A Critical Evaluation Of The Representation Of Crime And The Agencies That Deal With It In John Grisham’s “A Time To Kill”

4313 words - 17 pages

A Critical Evaluation Of The Representation Of Crime And The Agencies That Deal With It In John Grisham's "A Time To Kill" A Time To Kill was John Grisham's first novel, and by his own admission there is "a lot of autobiography" in it. This legal-procedural novel follows the trial of a black father, accused of murdering the two white youths who raped his ten-year-old daughter. The main protagonist is not the defendant, Carl Lee Hailey, but the young white "street lawyer" , Jake Brigance, whom he employs to keep him from the gas chamber. The central issue of the book is the justification for murder (as the title suggests), and the construction of a defence around the insanity plea to "give the jury a way out" of conviction. However, the novel itself is about more than just rape, murder, and the inside of a courtroom. It covers a plethora of other issues, such as unethical practices inside the legal system, racial hatred, a "˜sliding scale' of acts that range from highly criminal though to merely unethical, and the everyday struggle of those agencies and individuals that are required to deal with them. In this essay I shall provide a critical evaluation of the fictional portrayal of some of these issues.The primary agencies that deal with crime in this book are the individuals who comprise the courtroom and judicial system, including judges, jurors, police officers, expert witnesses and, most notably, lawyers. In this novel the "˜traditional' detective, usually either a police officer or a private detective, is replaced by a lawyer. Whilst both are portrayed as "˜questing for truth and justice', "˜traditional' detective stories centre around the apprehension of the "˜villain', whereas in a legal-procedural novel, such as A Time To Kill, the story centres around the courtroom procedures that occur after a suspect has been apprehended. In detective novels it is assumed that the detective is never wrong, and that once unmasked the courts will find the perpetrator guilty as a matter of due process. However, in the legal procedural the suspense is maintained by observing the complex dance that is trodden inside a courtroom, between the agencies dealing with crime, as the gulf between "˜the law' and "˜justice' is ruthlessly exploited.Although Grisham practiced law for 10 years, his writing style displays a certain ambivalence towards both lawyers and the law. Jake is Grisham's "˜Avatar', and there are many parallels between the author and his creation. Both represented people, not companies, making them street lawyers and Grisham believes that "much of what [Jake] says and does is what [he] would say and do under the circumstances." Grisham's portrayal of Jake strongly reflects his disdain for the role that market forces play in the legal system. Jake faces a constant internal struggle between his ideals and his driving wish to achieve the "˜American Dream'. For example, Jake's legal fees are "based...

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