People of the Abyss: Eye-Catching Excerpts and Their Relationship to the Ripper Murders

Within chapter twenty-two, entitled Suicide, the reader discovers how common occurrences such as the taking of one’s own life are among the citizens of the East Side. One such instance during this chapter that captured my attention was the story of Frank Cavilla and his family. It was reported that, after eighteen months of scrounging and suffering in poverty with his wife and children, Mr. Cavilla “got up one September morning…cut the throat of his wife, Hannah Cavilla, aged thrity-three…his son, Walter, aged eight…his daughter, Nellie, aged four…[and] the throat of his youngest-born, Ernest, aged sixteen months” (page 172).

Although Frank Cavilla most likely assumed that his family would endure the least suffering in death, I found it difficult to condone the fact that he did not kill himself along with his wife and children. In death, it would be assumed that Cavilla could have found the silence to his suffering he believed his family would find. However, I did not believe that Cavilla’s choice to deny his children the chance at any life was an act of mercy or salvation. The desperation Cavilla must have felt truly affected my perception of life in Whitechapel during the Ripper murders, and helped me relate to the circumstances that led many of the victims to their deaths. It is sometimes hard to grasp how blessed life is during our own time period, and although it may not always be easy, we find it quick to condemn and even sympathize with these past people’s lives and choices. Yet it is doubtful that we will ever relate to the agony Frank Cavilla felt as he silt his family’s throats or even the idea of “scrounging and suffering” simply to survive.

This story also made me question Jack the Ripper’s motives, could he have been a man overcome with desperation? Searching for a level of control, similar to Cavilla, to give his life purpose? The question of moral cleansing has risen in discussions, but perhaps the Ripper believed he was performing a service, like Cavilla to his family, putting these women out of what he believed to be a miserable way of life, mercy killings.


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