Amanda Knox Part 3: “Interpreting the Interpreters”: Explaining the Reactions to Amanda

By: Martha Grace Duncan*
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It is more of a job to interpret the interpretations than to interpret the things.

Michel de Montaigne[261]

Meagre, indeed, and cold was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for, from such bystanders. . . . The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a woman might, under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter[262]

Upon receiving the e-mail that Amanda signed simply “a,” I immediately thought of the letter “A” that Hester Prynne, the protagonist of The Scarlet Letter, was sentenced to wear on her bosom, symbolizing her crime of adultery. That “A” first appears in chapter one, when Hester comes through the iron-studded oak door of the weather-stained wooden jail in colonial Boston.[263] Waiting outside the jail are the Puritan town folk with their “meagre” sympathy, gazing at her with their “thousand unrelenting eyes.”[264]

From the first pages of the novel, Hester exerts a fascination by virtue of being a beautiful woman who has allegedly committed a crime. And this fascination, this irresistible allure, has continued to draw the attention of scholars for well over a century, just as Amanda’s case has inspired many books, articles, and movies during the last eight years. It is, of course, common in studies of The Scarlet Letter to analyze not only the character of Hester and the reasons she acts as she does but also the Puritans and the reasons they interpret and judge her as they do.[265] It is also typical to interpret Hester’s story through Hawthorne’s background and the worldviews of romanticism and transcendentalism, which were pervasive at the time of Hawthorne’s writing.[266]

However, in the present Article thus far, we have been considering Amanda almost entirely as the agent of her story—exploring reasons for her behavior such as her naïveté and her developmental stage. We have not yet focused in depth on Amanda as the object of her story. We have not considered that the perceptions of her behavior, like those of Hester’s adultery, have been refracted through universal archetypes, cultural mores, and embedded legal traditions. These influences must have affected the way Amanda was perceived and judged by those who stood in relation to her much like the Puritans stood in relation to Hester in seventeenth-century Boston. It is to these influences that we now turn.

I. Angelic Saint or Femme Fatale: The Madonna/Whore Complex and Its Vicissitudes

Christian symbols remain very much alive within modern European societies . . . . Indeed, the very fact that religion plays a less evident part than in the past . . . gives these same symbols great power since they can operate unchecked and at the unconscious level[.]

Luisa Accati[267]

If Amanda had had buckteeth, pimples, and glasses, none of this would have happened.

Perugian journalist (speaking off the record)

  1. The Duality Pervading Amanda’s Case

Near the end of his closing argument in the criminal trial of Amanda and Raffaele, the prosecutor Mignini invited the court to imagine what Amanda might have said to Meredith just before killing her: “You little saint. I’m going to teach you a lesson. You’re going to have sex with us.”[268]

In this fantasized re-enactment, Mignini drew on his longstanding theory that the killing resulted from a sex game gone awry. In keeping with this theory, he saw Meredith and Amanda as polar opposites: Meredith as the pure young woman and Amanda as the sex-maniac. Being pure, Meredith was bothered not only by the pink vibrator on display in their shared bathroom but also by Amanda’s tendency to bring strange men into their home.[269] For her part, Amanda was said to be annoyed by Meredith’s puritanism, for which she took revenge by killing her.[270]

One might be tempted to dismiss Mignini’s words as the typical theatrics of a prosecutor, however a similar dichotomy pervaded the entire case—a dichotomy not between Meredith and Amanda but within Amanda herself. Consider, for example, another closing argument—that of Carlo Pacelli, the lawyer who represented Patrick Lumumba in his calumny suit against Amanda. “So who is Amanda Knox?” Pacelli asked.

Is she the gentle, sweet, clean-faced girl you see here today before you? Or is she the one I have just described to you on the basis of witness testimony? Amanda is both, for a double soul . . . lives in her: the angelic, compassionate Santa Maria Goretti . . . and the Luciferian, satanic, diabolic one . . . . an explosive mixture of sex, alcohol, and drugs, . . . dirty on the outside because she was dirty on the inside, in her soul and spirit.[271]

In conclusion, Pacelli urged the judges to disregard Amanda’s “doll-like” exterior and recognize that underneath, she was a “spell-casting witch, a virtuoso of deceit.”[272]

The words are strikingly melodramatic. And while they were spoken by a civil lawyer, we must remember that the civil trial took place—per Italian practice—at the same time as the criminal trial and before the same judges.

By inferring good, even saintly qualities from Amanda’s beautiful surface and contrasting them with the “diabolic” core deep within, Pacelli drew on the archetypical femme fatale: the “female beauty concealing indelible evil.”[273] That Amanda’s lovely face, being deceptive, rendered her especially evil is an idea we also see in Tina Brown’s Foreword to Nadeau’s book Angel Face. She writes: “Who was Amanda Knox? Was she a fresh-faced honor student from Seattle . . . an all-American girl . . .? Or was her pretty face a mask, a duplicitous cover for a depraved soul?”[274]

In contrast to the view that Amanda’s goodness was on the surface, and her evil hidden underneath, others have suggested that both qualities might be visible in Amanda’s countenance alone. For instance, one journalist, summarizing the issue that would confront the judges, asked whether Amanda was a “killer whose angelic face [was] betrayed by her ice-blue eyes.”[275]

As these passages show, dualistic rhetoric about Amanda’s character permeated her case. It becomes important, then, to ask why prosecutors and journalists framed Amanda’s identity the way they did. No one adduced the image that Amanda herself tried to show the court: that of an ordinary girl dressed in her “usual jeans and a T-shirt.”[276] Rather, they described her as either utterly pure, like the saint referenced by Pacelli (an eleven-year-old who fought to preserve her virginity, then forgave her assailant before dying of her wounds),[277] or dirty and sexual, or a synthesis of the two. And if she was dirty and sexual, then she must be a murderer as well. Why would this be?

  1. Psychological and Christian Roots of the Madonna/Whore Complex

To begin on the most abstract level, it seems that what matters most in our unconscious is not one end of a continuum or the other but the relationship between the two. As the distinguished psychologist Jolande Jacobi has written, “[E]verything that is psychologically alive . . . has the essential attribute of bipolarity.”[278] In a beautiful phrase, Jacobi refers to this phenomenon as “the unity of the primordial opposites.”[279]

But recognizing that polarities are a key feature of our unconscious minds only takes us so far. It does not explain the particular polarity that was applied to Amanda—chaste saint or lewd devil—often referred to as the Madonna/whore complex. The most famous explanation of this dichotomy appears in Sigmund Freud’s essay “On the Universal Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love.”[280] Freud calls attention to a psychological limitation in many men; namely, the inability to experience both “affectionate” and “sensual” components of love toward the same woman.[281] He writes, “Where they love they do not desire and where they desire they cannot love.”[282]

Instead of directing tenderness and lust toward one woman, they employ the defense mechanism of splitting: a primitive, Manichean way of organizing experience into stark opposites such as goodness and evil, darkness and light, love and lust.[283] To strengthen this defense, they may also employ projection, ascribing their own inner division to women, whom they perceive distortedly as falling into two types: “the sacred” and “the profane.”[284] The sacred, being chaste, are seen as marriageable and “good,” whereas the profane, being wanton, are seen as whores and “bad.” By contemplating all women through this template, such men avoid the confused and painful awareness that it is they themselves who feel desire toward the very woman whom they also tenderly love.[285]

Compelling as Freud’s theory may be, it cannot adequately account for the pervasive influence of the Madonna/whore binary in Italy or, more specifically, its impact on Amanda’s arrest and trial. The theory fails to consider the powerful role of Christianity, which from its earliest days contrasted the spirit (associated with men) with the flesh (associated with women),[286] and which to this day vividly embodies the Madonna/whore binary in the figures of Eve, “mother of all living”[287] and Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The story of Eve—who disobeyed God by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and tempted Adam to do the same, leading them to “[know] they were naked” and cover themselves with fig leaves, so that sex, which had been innocent, became tainted with sin—requires no detailed retelling here.[288] Although not a whore in the sense of a harlot, a woman who “prostitutes herself for hire,”[289] Eve has traditionally been considered a whore in the broader sense of a woman who tempts men into evil ways through her sexual allure.[290]

Mary is, as we know, the polar opposite of Eve, representing chastity and purity. Her symbolic meaning stems in part from the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, but it also derives from another belief often confused with the Virgin Birth– the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, made an article of faith by Pope Pius IX in 1854.[291] The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception maintains that Mary—despite being the product of sexual intercourse between Saint Anne and Saint Joachim—was “at the first instant of her conception” infused with grace that freed her from original sin.[292] As the Italian feminist scholar Louisa Accati explains, Mary’s virginity was thereby “redoubled,” because neither her son’s conception nor her own was achieved through concupiscence, or ardent desire.[293] Here we see the absolute bifurcation of virtue and carnality inasmuch as Mary had to be utterly uncontaminated by sex to be a worthy mother of God.[294]

Mary’s sublime purity has made her, in some places, an autonomous object of worship, separate from God and Christ.[295] The intensity of Marian devotion varies from one country to another and scholars differ in their assessment of this variation, but at least one journalist, Nina Burleigh, believes that the cult of Mary is “stronger in Italy than in any other European nation.”[296] After all, since the fourteenth century, Italy has been the site of the Holy See, which has given it a uniquely intertwined relationship with Catholicism. And although the country is now more religiously pluralistic than in the past, a majority of Italians still identify as Catholic.[297]

Even Italians who no longer adhere to Catholic beliefs may still be affected by Catholic symbols. Indeed, this effect may be even more powerful when its action is unconscious, as Accati explains in one of the epigraphs that begin this section.[298] The ongoing cultural impact of Catholicism in Italy can be seen in the popularity of Italian television shows about saints and popes. For example, the BBC reports that on a spring weekend in 2003, thirty-five percent of all Italian households were watching a television dramatization of the life of Maria Goretti,[299] the saint whom Pacelli referenced at Amanda’s trial: the twelve-year-old who died from wounds she sustained defending her honor.

And what of Perugia, the walled city where Amanda was first suspected, tried, and imprisoned? Two popular icons of the Virgin Mary are located there: the Madonna del Verde and the Madonna delle Grazie. The originals are displayed in public places, but a reproduction of the Madonna delle Grazie hung on the wall behind Prosecutor Mignini’s desk throughout the trial.[300] A devout Catholic, Mignini often spoke of this Madonna and how she had saved his uncle’s life during World War II.[301]

As to their appearance, Burleigh writes that the two Perugian Madonnas look very much alike with their “pale, heart-shaped faces, tiny pert noses, light distant eyes, [and] small perfect mouths.”[302] She believes that Amanda “bears an uncanny resemblance to both of them.”[303] I had the opportunity to judge for myself on a return trip to Perugia in the spring of 2016.

  1. In the Duomo with the Two Madonnas and Claudia. Perugia – March 3, 2016

My guide Claudia and I decide to go first to the Museum of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo (the Duomo) to see the Madonna del Verde. At the information table on the main floor, the lady tells us that we are welcome to descend the stairs but, because the lights are out, we will probably not be able to see the Madonna. Nevertheless, after wandering around below ground in semi-obscurity we find her, and by using Claudia’s flashlight are able to get a good look at this very old icon—the older of the two Madonnas, believed to date from the early fourteenth century.

When she was first discovered, the Madonna del Verde had been a frieze on the wall of a cave; later, in the fifteenth century, she was moved, transferred to canvas, and re-painted.[304] Perhaps the repainting accounts for the brilliant colors of her apparel—the bright green dress, thought to be the origin of her name, and the electric blue cape, punctuated by little stars, that covers her head and then falls over her shoulders and arms. Behind her head a halo gleams, and on her lap the infant Jesus sits, swaddled in an orange cloth. At the bottom of the painting, on a green background, an inscription in Italian reads “I am the mother of holy hope.”

Gazing at the picture, I make an effort to detect the supposed resemblance between the Madonna del Verde and Amanda, but try as I might, I cannot see it. To me, the Madonna’s elongated face contrasts markedly with Amanda’s, as does her long nose and the vacant look in her eyes. With her head bent slightly forward, she casts her gaze not eagerly toward the viewer or the baby Jesus but dully off to the side and into the distance.

After ascending the steps to the main floor, we leave the museum and enter the nave of the Duomo, where the Madonna delle Grazie can be seen inside a tabernacle not very far back and on the right. She is said to be the most beloved Madonna of the Perugini;[305] indeed, several women appear to be praying to her as we enter. And it is true, I think, she does look remarkably like Amanda, or rather Amanda looks like her, especially because of her perfect oval face and light-colored eyes.

My overall impression is that she is lovely, like a fairytale princess, in a pale rose-colored dress, a periwinkle cape spattered with golden stars, and on her head a crown of gems. The palms of her hands are turned outward toward the worshiper, with the fingers flexed in a gesture that the guidebook describes as one of “benediction, protection, and welcome rather than prayer.”[306] Although not a Catholic myself, I feel comforted by her image and succumb to the impulse to join the parishioners who are already kneeling before her on the velvet cushioned bench.

Back in my hotel room late that night, I muse about the two Madonnas and Amanda’s resemblance to one or both of them. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that appearance—a purely accidental characteristic—could really have had an impact on the case. Yet only this morning, out of the blue, Claudia said, “Italians do not have a good opinion of Amanda. If she weren’t beautiful, they wouldn’t have depicted her as a sensual monster. Her only fault was to be beautiful.”[307] Another young Perugian, a journalist intimately familiar with the case, told me essentially the same thing in the observation I quoted as an epigraph to this section: “If Amanda had had buck teeth, pimples, and glasses, none of this would have happened.” Well then, I think, if her beauty in general had such an effect, why not her similarity in particular to Mary the mother of Jesus? And, my logic continues, if judges were impressed by the similarity, then this association might have led them to conceive of Amanda as a whore, because one side of a polarity brings its opposite to mind.

  1. The Casual Blending of Whore and Murderess.

Still, we are left with a question: how did the reporters, lawyers, and judges so easily make the leap from whore to murderer? One theory is that a woman’s virtue is closely tied to her chastity; thus, once she is seen as “easy,” promiscuous, or lustful, the idea that she could murder is not much of a stretch.[308] A second is that in some eras and locales, murder by a woman has been considered “so unthinkable . . . that it [has] to be explained away as the action of a whore, witch, monster or madwoman.”[309] And underlying both of these hypotheses is a third: the psychoanalytic concept of condensation.[310] A characteristic of primary process thinking[311]—the kind of thinking we do unconsciously, free from the constraints of logic and time—condensation is defined as the fusion of two or more images or ideas, along with their psychic energy, into one.[312]

A seventeenth-century play, The White Devil,[313] provides a helpful example of condensation in a context similar to that of Amanda. Written by British playwright John Webster, loosely based on true events, and set in Italy, this revenge tragedy tells the story of Vittoria Corombona—a beautiful but poor woman of noble birth who evokes the amorous desire of a Duke. When the Duke “seeks to prostitute [her] honor,” Vittoria submits to a kiss, sparking rumors that she is having an adulterous affair.[314] Soon thereafter, her husband is murdered[315] and, despite a lack of evidence, she is accused of the crime.[316] Her accuser is counting on the infamy of Vittoria’s “black lust” to establish her guilt.[317] Upon being brought to trial, Vittoria courageously defies the court in these words:

For your names
Of whore and murderess, they proceed from you
As if a man should spit against the wind;
The filth returns in’s face.[318]

Despite (or perhaps because of) her bravery, Vittoria is imprisoned in a convent for repentant whores,[319] and later she is murdered.[320] Although her eloquent speech fails to save her, it does exemplify the casual blending of whore and murderess, a condensation that pervades the entire play. For Vittoria’s judges readily blur the line between adulteress and killer, just as Amanda’s accusers inferred from her supposed wantonness that she was guilty of Meredith’s murder.

II. Presentation versus Authenticity: The Role of Cultural Differences

Person [fr. L. persona a mask (used by actors), a personage,
. . . fr. Etruscan phersu mask or masked person.]

Webster’s New International Dictionary[321]

It is probably no mere historical accident that the word person, in its first meaning, is a mask. It is rather a recognition of the fact that everyone is always and everywhere, more or less consciously, playing a role. . . . It is in these roles that we know each other; it is in these roles that we know ourselves.

Robert Ezra Park, Race and Culture[322]

Up to now, I have seen many masks; when am I going to see the faces of men?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Julie[323]

  1. La Bella Figura Versus the Romantic Ideal of Being Oneself

In his seminal book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman calls attention to the fact that we are—all of us, always—wearing a mask in front of others, managing the impression we make, pretending an engrossment that we do not feel, or pretending indifference when we are truly engrossed.[324] Analyzing subcultures ranging from the crofters of the Shetland Islands to housewives in Paris to patients in a mental hospital in Washington, D.C., Goffman compares all human interactions to a performance in a theater with scenes, an audience, and a backstage.[325] To Goffman, the fact that we are all playing a role in front of others is not immoral, counterfeit, or dishonest; it is inevitable. Moreover, this inevitability is not a reason to despair, for the masks we wear are, Goffman claims, “our truer self, the self we would like to be.”[326]

Diametrically opposed to Goffman’s model of presentation is the model of authenticity— the ideal of being genuine and open in our social relations so as to be true, above all, to ourselves. Associated with the Romantics, the ideal of authenticity was expressed by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in these words: “How pleasant it would be to live among us if exterior appearance were always a reflection of the heart’s disposition.”[327]

These abstract standards of human interaction, these opposed philosophical ideals, help to illuminate the cultural differences between Italy and the United States and between Perugia and Seattle. In Italy, the standard of la bella figura bears a close resemblance to Goffman’s model of presentation, whereas in the United States, the high value placed on individualism resonates with the Romantic ideal of authenticity.

La bella figura has been cited as a factor throughout Amanda’s case. For instance, a few days after Amanda’s conviction in Perugia, the European news and debate website VoxEurop published an article with the headline, “Knox a victim of ‘la bella figura’?”[328] In a similar vein, an online travel magazine published a review of Amanda’s memoir with the title, “Amanda Knox’s cardinal sin and Italy’s dysfunctional ‘bella figura’ culture.”[329] And in the book Murder in Italy, Candace Dempsey writes, “The now twenty-two-year-old Amanda had [finally] learned how to cut a bella figura.”[330]

But what, exactly, is la bella figura? Alas, there is no precise English equivalent. Perhaps its best-known aspect has to do with dress; for example, in her memoir Crazy in the Kitchen: Food, Feuds, and Forgiveness in an Italian American Family, noted writer Louise DeSalvo describes how her Italian grandfather insisted on wearing a perfect suit when he was dying.[331] He was concerned that being seen at his funeral in less than elegant attire “would have made a bad impression” and “brought disgrace to his family.”[332] Dramatically, DeSalvo concludes, “Even in death, la bella figura.”[333]

On a lighter note, an Italian colleague told me a story about her cousin who came from Italy to visit her in Knoxville, Tennessee. My colleague had hired a kindergarten teacher to chauffeur her daughter to school and, it being a warm climate, the teacher always wore shorts. Upon seeing this professional woman so casually dressed, the cousin reacted with horrified incredulity and righteous indignation.[334]

While it embraces the notion of appropriate attire, the concept of la bella figura goes well beyond clothing. Highlighting its broad significance, Professor Gloria Nardini writes, “[the term] is a central metaphor of Italian life, admittedly an extremely complicated one.”[335] Steven Belluscio endeavors to flesh out these complications as follows: “[L]a bella figura [is] a complex of behaviors through which one puts on—literally and metaphorically—a ‘good face’ in order to mask immorality, incompetence . . . or literally anything that could mar one’s public image. The opposite of la bella figura, la brutta figura (‘ugly face’), is to be avoided at all cost[s].”[336] Echoing Belluscio’s words in her book, Living and Working in Italy, Caroline Prosser writes, “Bella figura refers not only to the way you look, but also to the way you act and what you say.”[337]

Just as la bella figura is associated with Italy, so also the Romantic belief in authenticity is associated with the United States. As distinguished psychologist Rollo May writes,

The emphasis was on being true to one’s own convictions. This was true especially in American sectarian Protestantism, strongly aided by the individualism cultivated by our life on the frontier. Hence the great emphasis in America on sincerity as one lived by one’s own convictions. We idealized men such as Thoreau, who supposedly did that.[338]

Similar to Rollo May, Ronald Sharp, an English professor and former university president, asserts that “form and artifice have acquired a bad reputation” in the United States.[339] He traces this cultural trait to two historical forces: our Puritan heritage, with its values of simplicity and plainness, and our rejection of class structure, which is associated with ceremony.[340]

Of course, the United States and Italy are both characterized by great variation from one region to another, and one risks error by generalizing about the culture of either nation. But before we turn to particular places within these nations, let us dwell a little longer in the general realm while we consider the following scene.

  1. At the Opera with Alice in St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Florence—May 20, 2014

It is the intermission. The audience has just watched the painful scene at the end of Act Two of La Traviata in which Alfredo, believing that Violetta has returned to her old life as a courtesan, throws his gambling winnings contemptuously at her feet, in a roomful of party guests. Overwhelmed, Violetta swoons, and the other guests condemn Alfredo for his insulting gesture.[341] Then Alfredo, his anger spent, sings of his remorse over what he has done.[342]

I am sitting in a small English church on the via Maggio just a few blocks from the Arno River. With me is my Italian friend, Alice,[343] a doctoral candidate in law at the European University Institute. We have chosen to see the opera in St. Mark’s rather than in a typical opera house in hopes of having a more intimate experience. Indeed, the church, where we are seated in the front row only a few feet from the singers, affords the sense of involvement we were seeking.

What we had not expected was the richness of the interior, with its glowing dark wood and sumptuous icons and paintings. In the booklet we received upon entering the nave, we read that this building was once part of a Medici palazzo and was later owned, for a time, by Machiavelli’s family. Centuries afterward, when artists renovated the interior, they adopted the style and brilliant colors of the English Pre-Raphaelites. The result is a beautiful, historic setting in which to absorb Verdi’s glorious music and the story of the fallen woman.

The people around us, taking advantage of the intermission, are starting to leave the nave, and Alice and I decide that we too could use some fresh air. We are about to rise but, just at that moment, the young couple across the way begins to kiss. It is a long, lingering kiss, one that, in this intimate setting, would be hard not to see, especially since we are seated directly opposite the couple, separated only by the small floor space where the opera is being staged.

To me, the kiss is charming. I like the couple’s obvious infatuation and complete obliviousness to their surroundings. But Alice is not amused. She turns to me, aghast. “In a church?” she says.

I try to mollify her, saying that the young man and woman are probably newlyweds from the States, on their honeymoon. “They are in love,” I say lightly, “with eyes only for each other.” But nothing I say appears to diminish her righteous indignation.

After the intermission and Act Three, in which Violetta progressively weakens, finally dying of consumption in Alfredo’s arms,[344] we file out of the church directly behind the amorous couple. Since they are conversing, we are able to make out that they are English-speakers with American accents, confirming my earlier hunch about their nationality.

Outside of St. Mark’s, we leave the crowd behind, turning left onto the via Maggio and walking the few blocks to the Ponte Santa Trinita, the bridge that will take us over the Arno River and back to the city center. In the middle of the bridge, we pause and gaze toward the West, where the river narrows and the Ponte Vecchio has stood since medieval times. On parts of the river, shadows fall, cast by the crescent-shaped stone arches of the famous bridge. They make a romantic contrast with other stretches of the river that reflect the lights of Florence in a distorted, shimmering way.

As we look at the view, Alice, evidently still bothered by the kissing couple, raises the subject again. “They were touching each other’s knees all through the performance,” she says. “It was distracting!”

I have to admit that she is right; it was a little distracting. But, as with the kiss, I found their caresses more charming than outrageous. Mostly, I am surprised and puzzled at my friend’s strong reaction. As she has told me before, she is not a devout Christian, nor a believer in any faith; thus, religious conviction cannot explain her offended sensibility. Neither can her age or any unusual prudishness that I have discerned. She is a twenty-something with a boyfriend and a stylish, even flirtatious, way of dressing. Furthermore, Alice has traveled abroad and studies at an international university. A lack of exposure to other cultures would therefore not account for her indignant response. No, the only explanation that makes sense to me is that she is Italian and, as such, values la bella figura. The kissing couple, like Amanda, has violated this deeply rooted cultural norm.

  1. The West-Coast Dreamer in Insular Perugia

I have presented the scene at the opera in some detail to illustrate how standards for behavior in public places are different in Italy than in the United States. But, as was already noted, both Italy and the United States are extremely diverse. Beyond considering the culture of each nation as a whole, it is important to zero in on the subcultures that are most likely to have played a part in Amanda’s case: the American West Coast, especially Seattle, and the central Italian region of Umbria, especially Perugia. It is to these places that we now turn.

Numerous writers, attempting to account for Amanda’s behavior or for the Italian reactions to her, have alluded to regional subcultures. For example, in A Murder in Italy, Dempsey recounts how “[t]he Seattle girl had managed to scandalize the entire table” by breaking into song while dining at a restaurant with Meredith’s British friends.[345] Dempsey explains: “In countercultural Seattle, [Amanda] sang while driving, on the street, wherever she felt like it.”[346]

Amanda’s boyfriend Raffaele also draws on Amanda’s place of origin to interpret her questionable acts. For instance, in the questura soon after Meredith’s body was found, Amanda wrote in her journal that she would “really like to say that [she] could kill for a pizza but it just doesn’t seem right.”[347] After gaining access to this language, the Italian newspapers used it against Amanda. But Raffaele, writing in his memoir, Honor Bound, offers a defense of her words: “This was Amanda free-associating, as Amanda the West Coast dreamer was in the habit of doing.”[348]

Whereas Dempsey and Raffaele adduce culture to explain some of Amanda’s specific acts, Amanda herself makes a more general point when she writes, “[M]y Seattle upbringing had left me unprepared for the cultural strictures of my new environment.”[349] And finally Rebecca Mead, writing in The New Yorker, makes this broad, damning assessment: “[T]he social codes of the American Northwest [would] . . . be perceived in [Amanda’s] host country as aberrant and even malign.”[350]

The idea that the American Northwest has a culture all its own, antithetical to the Italian or Perugian culture, finds confirmation in Colin Woodard’s book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.[351] Woodard describes a region he calls the “Left Coast” that “extends in a strip from Monterrey, California, to Juneau, Alaska, including . . . Seattle.”[352] Among the central attributes of Left Coasters, he suggests, is “a culture of individual fulfillment,”[353] characterized by “self-exploration and discovery.”[354] Untroubled by traditional expectations, Left Coasters believe that “[t]he world . . . can be easily and frequently reinvented.”[355]

Focusing on Seattle in particular, an article in Rolling Stone, remarkably titled “Normal Weirdness in Seattle,” describes the early nineties culture in which Amanda grew up.[356] The author, Patti O’Brien, writes that “Seattle [is] America’s premier haven for eccentrics, youthful freaks and genial space cases—a kind of cultural Mars. Seattle is out there. Things happen differently here than in other places.”[357]

The description sounds hyperbolic but, if it contains even a kernel of truth, Seattle’s culture is dramatically different from that of Perugia, with its three-thousand-year-old history and geographic insularity. Founded by a prehistoric people who preceded even the Etruscans, and situated on top of a hill, Perugia lies roughly halfway between the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital of Umbria, a region renowned for its isolation. Writers often highlight its uniqueness as the only region of Italy that neither touches the sea nor shares a border with a foreign country.[358]

People I know who have lived in Perugia for most of their lives invariably bring up these same facts to explain Perugia’s conservative culture to me. My guide Claudia was raised in Perugia from the age of eight and is now studying for her Masters at the University of Milan. “Is Perugia more conservative than Milan?” I ask her.

My question comes across as dumb, and she bursts out laughing. “Yes. Milano is amazing! It’s open-minded, dynamic, not like Perugia. People who are born and raised here [in Perugia] are closed. Here you meet always the same person, you do always the same things, you have to create what you want to do. In Perugia, you are not stimulated so much. It’s because of the geography: being on a hill, yet not near the sea, which is a symbol of freedom.” Finishing her sentence, she laughs again, amused by her own flight of fancy.[359]

Now that I have spent more time in Perugia, I find myself wondering whether Amanda would have been treated differently had the crime occurred in Rome, Florence, or Milan. Would these more cosmopolitan cities have been so quick to judge Amanda for her failure to live up to la bella figura? Did the provinciality of Perugia—this remote city with its ancient, winding, and dusky streets—play a dispositive role in her guilty verdicts? Perhaps not, but it certainly could not have helped.

Continue to Part Four: Italy’s Hybrid Legal System


* Ph.D., Columbia University; J.D., Yale University; Professor of Law, Emory University. An early version of this Article received the Judith Siegel Pearson Award for Nonfiction in 2014. I am grateful to the judges. Previous versions of this Article were presented at the Dipartimento di Giurisprudenza, Università degli Studi di Torino; the European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy; the Emory Law Faculty, the Emory Psychoanalytic Studies Program, and the Emory Workshop on Geographies of Violence. My thanks go to the participants. My thanks also go to Robert Ahdieh, Giulia Alagna, Cathy Allan, Flavia Brizio-Skov, Michele Caianiello, Elisabetta Grande, Joe Mackall, Stefano Maffei, Alice Margaria, Claudia Marzella, Gaetano Marzella, Colleen Murphy, David Partlett, Lucia Re, Bob Root, Elena Urso, and Liza Vertinsky. Deep appreciation goes to my research assistants: Stefania Alessi, Mary Brady, Andrew Bushek, Peter Critikos, Sarah Kelsey, Tess Liegois, Zishuang Liu, Mike McClain, Jon Morris, Kaylie Niemasik, Sarah Pittman, Faraz Qaisrani, Deborah Salvato, Shannon Shontz-Phillips, Anthony Tamburro, and Michelle Tanen.

[261] Michel de Montaigne, 3 The Complete Essays 313‒14 (Donald M. Frame trans., Anchor Books 1960) (1588).

[262] Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter 43, 46 (Sculley Bradley et al. eds., W.W. Norton & Co. 2d ed. 1978) (1850).

[263] Id. at 43.

[264] Id. at 41, 46.

[265] See Mursalin Jahan & Syed Zaheer Hasan Abidi, Individualism of Hester Prynne in the Seventeenth Century Puritan Society: The Scarlet Letter, 4 Int’l J. Studies in Eng. Lang. & Lit. 100‒106 (2016).

[266] See John Carlos Rowe, The Internal Conflict of Romantic Narrative: Hegel’s Phenomenology and Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, 95 Modern Language Notes 1203‒31 (1980) (analyzing the conflict between Puritanism and transcendentalism in Hawthorne).

[267] Luisa Accati, Explicit Meanings: Catholicism, Matriarchy, and the Distinctive Problems of Italian Feminism, 7 Gender & History 241, 244 (1995).

[268] Candace Dempsey, Murder in Italy 306 (2010); see also Amanda Knox, Waiting to be Heard: A Memoir 352 (2013) (“You were a little saint. Now we’ll show you; now you have no choice but to have sex”).

[269] See Knox, supra note 268, at 293‒94; John Follain, A Death in Italy 35 (2011).

[270] See Nina Burleigh, The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox 274 (2011) (citing that Amanda wanted to take revenge on this “too-serious English girl”); Mark C. Waterbury, The Monster of Perugia: The Framing of Amanda Knox 42 (2011).

[271] Transcript of Oral Argument of Carlo Pacelli at 14, Corte d’Ass., 27 novembre 2009, n. 9066, Giur. it. (2010) (No. 7/2009) (Stefania Alessi trans., 2017).

[272] James Bone, Amanda Knox, A ‘Drug-Taking, Sex-Crazed She-Devil’ Who Blamed Murder on Innocent Man, Australian (Sept. 27, 2011), blamed-murder-on-innocent-man/news-story/ab5f5e62fe5 [].

[273] Stevie Simkin, Cultural Constructions of the Femme Fatale: From Pandora’s Box to Amanda Knox 199 (2014).

[274] Tina Brown, Foreword to Barbie Latza Nadeau, Angel Face: Sex, Murder, and the Inside Story of Amanda Knox vii, viii (2010).

[275] Richard Owen, The Dilemma for the Jury: Was This a She-Devil or All-American Innocent?, Times of London, Dec. 5, 2009, at 4. For another reference to Amanda’s eyes as indicative of her evil side, see Ellen Nerenberg, Murder made in Italy 248 (2012).

[276] Knox, supra note 268, at 299.

[277] See Transcript of Oral Argument of Carlo Pacelli, supra note 271, at 14.

[278] Jolande Jacobi, Complex/Archetype/Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jung 65 (Ralph Mannheim trans., Princeton University Press 1959).

[279] Id. at 56.

[280] Sigmund Freud, On the Universal Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love, in 11 The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 177 (James Strachey trans., 1957).

[281] Id. at 180.

[282] Id. at 183.

[283] Cf. (describing the “split in their love”). For a general discussion of “splitting” as a defense mechanism, see Nancy McWilliams, Psychoanalytic Diagnosis 99‒100 (1994).

[284] For the dichotomy of “sacred” and “profane,” see Freud, On the Universal Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love, supra note 280, at 177. For the point about projection, see Paul Gordon, Dial “M” for Mother: A Freudian Hitchcock 89‒90 (2008). See also Catherine Stimson, Forward, in Margaret F. Rosenthal, The Honest Courtesan vii, vii‒viii (1992) (describing the “common Western polarity in the representation of women” and men’s projection onto “women in general [and] the figure of the courtesan/prostitute in particular”).

[285] Cf. Gordon, supra note 284, at 89-90.

[286] See Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary 57 (1976).

[287] Genesis 3:20.

[288] Genesis 3:1‒24.

[289] 20 The Oxford English Dictionary 301 (J.A. Simpson & E.S.C. Weiner eds., 1989).

[290] See Vladimir Tumanov, Mary Versus Eve: Paternal Uncertainty and the Christian View of Women, 95 Neophilologus 507, 512 (2011).

[291] See Marilyn McCord Adams, The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: A Thought-Experiment in Medieval Philosophical Theology, 103 Harv. Theological R. 133, 133 (2010).

[292] See Accati, supra note 267, at 248.

[293] See id.

[294] Cf. Warner, supra note 286, at 51 (“That the Mother of God should be a virgin was a matter of such importance to the men of the early Church that it overrode all other considerations . . . .”).

[295] For a reference to Mary’s “sublime perfection,” see Warner, supra note 286, at 150. For Mary as an autonomous object of worship, see Burleigh, supra note 270, at 291.

[296] Burleigh, supra note 270, at 291.

[297] See John Pollard, Catholicism in Modern Italy 169 (2008).

[298] See supra text accompanying note 267.

[299] See Charles Killinger, Culture and Customs of Italy 67 (2005).

[300] Burleigh, supra note 270, at 293.

[301] Id.

[302] Id. at 294.

[303] Id.

[304] See id. at 293; cf. Edward Hutton, The Cities of Umbria 21 (2d ed., 1906) (“[T]he curious fresco La Madonna del Verde is certainly one of the earliest in Perugia”); Key to Umbria: Perugia Museo del Capitolo della Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, [] (describing the Madonna del Verde as “originally in fresco in . . . the old Duomo,” which was “heavily repainted” and “transferred to canvas in 1466”).

[305] Interview with Giulia Alagna, journalist and life-long resident of Perugia, in Perugia, Italy (March 4, 2016).

[306] Cf. Hutton, supra note 304, at 11 (“With hands raised she seems to deprecate our prayers and to bless us”).

[307] Interview with Claudia Marzella, in Perugia, Italy (Mar. 3, 2016).

[308] Shani D’Cruze, Sandra Walklate, & Samantha Pegg., Murder 48 (2006).

[309] Judith Knelman, Twisting in the Wind: The Murderess and the English Press 230 (1998).

[310] See Charles Brenner, An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis 51 (rev. ed. 1974).

[311] For an explanation of primary process thinking, see id. at 45–46.

[312] Id. at 51–52.

[313] John Webster, The White Devil, in The Development of English Drama 256 (Gerald Eades Bentley ed., Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc. 1950) (1612).

[314] Id. at 259.

[315] See id. at 272.

[316] See id. at 274.

[317] Id. at 273.

[318] Id. at 276.

[319] Id. at 278.

[320] Id. at 308.

[321] Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language 1827 (2d ed. 1947) [hereinafter Webster’s New International Dictionary].

[322] Robert Ezra Park, Race and Culture 249 (1964).

[323] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Julie, or the New Heloise II, 193–94 (Dartmouth Press 2010) (1761).

[324] Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life passim (1956).

[325] See id. at xi, 22.

[326] Id. at 19.

[327] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse, in The First and Second Discourses 37 (Roger D. Masters ed., Roger D. & Judith Masters trans., St Martin’s Press 1964).

[328] Knox a Victim of “La Bella Figura”?, VoxEurop (Dec. 10, 2009), [].

[329] Aaron Hamburger, Amanda Knox’s Cardinal Sin and Italy’s Dysfunctional ‘Bella Figura’ Culture, Matador (May 14, 2013), [].

[330] Dempsey, supra note 268, at 292.

[331] Louise DeSalvo, Crazy in the Kitchen: Food, Feuds, and Forgiveness in an Italian American Family 62 (2004).

[332] Id.

[333] Id.

[334] Telephone Interview with Flavia Brizio-Skov, Professor of Italian, University of Tennessee, Knoxville (Sept. 28, 2013).

[335] Gloria Nardini, Che Bella Figura 7 (1999).

[336] Steven J. Belluscio, To Be Suddenly White: Literary Realism and Racial Passing 200 (2006).

[337] Caroline Prosser, Living and Working in Italy 298 (2011).

[338] Rollo May, The Dangers of Innocence, in Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature 174 (Jeremiah Abrams & Connie Zweig eds., 1991).

[339] Ronald A. Sharp, Friendship and Literature 23 (1986).

[340] Id.

[341] Giuseppe Verdi, La traviata act II (Francesco Maria Piave libretto) (1853).

[342] Id.

[343] Pronounced Ah-lee-chay.

[344] See Verdi, supra note 341, at act III.

[345] Dempsey, supra note 268, at 17.

[346] Id.

[347] Knox, supra note 268, at 83.

[348] Raffaele Sollecito, Honor Bound: My Journey to Hell and Back With Amanda Knox 40 (2012).

[349] Knox, supra note 268, at 37.

[350] Rebecca Mead, Foreign Story, New Yorker (May 6, 2013), [].

[351] Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011).

[352] Id. at 11.

[353] Id.

[354] Id.

[355] Id. at 295.

[356] Patti O’Brien, Normal Weirdness in Seattle, Rolling Stone, Mar. 18, 1993, at 34.

[357] Id.

[358] See, e.g., Damien Simonis et al., Italy 561 (2010) (describing Umbria as “the only region in Italy that borders neither the sea nor another country”); Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls, Umbria 2 (4th ed. 2009) (“the only region neither to touch the sea nor to border another country”). Cf. Jonathan Boardman, Umbria 3 (2012) (“the only region of peninsular Italy without a coastline”); Ian Campbell Ross, Umbria: A Cultural History 1 (1996) (“peninsular Italy’s only landlocked region”).

[359] Interview with Claudia Marzella, in Perugia, Italy (Mar. 3, 2016).