The wrongful execution of Justine serves as a symbolic backdrop for the corruption of good. What Justine represents is a pure, well-intentioned spirit who, when constantly pushed to a corner by negative outside forces, cannot help but cave in. She mentions to Elizabeth how she did confess to killing William, but only out of duress and fear; “ever since [she] was condemned, [her] confessor had besieged [her]; he threatened and menaced, until [she] almost began to think that [she] was the monster that he said [she] was” (Shelley 83). What we have here is a clear case of someone who, while innocent and well-intentioned, could not think ahead to see just exactly what she was sacrificing by letting the negative attacks affect her. The sheer gravity of a murder charge, with its punishment of execution, eventually became secondary to the vicious corruptive influence of her confessor, in Justine’s mind. She took his words to heart more than the truth that lay within her due to just how convincing and insistent he was. The confessor even started to “threaten excommunication and hell fire in [her] last moments, if [she] continued obdurate” (Shelley 83). Punishment in the afterlife for something she didn’t do, but something that her confessor convinced her to believe. Such compelling words, added to the fact that there was “none to support [her]; all looked on [her] as a wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition” (Shelley 83-84). This just demonstrates the sheer power of the people around you: she was swayed to conform to what everyone else believed, despite the complete falsehood of such beliefs. She, as a result, lies to herself, and her pure innocence is ruined.

This is a strong corollary to the death of justice and ideological purity during the French Revolution. Good intentions and aspirations were what fueled the start of the Revolution, with the rise and empowerment of the poor, downtrodden Third Estate and the subsequent goal of securing equality and justice under the law. William Godwin aspires to see this occur as much himself, as he states in his 1793 Enquiry Concerning Political Justice: “To the general mass of the adherents of equality… if there be any force in the arguments of this work, we seem authorized to deduce thus much from them, that truth is irresistible. Let then this axiom be the rudder of our undertakings” (Godwin 789). Note how very non-forceful and non-threatening he is with stating his personal opinions by stating how there is, above all, only one “force” in his work which calls for special attention. This tone of his indicates how he wants the reader to be eased in comfortably to his opinions. His conviction that “truth is irresistible” is undoubtedly a tenet that justice strives to uphold, and a tenet that poor Justine could not uphold herself. She was swayed by negative outside forces, and so was the Revolution itself. His hope that truth’s irresistible nature would lead to it always being championed and protected, that it would be the “rudder,” the fuel to people’s fire, sadly is not the case, due to simple human fallibility. Sure, truth as an ideal should in theory always be defended no matter what the circumstances are, but circumstances definitely do matter. Justine’s circumstances– she was lonely, with everyone around her condemning her about what she allegedly did, and with a corruptive confessor by her side, constantly feeding her lies– shook her inner core, to the point where she could not help but be swayed in the end. The same goes for what happened to the French Revolution: the noble ideals championed at the outset of the Revolution soon gave way to extremist influences, with truth and justice eventually being discarded, giving way to tyranny, with the Reign of Terror being a good example of that. Proper truth and justice, and those championing it, were drowned out by the surge of radicals. The inner core of the Revolution was thus corrupted, much like poor Justine, and Justine’s as well as Godwin’s best intentions were left unfulfilled.

Advertisements