow hunters, rallied around Donald Rogerson, the hunter who shot Wood without bothering to verify whether or not she was, in fact, a deer. Wood was also blamed for wearing white mittens.
The man who shot her was not ever prosecuted for her death, but one might argue it is because Wood had the misfortune of being a woman. In the previous hunting season, the three fatalities had all been men, and the victims were not blamed for their misfortunes. Two of the shootings resulted in convictions and jail terms. According to an article by Mari Boor Tonn, Valerie A. Endress, and John N. Diamond, Wood can be seen in almost mythical terms.
“[There is] a universal propensity to blame women for acts of violence visited upon them, especially when women unwisely venture into dangerous areas or male “turf” without legitimating accompaniment. Ironically, Wood’s gender, which made the death of a young mother so intensely tragic and threatening, is also that which made it simpler for many people to explain. As woman, Wood embodied the complex incongruous relationship of ‘goodness’ and ‘badness’ universally assigned to females. In Wood, the virgin-whore dichotomy took the form of mother-temptress” (Tonn, Endress and Diamond in Burkchardt 241).
So, according to many, Karen Wood should never have ventured to Maine at all, much less out of her own yard. She should have known her place.
I thought of this story recently because my English students are reading Crime and Punishment, in which a young man commits murder to prove an exalted and rather ridiculous theory. (This isn't a spoiler--it says as much on the back cover). But later in the book the man, Raskolnikov, is having some difficulties justifying his crime--the killing of an old woman, a moneylender. He insists that "I killed not a human being, but a principle!" and later, "Oh, I will never, never forgive that old witch." In his guilt, he blames the murder victim, Alena, for the fact that he killed her. If Alena had not been a manipulating person, a grasping usurer, then he would not have done what he did.
But this leads to one of Dostoevsky's themes. He once wrote, "Without God, everything is permissible." He suggested that without a moral framework, humanity would choose anarchy and could justify any base action.
The notion of blaming the victim, prevalent in life as well as literature, seems to be one of the things that becomes permissible when people refuse to look into their consciences for the truth.
Burgchardt, Carl R. Readings in Rhetorical Criticism. Strata Publishing, State College, Pennsylvania (contains Tonn, Endress and Diamond article).