This is my English Essay on John Grisham, enjoy!



John Grisham:

Does Pity for the Criminal Lead Society

To Question its Own System of Justice?





American Literature


April 21, 2000


It seems that everyone hates lawyers. They charge clients large amounts of money, and as today’s society becomes more and more obsessed with suing, their reputation diminishes further. The American author John Grisham worked for many years as a trial lawyer in Mississippi before he published a book. His first book, A Time To Kill, was inspired by a criminal case he observed, and a curiosity that kept nagging at him, "What would I have done in a similar situation?" Grisham illustrates lawyers as reasonable people who work hard for their clients. He attempts to draw the reader into his works by quickly establishing a conflict. These conflicts often occur as a flashback, with Grisham drawing out the scene in vivid detail, and then he then focuses on the criminal and gives the reader life from his perspective. Throughout his novels, Grisham tries to persuade the reader to feel compassionate toward the criminal, and by steering the reader down this path, he then attempts to cause society to question it’s own view of justice.

A Time To Kill focuses on the people and events surrounding a rape of a ten year old girl, Tonya, and the slaying of the rapists by the girl’s African-American father. The event is described in gruesome detail, and the two rapists almost kill the young girl. A passing car interrupts them, and they contemplate how to dispose of Tonya. "Let’s throw her off a bridge" Cobb proclaims (5). Tonya is found some time later by the local sheriff, who drives her home, and then to the hospital, where she stayed for many days in critical condition. Carl Lee, the father of the girl, confronts Jake Brigance, a local lawyer in the small town, and states that " I have no choice, Jake. I’ll never sleep till those bastards are dead. I owe it to my little girl…" (21) The sheriff arrests the two men and their arraignment occurs quickly. Feeling extreme rage for the damage these men have caused, Carl Lee shoots the men as they are leaving the courthouse. In the chaos he also injures a police officer that was escorting them. He also accidentally injures a police officer along with them.

Carl Lee is quickly arrested, and soon and his case is brought up before the grand jury that is responsible for indicting cases they believe should be brought before a jury. Grisham, establishing that the society around Carl Lee has compassion for what he did, has a character on the grand jury ask the sheriff presenting the case, "Suppose she got raped and you got your hands on the man who did it. What would you do?" (135) The sheriff has no reply to this. After much deliberation, the grand jury indites Carl Lee with twelve votes for, and six against. Grisham twists and pulls the plot, but he keeps a detailed record of what is going on. Carl Lee’s trial begins, and the small town becomes entrenched with the media, and men placing "free Carl Lee" place cards around, and chanting, "We shall Overcome". (326).

As the jury is picked, Jake and his associates carefully go down the list. Grisham makes it very clear that the African-American community supports Carl Lee wholly. Grisham shows the inequality in the United States system of justice by having Jake put every African-American on the list into his highest rating section, a 10, which means he believes they will return vote not guilty. Jake assumes that women will be unsupportive of Carl Lee’s need for retribution, and he places the majority of them in low score sections. Grisham’s view of the tainted legal system is extremely evident later when he pays off a doctor to claim Carl Lee is crazy to give the jury a reason for his acquittal.

Tim Appelo, a critic for, notes Grisham’s view of the corrupt system in his review, "Folks want to give Carl Lee a … medal, but how can they ignore premeditated execution? The town is split, revealing its social structure. Blacks note that a white man shooting a black rapist would be acquitted…" (1). The Contemporary Literary Criticism notes that, "A Time to Kill… has been praised ...for commentary on such controversial issues as racism and vigilantism." (190)

The Chamber appears to follow the same frame as his first book, A Time To Kill. In a very similar way, Grisham sets the setting is Mississippi, during the mid 1960’s amidst the great civil rights period in which the KKK was responsible for thousands of deaths while attempting to suppress African-American protesters. As the story begins, we are told Sam Cayhill is a member of the KKK, but this fact is unknown to the FBI. He is soon called upon to assist in a KKK bombing of a law office belonging to a Jewish man, who not only committed the "crime" of being Jewish, but also uses his own wealth to help promote African-American rights. As Sam Cayhill idly stands guard, often weary of the smallest noise, a man sets a fuse to detonate ten sticks of dynamite later the next day.

The bomb trigger on the dynamite was incorrectly designed, and early in the morning, the bomb goes off, killing two children. Grisham pulls the reader into the story almost 25 years later, with dam Hall, the book’s main character. Adam Hall is in fact the grandson of Sam Cayhill, and son of Eddie Cayhill, who committed suicide when Cayhill was sentanced. He joined a law firm that was providing pro-bono (free) assistance to Sam Cayhill. Adam Hall slowly explains the details surrounding Sam Cayhill, and how, after successfully avoiding prosecution two times, is convicted and sentenced to life. Adam expects help his save his grandfather, while at the same time hoping to discover family secrets that have been hidden from him.

Sam Cayhill was caught while he was returning to the scene and attempting to warn people that a bomb was going to go off. He was arrested for not yielding to a police car as he sat stunned from the blast in his own. The FBI extracts tests glass extracted from Sam Cayhill, and it is the same as at the law office. The connection is obvious, and Sam Cayhill is arrested as a suspect. Grisham attempts to make it appear that Sam Cayhill was forced into not explaining what really happened, that it was in fact someone else by having a lawyer assist Sam Cayhill who is in fact a KKK member. The lawyer instructs Sam Cayhill to, "…just keep quiet about Dogan. Deny everything. We’ll fabricate a story about the car. Let me worry about this. I’ll get the trial moved to … where they don’t have Jews." (Chamber, 15)

Throughout the story Grisham points out that no one in the system has any guilt for the death penalty. "Nobody really wants to kill me, but they’re just doing their jobs. … ask the guy who mixes gas and inserts the canister…he’ll say, ‘Just doing my job.’" (141) He also illustrates the unquality of southern courts, as with Sam Cayhills original two cases he was aquited by all white juries. "Brazelton picked good juries, all white, good sympathetic people who understood things. I knew I wouldn’t be convicted by those people." (137)

Critic John Skow, in his review of The Chamber questions the reader as to why Adam Hall, whos grandfather has no obvious love for anything, would want to help this man. He specifically asks, "So why fight? Adam doesn’t have a clear answer, and Grisham wisely lets the reader find his own. Perhaps it is because Sam Cayhill is a human being beginning to learn remorse…" (Skow, 1) John Skow agrees with the thesis that Grisham lures the reader into questioning the motives of the main character, and then in turn questioning society, and the system that left Sam Cayhill with his freedom not once, but twice, and then years later, when the status que changes, and he is brought back before the courts, is convicted of murder. Skow does believe that Grisham isn’t trying to persuade the reader into changing their opinion, but he is obviously portraying death row realistically in an attempt to have society as a whole question, "Is this how we want out system of Jusice run?"

Critic Ruth Coughlin also notes in her review of The Chamber that Grisham "…provides his readers an enormous amount of chilling and often gruesome information about what its like to be on Death Row.", and John Mortimer also notes that the lawyers hate the death penalty (Coughlin, 1). The prison workers dislike it, the warden is indifferent, for he is simply working for the system. The only people essentially for the death penalty are politicians that have no experience with jails and prisoners. This opinion is shared by Grisham, who throughout The Chamber, has his characters explain away their guilt, blaming the system, the state, or the legal system for their role in the eventual killing of Carl Lee. This points out that Grisham has forced even these critics to question the system, and to reflect upon it and again ask, "Is this what you really want?"

John Grisham’s life has been heavily influenced by law. Being a trial lawyer, and a politician himself for quite some time before becoming an author, gives Grisham’s stories a unique twist. Grisham takes from this experience many observations of issues that he feels should be addressed, because of their unjustness. These factors are incorporated around a story, and help him to express what he sees is wrong with the United States legal system, and political system, specifically the way society judges people, and how often people are given unjust trials, such as with both Carl Lee and Sam Cayhill’s first two cases where they both receive all white juries. Both A Time To Kill and The Chamber are books based on murder. In both a man murders someone because of something they have done against them, The difference is how they go about the killing, and why it was done.

In A Time To Kill Grisham focuses on a situation he experienced. A father forced to live with the fact that his daughter has been forever scared, and almost killed by two men, who most likely will serve almost no jail time and be out in a few years. He takes the law into his own hands, and in a vigilant manner, kills the two men who hurt his daughter. By later showing that the entire town, and people from the state support Carl Lee and what he did, Grisham attempts to persuade the reader to question what they themselves would do, who they would support.

The Chamber has at the base of its plot the same idea. Grisham asks the reader if they agree with the punishment imposed on someone for a crime they committed. In this case though the character had no motive for the killing, except pure hate. Grisham incorporates realistic writing, with vivid descriptions of the conditions of the Death Row with the feelings of the people around the case to make the reader question "Why send a man away to his death?" Throughout the story characters explain that it isn't what they want. The prison workers say that they just work there, the same with the warden. The inmates themselves believe that it is something that must happen so Mississippi doesn’t look like a lesser state than others like Texas who kill people regularly. The Governor who was the one originally who had the trial retried for the third and final time blames the death penalty on the citizens. Its what they want. It's what they're telling him to do. Everyone passes the blame, and no one appears to understand the conditions that inmates are forced to face. Grisham explains in vivid detail the last day of Sam Cayhill. The solitary room that he is forced to stay in, and then the long frightening wait.

Works Cited

Coughlin, Ruth. "A Review of the Chamber." The Detroit News 25 May, 1994, p 3D.

Grisham, John. The Chamber. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Grisham, John. A Time To Kill. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

"John Grisham." Contemporary literary criticism. Vol 84. 1994.

Skow, John. "A Time To Kill?" Time Domestic 20 June, 1994.

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