Lynch Mob

The other day I read through the comments left on a news website regarding the two missing 2 year olds.  Some were heartfelt prayers to the family.  Others bordered on abuse toward the parents.

At one point a commenter got particularly nasty.  Subsequent comments condemned the mothers–each one worse than the last.  Then, a brave soul chastized those for their behavior toward a grieving family and the tides turned.

I am not going to pass judgement either way, nor do I want to discuss the horrors that awaited those little boys or the parents who are left to bear the lifelong pain of their losses.

I do, however, call attention to the lynch mob mentality and how easily people are swayed by their own anonymity and someone else’s vocalness. 

This is a gruesome trait of human nature that helps no one and hurts many.  However, it is one we experience on the playground, around the lunch table, at the water cooler and in the break room.  We aren’t too old or too young to fall victim of someone else’s convictions.

A prime example of using this tool for literary purposes is The Oxbow Incident.  I haven’t read the book since highschool, but it made such an impact on my life and how I viewed the way we control, or don’t, our own emotions and convictions that I have never forgotten the story and the vigilante mob that persecuted innocent people. 

I often wonder how often our civilized world is guilty of perpetuating this behavior.

What literary examples have you read that tap into the mob mentality?  Have you used this trait in any of your writing?

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13 responses to “Lynch Mob

  1. Even some threads on AQC qualify for this, eh?

    • Ooooh, good point. Yes, I’ve seen a bit of the mob mentality at work there–and virtually any community. I guess that’s one of the disadvantages of community. People feel inclined to support each other and follow the strongest leader regardless of the circumstances.

      Following a string of comments on a volatile thread can really highlight how easily people are swayed to react to a situation.

  2. The Wave is a brilliant example of how a social experiment can turn nasty once the mob mentality gets moving. Simple book but great discussion piece.

    I’ve never used mob mentality in my stories but I wouldn’t discount it. There is certainly a lot of things you can do with it and directions to take it. Plus it is something most of us can relate to having seen mob mentality in action time and time again in our lives.

    • Cassandra,

      I think that’s important to remember, almost all of us can relate to it on some level. Which is sad in a way, but can be a powerful motivator–in life and in writing.

      Thanks for your input.

  3. I read a short story entitled “The Lottery” when I was in High School. It was a terrible story about a village regularly holding a lottery and whoever won was stoned to death.

    • Yikes, sounds horrible. But it has a sense of reality in that we don’t hesitate to isolate ourselves from our actions sometimes. If everyone else is doing it, it must be okay on some level.

      No wonder there are so many wars.

  4. Interesting post, Cat. I can relate your topic to blog and Facebook comments on controversial topics. Sometimes all it takes to calm a discussion and bring the rhetoric back to considerate and respectful is for one person to leave a short, reasonable and well-thought-out reply that avoids blame, name calling, and provocative language.

    Although I must say, those old western movies never saw it that way. The calm, reasonable person who tried to stop a lynch mob sometimes got shot. 🙂

    • LOL! Yes they did. Only to have everyone feel bad later. Though dead is dead and no amount of remorse from your tormentors can change your situation. I love the Wild West and often say I should have been born then. If ever I go back there in time, I’ll try to remember to steer clear of lynch mobs.

  5. I think Lord of the Flies taps into the mob thing very well. I have used mobs before, and I find them frightening to think about, especially if I were the target. Creepy. I know some blogs and so on that get a lot of traffic that have turned the anonymity function off in the comments. I think that’s usually a good idea. If a person is going to be nasty, make them have the courage to be nasty with a name.

  6. A Tale of Two Cities is what pops into my head first. Madame DeFarge, anyone?

    I think the problem usually occurs (both in literature and in life) when people don’t see others as individuals with a right to their own quirks and feelings.

    • So true, Layinda. It is so easy to discount anyone or anything that is different from what you are used to. And we always try to push our perspectives as the right ones because it’s what we know.

  7. Pingback: Me :-)

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