Study Guide

Dead Man Walking Mortality

By Sister Helen Prejean


You may be surprised to learn that Dead Man Walking is about death. No? Okay, well, let's get to specifics, then. For one thing, we spend most of the time waiting for either Pat or Robert to be executed. When we're not waiting for these dudes to die, we're hearing about the families of the people they killed. Violent death is rarely more than a page or so away.

Basically, Prejean wants us to know that death is always around the corner, and guess what: you gotta deal with it. Death isn't something you can just forget about; you have to figure out how to face your own death, but you've also got to figure out what it means for others to die, and how you may or may not be contributing to that.

Questions About Mortality

Does the fear of death make Pat and Robert better people in any way? If so, does that justify the death penalty? The book presents fear of death as a form of torture. Does that make Pat and Robert more deserving of death, given the way they inflicted that torture on other people? Does it make the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment? Is there much discussion of the afterlife in the book? Why do you think that is?

Chew on This

Mortality in the book brings families together.

Mortality in the book destroys families.