Monday, October 11, 2010

A Time to Kill by John Grisham

A Time to Kill by John Grisham is a suspense novel which involves many characteristics of the post African-American voting rights era. Grisham sets his novel in the town of Clanton, Mississipi in the 1970's. In the opening statement of this very graphic novel, a nine year-old African-American girl is being raped by two drunk, white men. The two men, Pete Williard and Billy Ray Cobb, are overheard bragging outside of a bar of the inhumane beating they had placed on this young, black girl. Soon, they are arrested by the police and brought to trial. Before a verdict can be reached, Carl Lee Hailey, the girl's father who remembers a similar case like this in the south where four men charged with rape and were acquitted, takes matters into his own hands and kill the two men immediately after the trial with an assault rifle, without hearing the fate of the men. He accidentally wounds his friend, who is the deputy escort, but he forgives Carl saying he would have thought of the same actions if she were his daughter. Now Carl Lee must face his own trial, which is threatened with a death sentence. Especially because of the southern atmosphere, a black man is most definitely going to be prejudiced because of the color of his skin. "In your opinion, could Mr. Hailey receive a fair trial in Ford County?" says Brigance to a witness, "No, sir. You couldn't find three people in this county of thirty thousand who have not mad up their minds...There's just no way to find an impartial jury" (Grisham 245). Now it is up to the young, white lawyer, Jake Brigance, to bring the jury to acknowledge Carl Lee's insanity while facing numerous death threats from many Ku Klux Klan members.
With a nearly impossible task at hand, Jake Brigance must fight the powers of bigotry and the hubris of the southern community, all the while attempting to remain out of harm's way. At the beginning of the novel, Brigance is a stereotypical southern white male who is partially racial and must overcome his past thinking in order to win a virtually inevitably loss of a case with the law.
Discussion Questions:
1. Jake does have the choice to rig the case so that he would not have to risk his life for a meaningless man in his life. What would cause Jake to jeopardize his life for a black man's in a time when African-Americans are considered inferior?
2. As a father, Carl Lee feels the need to claim revenge for his daughter's rape by killing the two white men. Was it morally right for Carl Lee to take the lives of the white men by possibly sacrificing his own? If he had not taken matters into his own hands, then what would the consequences of doing nothing be?


Kelsey M. 11/12 said...

I think question two poses the age old conflict between what is wrong and what is right in times of injustice. Yes, what the white men did was gruesome and horrible, but is it acceptable for Carl to kill his fellow man out of revenge? This brings me to the cliché, "Two wrongs don't make a right." But then you also have to think about the era that the characters are living in. People living in the South at this time were very racist and many trials involving African Americans mostly went in favor of the white people involved. In that case, is it wrong to stand up to injustice? It is very unlikely that the white men would have been punished for their actions, so I can understand why Carl killed the white men. If he would have done nothing, these men would probably be running free and still able to harm others.

russell F 11-12 said...

I think that what Carl did was totally reasonable. If I were in the same situation I would have acted similarly. It is acceptable to kill your fellow man when your fellow man does not view you as an equal. To the southern white men he is an animal. Its true you should forgive people who wrong you but I think there is a line, and when the government treating you like dirt you have a right to fight back. Its sorta what our country is built on.

Eric Y 13-14 said...

Kelsey- so do you think Carl had to kill these men or are you more sided with the government? I understand that the two wrongs dont fix anything but I believe Carl had to do this deed, otherwise he'd be stuck in a life of guilt like Orleanna from Poisonwood.

Russell- I agree, considering the time period and his skin color, Carl would not have a shot with the justice system. Also, if I were in his shoes I am pretty sure it would be nearly impossible to retaliate. Sometimes I do believe in the "eye for an eye" approach, these men should have received the death sentence, but not always should man kill fellow man.

Cieran B. 5-6 said...

1. A reason why Jake would risk his life is maybe he commited a misdeed in the past and is trying to make up for it by helping Carl. In that way maybe Jake is looking for redemption.
2. It is not right to commit the act of murder however at the time white men could kill black men and get away with it. So did Carl do what was morally right? I believe that is a yes and a no. Yes that it was right for those white men would have gotten away and committed the same crime again. No to the fact that he could leave his daughter fatherless and that would be a huge negative impact on her.

Eric Y 13-14 said...

I agree with with the possibility of Jake trying to redeem himself, but I think he goes through with this case because he feels it is what he must do to be considered a good person. I still feel that if Carl had not acted, those men would be walking free and harming other fathers' daughters. I feel he was only morally right because he feels he must save his daughter and contribute to society to help make blacks equal.

Greg P. 13-14 said...

While not morally correct, Carls actions were completely understandable. In that time if he did not take it upon himself to punish those who hurt his daughters, they would not have been punished at all. He did what he felt was needed to be done. After he killed the men, he (as i understood from above) turned himself in so he too could receive his punishment.