The Gravity of the Crime

One of the many things that Michel Foucault pointed out is that when the development of the penal system happened, it became more robotic and systematic—for all criminals, that is. No matter the crime or how grave it was, the punishment or treatment inside the prison was the same—they woke up at the same time, worked for the same length of time, and were subjected to the same ill treatments and such. In simple terms, a grave sinner would be punished the same as that of a petty thief as what the penal system deems (Foucault, 1977).

The Public as Part of the Punishment In earlier times—and it can be also applied to the judicial or penal system in the contemporary times—the public served as the audience of the execution or hearing of the criminal or suspect. Thus, the criminal was a sight to be held as he was severely punished even when he was still being investigated as to whether he was a criminal in the first place. The public also contributed to the punishment as the criminal was humiliated in the most degrading of forms in front of them (Foucault, 1977).

The Injustice of the Penal System Michel Foucault never really questioned the existence of the penal system—it was more like he was not satisfied with how it works or how it functions. In the earlier accounts of the book, the narrative stories focus more on early executions of the criminals in the early 18th century. The most fascinating thing about the whole debacle was the fact that the punishment had no basis and was decided solely upon by the people behind the penal and judicial system.

In today’s contemporary times, this can also be the same judgment as the punishment of the criminals. Be it an execution or death penalty, life time imprisonment, or even years or months of servitude, there is really no orderly, systematic form of discipline and punishment—at least according to Michel Foucault’s book, that is (Foucault, 1977). The Implications and Context of Michel Foucault’s Book A person may be left to wonder why Michel Foucault ever wrote such book in the first place, but one has to keep in mind that he was greatly influenced by the time he was in.

Thus, it is but natural that his writings reflect what he was experiencing and thinking about; but why write about the prison life or the execution of the criminals? This can be mostly attributed to the fact that he was educated in the subject of philosophy and took care of mentally-ill patients in a mental asylum where he was working. Therefore, this allowed him to think about the human and societal psyche and consider introspection about the sanity of man, the madness and reason of humankind, and what drives them to do things that they do (European Graduate School EGS, 2008).

Conclusion In conclusion, Michel Foucault’s book may have contained rather gory and gruesome images of what the prison life has entailed for the criminals, and he may have interjected his own personal opinions which shrouded the retelling of the whole prison life. This retelling leads to the introspection of whether everything contained therein is the wholly the truth or not, but one thing remains the same—Michel Foucault wanted to tell the tale of criminals long dead or prisoners suffering, and the fact remains that the criminals have suffered horribly and greatly.

The crime and the criminal do not rightfully justify whether he or she deserves the weight of his or her punishment, for the punishment was decided alone by the penal system. Michel Foucault did not exactly condemn the notion of the whole idea of punishment or the penal code itself—what he did was provide a narration of how people were punished and what society and the judicial system have contributed to such punishment.

In fact, that is probably what Michel Foucault has been trying to point out from the first chapter of the book—that whatever punishment the criminal awaits and whatever  imprisonment or execution has in store for him or her is in itself light compared to what effect the perception or judgment the general public has over the criminal. In simple terms, the real punishment is never the execution—it is the degradation or humiliation of oneself over the people.


Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (A. Sheridan, Trans. ). New York: Vintage. European Graduate School EGS. (2008). Michel Foucault’s biography. The European     Graduate School Mass and Communication Post-Graduate and Graduate Studies. Retrieved on June 26, 2009, from http://www. egs. edu/resources/foucault. html. Wicks, R. (2008, July 15). Friedrich Nietzsche. Stanford Encyclopedia of Stanford. Retrieved on June 26, 2009, from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/nietzsche/.