Honors College Senior Thesis Presentations

Title

Murder Ballads: Assigning and Alleviating Blame

Presenter Information

Alyssa HubbardFollow

Academic Level at Time of Presentation

Senior

Major

English Literature

Minor

Art

List all Project Mentors & Advisor(s)

Dr. Andrew Black

Presentation Format

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Description

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.

Location

Waterfield Gallery

Start Date

November 2021

End Date

November 2021

Fall Scholars Week 2021 Event

Honors Senior Presentations

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Nov 18th, 11:00 AM Nov 18th, 12:00 PM

Murder Ballads: Assigning and Alleviating Blame

Waterfield Gallery

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.