Date on Honors Thesis

Fall 12-2021


English Literature



Examining Committee Member

Dr. Andrew Black, Advisor

Examining Committee Member

Dr. Carrie Jerrell, Committee Member

Examining Committee Member

Dr. Danielle Nielsen, Committee Member


Murder ballads, or narrative songs centered on a murder and/or its aftermath, were historically used as a tool to emphasize a criminal’s guilt, cruelty, and inhumanity. Ballads centered on women in particular underlined the idea that women are naturally inclined to sin and easily corrupted, and because they were often written by men in an imitation of the woman’s voice, any regret or repentance within them is falsified or exaggerated, intended to warn other women away from committing similar transgressions.

In contrast, contemporary murder ballads, such as those sung by country music artists like Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, and The Chicks, typically relieve that guilt by justifying the act of murder, usually by attributing it to self-defense against domestic abuse or revenge for a severe wrong such as adultery. By comparing examples of broadside murder ballads written by men about women to contemporary murder ballads written by women about themselves (or a representation of themselves), we can see how the genre norms of murder ballads have been subverted and reclaimed by women in order to reclaim their voices--and therefore their power.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.