Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Communication Studies

Department or School/College

Department of Communication Studies

Committee Co-chair

Sara Hayden, Steve Schwarze

Commitee Members

Lee Banville


Capital Punishment, Frame analysis, Kenneth Burke, Mass Media, Rhetoric, Death Penalty


University of Montana

Subject Categories



This essay undertakes a detailed frame analysis of print and electronic media coverage of three nationally publicized death penalty cases between the years of 2014 and 2015. Drawing specifically from the work of Kenneth Burke (1984), this research argues that tragically framed death penalty cases reify victim/perpetrator discourses and cause the actual act of execution to be a fitting resolution within a narrative. Burke’s (1984) grotesque-mystical frame and Bakhtin’s (1984) theory of the grotesque body are used to argue that the media’s portrayal of botched executions help highlight the incongruities with the system of capital punishment, and cause audiences to feel more complicit in the act of execution. However, the grotesque frame may be too mystifying and gruesome for most audiences to feel consubstantiality with characters in the narrative, or to promote engagement with the abolition movement. Ultimately, this essay suggests potential uses for both the grotesque frame as well as the comic frame within the US death penalty abolition movement. Specifically, the comic frame may help abolitionists humanize condemned prisoners and the grotesque frame may help mitigate the complacency that national audiences might feel toward capital punishment.

Included in

Rhetoric Commons



© Copyright 2016 Katherine Shuy