A Time to Kill is a book written by John Grisham in the late 1980s. Seven years later the film version of the book was short. The themes of justice, racial discriminations and punishment guarantee the popularity to the story. At the same time this book deals with the theme of moral justice. It shows the readers that the person can not be judged for the crime he committed but he should be charged on whether he had a moral right to commit this crime and the main character of this book, Carl Lee can easily prove it on his example.
The novel touches many important issues, uncovers many social problems and puts the racial problem in the focus of our attention again. May be, the themes are not new and are uncovered by many authors before but till the problems spotlighted in the movie exist, the themes of racism, social justice and capital punishment will be in the focus of attention. Most white people earlier hated black inhabitants and did not even hide their hatred: “The men talked about niggers in general, and chewed Red Man and sipped whiskey, and reminisced about the other days when niggers knew their place. Now they were just pampered and protected by the government and courts. And there was nothing white people could do”¯ (Grisham 91). May be some scenes and details in the novel are exaggerated but I believe that the artist has a right for creative approach in order to attract the attention of the public to the problem and show the shocking reality not in order to frighten and make us afraid, but to make us think and provoke the wish to change the reality.
Ten year old black girl Tonya is cruelly beaten and raped: “The blood and beer and urine had mixed with the dirt underneath her to form a sticky paste that glued her small body to the ground and crackled when she moved and wiggled”¯ (Grisham 3). Nevertheless, her assailants are very likely to come back without being imprisoned. Tonya’s father, Carl Lee, decides to restore the justice and kills the rappers before the eyes of multiple witnesses. A long process under Carl starts where his attorneys are threatened by Ku Klux Klan. The central question of the movie which keeps the attention of the audience is a question if a black man, such as Carl Lee can get a fair trial in the court where everybody, including judges, juries and attorneys are white. “You pick the right jury and you walk. If the D.A. picks the right jury, you get the gas. It depends strictly on the jury, and in this county you can pick the right folks.
People are tired of raping and robbing and killing”¯ (Grisham 62). The situation is complicated by the fact that he has killed two white men.
It is obvious that the book penetrates deeper that the social issues and racial problems of the society. It makes us think on the more important question. It makes us realize the difference between social justice and moral justice. We know that Carl Lee is accused of the double murder and we know that the murder is a social crime. But deep inside our hearts can not blame Carl and eagerly want him to be discarded despite the crime committed. What can any father feel if his daughter is raped and beaten? His daughter was terrible taunted: “Cobb strung a length of quarter inch ski rope over a limb”¦ he grabbed her and put the noose around her head”¯ (Grisham 4). Which legal laws or procedures can help the father’s broken heart and the daughter’s spoil body and soul? Emotional feeling of fairness does not always correspond to the legal one. The authors make us all admit that even murder can be justified. This probably shows that being humans means listening to our hearts and following the moral draws rather than blind following the written rules and regulations.
The verdict of the jury is not just a legal procedure; it deals with people’s lives and souls, that is why the person should be charged not for the crime committed. The jury should investigate whether the person had the moral right to commit it. Any crime is harmful for other people but under investigation should be taken not only the crime itself and its consequences but, first of all, preconditions for it. It is impossible to say that anybody has the right to kill but if we analyze the preconditions of Carl Lee’s crime it is absolutely evident that he had a moral right to do it. From the moral point of view hatred and deep contempt for black people from such people as Billy Cobb and Willard can not be explained, justified and excused: “Cobb opened another beer and explained that she was not dead because niggers generally could not be killed by kicking and beating and raping”¯ (Grisham 2). Carl Lee’s distress makes all people around him sympathize him. It seems that no normal parent can just sit and wait till his daughter’s rapists are caught and legally judged, especially taking into account racial discrimination at that time. Carl feels that he himself should make these people be responsible for their actions and other black people are able to help him: “Cobb could not find a bridge unoccupied by niggers with fishing poles”¦ He was scared now”¯ (Grisham 6).
The moral system of no country in the world can except when two grown-up men rape a small girl being absolutely conscious of their actions. They do not just rape her, but jeer and laugh at her: “For two six-packs now they had thrown their half-empty cans at her and laughed”¯ (Grisham 2). Carl Lee, the father of this poor girl, can not be charged for killing these two monsters because then there could be never find any fair punishment for them.
Carl hires a white attorney in a hope that he would be able to see the case from the same point as white juries and judge. “You see me as they see me,”¯ (Grisham 87). Carl tells his attorney making the stress on the abyss that divides the black and the white and different norms of justice and double-standards presented in the society. The incident splits the society into the black and white, poor and rich who stand for their beliefs.
Jake Brigance presents a romantic hero who still believes in fair laws and fair trials free of racial discrimination and division into the black and white and who finds himself in a very difficult situation when he faces all the unfairness and hypocrisy of the society. Ellen Roark, his energetic assistant, does a perfect job helping him to ruin the wall of incomprehension and prejudice: “”¦ you must plead insanity. You must give the jury a way out. You must show them a way to find him not guilty, if they are so inclined. If they’re sympathetic, if they want to acquit”¯ it is possible to win this trial (Grisham 114). The audience is caught by the complex and twisted relationship between Carl Lee and Jake Brigance. So different, they have to find their way to understand each other and we see how step by step they change their attitude to each other after some time spent together. One common goal unites them and makes them act as the whole unite. And finally we come to an unexpected conclusion: these people, who seemed to have nothing in common in the very beginning, are not so different in reality and there is something more that common cause which unites them. Generous and brave hearts, which are not afraid to challenge the whole society, they reach the success together and so expected, so desired words “not guilty”¯ are pronounced by the juries.
The story described has a happy end due to several enthusiasts, such as attorney Brigance and his assistant Ellen Roark but leaves the questions to the audience. What would happen to Carl Lee if he was not lucky enough to have Jake as his attorney? Why does Jake have to ask the juries to imagine the white girl instead of poor Tonya in order to make them sympathetic? How long will the racism and segregation show their ugly faces and make the innocent people the victims of the prejudices of the past? The book does not give the answers to these questions but it does another important task. It makes us think about them and doesn’t leave us indifferent. And this is the first step to resolve them.