What kind of social institution is literature? Through close study of literary and theoretical texts, we examine ways literature is understood as reflecting, conditioning, representing, subverting, performing, or constructing the ethics and values of societies and cultures. We focus on the death penalty and representations of violence and coexistence. Does literature depict the experiences of real people? How (and why) do we "identify"? How do these ethical aspects of literature relate to moments of social crisis or the maintenance of social stability? To social and cultural differences? We address such questions in a global literary frame.