An engaging and anecdotal exploration by Praasel (Criminal
Justice/Univ. of Arkansas; The Western Peace Officer, 1992 - not
reviewed) of the background, history, legends, social contexts, and
representations of the outlaw, from Robin Hood to Thelma and
Louise. Fugitives declared by the courts as outside the protection
of the law, their rights and property forfeited, their lives
endangered, outlaws are a curious combination of victim and
villain, violence and innocence, independence and depravity - a
symbol of resistance to society's injustices and a major threat to
society. From England's highwaymen, pirates, and witches to
America's cattle rustlers, train robbers, and gangsters, Prassel
juxtaposes the miserable, lonely, hunted, brutal, and dangerous
real lives of outlaws with the idealizations that have appeared in
folk ballads (he offers a collection), novels, films (as in the
very first narrative film, 1903's The Great Train Robbery), and on
radio and TV. His outlaws include Captain Kidd and Billy the Kid,
Dillinger and E.T., Sawney Beane (the prototype of Sweeney Todd)
and Patty Hearst, Daniel Boone and Manuel Noriega - an odd
assortment, admittedly subjective, primarily Anglo-Saxon and
Hispanic, and violating the orderly classification with which he
started. Some of Prassel's examples require an imaginative stretch
- the chapter on women, for instance, starts predictably with
English pirates and prostitutes but moves on to film stars, the
femme fatale, the sexual temptress originated by Theda Bara and
consummated in Kathleen Turner. Underlying themes include the
contrapuntal relationship between the law and the outlaw, the
contributions of law enforcement to crime, and the odd alliance
between criminals and show business. An excellent introduction that
raises such major questions as why creative artists are so
fascinated by outlaws and why crime permeates popular culture in a
relatively peaceful society. (Kirkus Reviews)
This book explores in depth the origins, development, and
prospects of outlawry and of the relationship of outlaws to the
social conditions of changing times.
Throughout American history you will find larger-than-life
brigands in every period and every region. Often, because we hunger
for simple justice, we romanticize them to the point of being
unable to separate fact from fiction. Frank Richard Prassel brings
this home in a thorough and fascinating examination of the concept
of outlawry from Robin Hood, Dick Turpin, and Blackbeard through
Jean Lafitte, Pancho Villa, and Billy the Kid to more modern
personalities such as John Dillinger, Claude Dallas, and D. B.
Cooper. A separate chapter on molls, plus equal treatment in the
histories of gangs, traces women's involvement in outlaw
Prassel covers the folklore as well as the facts, even including
an appendix of ballads by and about outlaws. He makes clear how
this motley group of bandits, pirates, highwaymen, desperadoes,
rebels, hoodlums, renegades, gangsters, and fugitives--who stand
tall in myth--wither in the light of truth, but flourish in the
movies. As he tells the stories, there is little to confirm that
Jesse and Frank James, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the
Daltons, Pretty Boy Floyd, Ma Barker, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie
Parker, Belle Starr, the Apache Kid, or any of the so-called good
badmen, did anything that did not enrich or otherwise benefit
themselves. But there is plenty of evidence, in the form of slain
victims and ruined lives, to show how many ways they caused
"The Great American Outlaw "is as much an excellent survey on
the phenomenon as it is a brilliant exposition of the larger
than-life figures who created it. Above all, it is a tribute to
that aspect of humanity that Americans admire most and that Prassel
describes as a willingness "to fight, however hopelessly, against
exhibitions of privilege."
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