The Firm by John GrishamBeneath the Surface: Use of Detail and Description
[(Essay date 10 June 2011) In this essay LM will analyze Grisham’s choice of details and use of imagery to foreshadow imminent events and reveal elements of the plot.]

John Grisham’s novel The Firm is an example of a work in which numerous layers of meaning must be considered in order to get to the heart of the story. Many elements of this story’s plot rely heavily on subtle clues and details hidden within the literal meaning. On a surface level, the events that take place are suspenseful and rapidly paced, providing action and surprise twists. A much deeper understanding of the text, however, can be obtained by careful analysis of the author’s choice of details. Vivid imagery is common throughout the work, and it serves a more significant purpose than to simply describe physical appearances. Each detail is carefully chosen and placed so as to provide some insight into a character’s personality, or to foreshadow imminent events. In all instances in which precise detail is found, it conveys a message beyond the literal, thus enhancing the meaning of the text.

One image which is the focus of much of the story’s description is that of the Bendini building, the site of the infamous law firm for which the novel is titled. This building is central to the plot because of the illegal dealings which are concealed within its walls. Grisham’s descriptions of the physical structure of the building are not inherently important in and of themselves, but their value comes from the inferences that can be made regarding their connection to the rest of the text.

The Bendini building is a huge brick structure located in the heart of Memphis. From Mitch McDeere’s first day at the law firm, he notes the mysterious and foreboding nature of the company, which pervades the physical description of the building, and Mitch’s new office in particular. “The office was fifteen by fifteen, with two six-foot windows facing north and staring directly into the second floor of the old building next door. Not much of a view…The walls were Sheetrock and bare” (Grisham 65). Each detail included here is not arbitrary, and does not serve merely to set the scene. Rather, each one offers insight into an aspect of this corrupt company. The walls, bare and made of sheetrock, are reminiscent of the walls of a prison cell, which is quite appropriate given the fact that no lawyer in the history of Bendini, Lambert, and Locke has ever quit the firm and lived. Details like this create a sinister environment and reveal the fact that something important is being hidden within these walls. In addition, the mention of the windows, which are generally associated with transparency and truth, and their very limited view shows that there is much more going on within this firm than what Mitch can see.

The fifth floor of the building seems to be where all the firm’s secrets are kept, and as the novel progresses, the fifth floor comes to serve as a symbol for the barely concealed deceit that this company operates on. "The were no law offices on the fifth floor of the Bendini Building…a thick concrete wall sealed off the remaining third of the floor. A small metal door with a button beside it and a camera over it hung in the center of the wall and opened into a small room where an armed guard watched the door and monitored a wall of closed-circuit screens…The windows to the outside were sealed with paint and covered with blinds" (38). The heavy security here indicates that the firm has something that they go to great lengths to hide. This leads Mitch to believe that this is not an average law firm, and that important information is being hidden from the new employees. Grisham devotes many paragraphs to describing various aspects of the Bendini Building in detail, all of which build on the foreshadowing of the firm’s true purpose.

Grisham uses detail and imagery to emphasize not only the suspicion that surrounds the Bendini Building, but also to establish the characters’ personalities. The characters that Grisham creates are multifaceted in the sense that they are originally presented as having distinct and concrete roles, but these roles will shift, and in some cases even completely reverse, as the story progresses. Just as a first impression of a person in real life is based mainly on physical characteristics, so too does Grisham create an initial impression of a character using physical attributes. These descriptions are very telling, and each detail included is representative of some aspect of personality. One particularly noteworthy description is that of Nathan Locke, whose menacing appearance parallels his role in the story. “It was the eyes, the cold black eyes with layers of black wrinkles around them…His hair was white and thin on top with thickets around the ears, and the whiteness contrasted sharply with the rest of his face. When he spoke, the eyes narrowed and the black pupils glowed fiercely. Sinister eyes. Knowing eyes” (72). It has been said that the eyes are windows to the soul, and certainly that saying is true in this case. Grisham chooses to include these details about Locke’s eyes in order to make a statement about his role in the story. His eyes are knowing eyes because he is one of the masterminds who controls the money laundering and fraud that is the true purpose of the firm. The blackness of his eyes conveys a sense of cruelty, the sinister intent of his position in this grand crime scheme.

Working in opposition to the high-ranking lawyers of the firm are the FBI agents, the leader of whom is named Tarrance. Tarrance’s goal throughout the novel is to expose the corrupt dealings of the firm, and Mitch is his tool in this quest. “Mitch studied him carefully. He was about forty, with a short military haircut on the sides and a wisp of gray hair hanging almost to his eyebrows. The suit was a three-piece, navy in color, made of at least ninety percent polyester. The tie was cheap, imitation silk. He wasn’t much of a dresser, but there was a certain neatness about him. And an air of cockiness” (123). Tarrance’s description portrays him as being tough, stern, and serious. Everything about him, from his simple suit to his short haircut, point to the fact that he is focused on his goal and nothing else. All that matters to him is that he will be responsible for bringing down the firm, regardless of the danger this may pose to Mitch. These characters’ outward appearances are, in essence, an expression of their innermost intentions.

A large portion of the novel takes place on the Cayman islands, a string of secluded, exotic islands in the Caribbean which emerge as a crucial location in the Bendini firm’s secret operations. It is a regular practice at the firm to send associates to the Cayman islands for vacation. It’s true function, however, like most elements of this story, is well concealed but hinted at through deliberately placed details. The mere suggestion of this setting implies the criminal nature of the business that the firm undertakes. Much information can be obtained from even the most basic description. “Grand Cayman was twenty-three miles long and eight miles wide in places, but from the air it looked much smaller. It was a small rock surrounded by clear, sapphire water” (149). The island’s small size makes it seem relatively insignificant on a global scale, and allows it to remain inconspicuous. This, in addition to the isolated location of the island, helps to establish this location as a hiding place for the headquarters of the firm’s most condemning and illegal work. Though the true importance of the Cayman islands to the Bendini Firm is not yet known at this point in the plot, Grisham foreshadows its role with his choice of description. He also uses descriptions of weather in relation to the Cayman islands in order to set the tone and build the framework for the events that will follow. "Gray and white clouds, the trailing remnants of the storm, lay low on the horizon and sank with the sun. Slowly they turned shades of ornage and yellow and red, pale shades at first, then, suddenly, brilliant tones. For a few brief moments, the sky was a canvas and the sun splashed its awesome array of colors with bold strokes. Then the bright orange ball touched the water and within seconds was gone. The clouds became black and disspated. A Cayman sunset" (311). The description of the sunset is more than simply beautiful- it represents a major shift. Up until this point, Mitch has worked as a loyal associate for the firm, only occasionally questioning its work or its integrity. It is on his second trip to the Cayman Islands with his wife that he begins to realize that all his doubts and fears are well founded, and that the Bendini Firm is much more dangerous than it might appear at first glance. The shifting sky parallels Mitch’s shifting perspective and his sudden realization. The stormy skies, symbolizing the fraudulent and criminal aspects of the firm, quickly give way to a beautiful, luxurious sunrise which could almost make one forget the sinister storms just prior. It is later revealed that the Cayman Islands have served as the site where illegally obtained money is stored. “The planes left dirty and came back clean. Once the money landed on Grand Cayman, a lawyer on board handled the required payoffs to Cayman customs and to the appropriate banker. Once deposited, usually in unnamed, numbered accounts, the money became almost impossible to trace” (484). Clearly the description of the Cayman Islands as a relaxing vacation destination is designed to contrast the scandal that is rooted there.

Grisham has crafted a powerful storyline in this work, and he is able to draw the focus to his most important points through his careful choice of detail. Descriptive language is used here as a tool for the exposition of subtle clues, without ever spelling them out. Imagery and description are effectively used to foreshadow components of the plot that will later emerge on the surface, and this technique adds depth and insight to this work. (LM 2011)

The Confession by John Grisham
The Death Penalty

(Essay date 10 June 2011) In the following essay, S.J. discusses the religious feelings and emotional responses evoked by the wrongful conviction of Donté Drumm and the unfair usage of the death penalty in the town of Slone.

“Thou shall not kill” is one of the sacred Ten Commandments. Politics and religion often intermingle and Grisham effectively incorporates spiritual beliefs into the formed opinions his characters have or begin to have of the death penalty, which is part of the state of Texas’ judicial system. The wrongful conviction of Donté Drumm, a 17-year-old black male who was forced to confess to murdering Nicole Yarber, a 17-year-old white female classmate of his, even though he had nothing to do with it, sparked many emotional responses. His family was devastated and unwilling to believe that he committed this awful act. Nicole’s family, especially her mother, Reeva Pike, mourned at their loss and held anger for Drumm, anxiously waiting for the day he would be executed. Along with the topic of religion and its relation to opinions of the death penalty, Grisham also depicts several rampant emotions throughout The Confession with his many characters.

Robbie Flak, Drumm’s lawyer, worked relentlessly for ten years trying to save his client from the lethal injection that would end his life forever. He knew that Drumm’s confession was forced as a result of Detective Kerber’s intense interrogation techniques and that there was practically no evidence that Drumm killed Nicole except for one witness, Joey Gamble, who later admitted to lying in court. However, the jury found Drumm guilty regardless of the lack of proof of the murder. Therefore, the unfair sentence of death caused many to refer to the Bible and God’s clear opposition to killing.

Reverend Keith Schroeder, after witnessing his first execution, joined several anti-death penalty groups. “Sixty dollars later, he felt like a certified abolitionist” (372). He knew that the victim was innocent because the real killer, Travis Boyette, had approached him days earlier for guidance and a confession of guilt. To transport a rapist/murderer miles away towards a town he’s never heard of, is extremely brave, but it also takes a toll on the mind and leaves a person to question or ascertain their opinions based on the experiences they encounter. Even as a dedicated preacher, Reverend Schroeder previously did not think much about the death penalty, but based on his viewing of Drumm’s execution, his opinion on the subject became very resolute. No human being, especially those like Drumm, who are innocent, should be put to death on account of their charges.

Dana Schroeder and her husband both believed, after the wrongful execution, that the death penalty was morally wrong. “As a minister, he steadfastly refused to mix politics and religion…However, after witnessing the execution, Keith was a different person, or at least a different preacher. Suddenly, confronting social injustice was far more important than making his flock feel good each Sunday” (360). The minister realized that religion does play a big factor in political decisions because of the moral relation that ties the two together. He preached to his congregation of the horrors of the death penalty, asking them if Jesus would have permitted it.

Martha Handler, Roberta Drumm, Cedric, Andrea, and even Robbie Flak, all opposed the death penalty throughout Grisham’s heart-wrenching novel. The emotional impact that Drumm’s conviction and eventual death had on the defendant, his family, and his lawyer was tremendous. The solitary confinement and lack of physical and social contact took a toll on Drumm’s body and his mind. Although he still remained sane, he gave up all hope of God helping him escape the social injustices that were setting such a burden upon his shoulders. Faith and hope were decimated even from the recesses of his mind and Reverend Schroeder, his permitted counselor minutes before his lethal injection, could not convince him to still hold God close to his heart. However, he was not bitter and proclaimed his innocence in his final words.

Roberta Drumm last heard her son say he loved her before he drifted away forever. A parent witnessing their child’s death is often said to be worse and more painful than a child witnessing their parent’s death. For Roberta, her pain and suffering was obvious throughout the novel. When she dressed her dead son in his suit for his viewing, she was distraught:
She gently placed her hands on his cheeks and kissed him on the face-the forehead, the lips, the nose, the chin-she kissed him and kissed him as her tears dropped like rain. She had not touched him in eight years, the last embrace a quick, stolen hug as they led him out of the courtroom the day they sentenced him to die, and as she wept now, she remembered the unspeakable agony of watching him hauled away, the leg chains rattling, the fat deputies crowding around him as if he might just kill someone else, the hard, smug faces of the prosecutors, the jurors, and the judge, proud of their work. (297)
She always believed that her son was innocent and never lost faith in him. The emotional impact when she found out that the real killer was discovered, after he led them to Nicole’s body buried in a toolbox, was profound. She had previously preached to protesters against the execution of Drumm, asking them to stop the violence because it only destroyed the memory of her son. After the discovery of the real killer, the memory of the wrongful execution of Drumm would always live on, leading many religious people and others to change their minds about the death penalty.

Joey Gamble, although a hardcore drinker, was still emotionally impacted by Drumm’s execution. A few days before the execution, Fred Pryor tried to convince him to sign an affidavit declaring his words in court a lie. Grisham depicts his emotional reactions through lines such as “He uncovered his face, wiped tears, and said ‘I’ve lived with this for a long time’” (246). The guilt weighing on Joey is also evident through his drinking addiction. Many people deal with their depression and sorrows through alcohol; Grisham uses Joey as one of them.

Throughout The Confession, Reeva Pike cheered and actively supported Drumm’s death, holding much animosity for him because he killed her daughter. For ten years, she was angry, bitter, and upset. Grisham, through use of dialogue and characterization, shows her to be a very strong individual with unrelenting opinions that she shares with the media repeatedly. Her emotional state changes after the execution when the real killer is produced. She does not know what to think, and Grisham does not give many details as to her state of being except that shock has overcome her.

Grisham skillfully applies religious and emotional implications into The Confession. Donté Drumm’s wrongful conviction and execution took a toll on all of Slone. The citizens were somewhat divided over race, either cheering on the execution or actively opposing it. The football team was especially involved what with the black players refusing to play in an important game on execution day. Witnesses of the execution, like the Reverend, affirmed their opinions of the death penalty. Religious views were altered slightly for some and Grisham vastly covered the emotional impact on everyone involved and those watching the whole ordeal unravel in front of them. These details that he incorporated were strongly relatable and relevant to the topic of the novel, the death penalty.

(S.J. 2011)

A Time to Kill by John Grisham
Tainted Justice

(Essay date 10 June 2011) In the following essay, S.J. examines Grisham’s skillful use of setting and characterization to demonstrate the town of Clanton’s racial acts and administration of tainted justice.

In Ford County, Mississippi, in the small town of Clanton, racial prejudice still exists, like in several of the other southern states, and divides many of the white and black people that live there. Grisham demonstrates the hatred some citizens still hold for blacks by repeatedly utilizing the “n” word. The appearance of the Ku Klux Klan for the trial of Carl Lee Hailey, a black man awaiting conviction for mercilessly murdering two young white males that brutally raped his ten-year-old daughter, Tonya, frightens and endangers Clanton. Hailey, because of his ethnicity, receives what could be considered an unfair trial that consists of an all-white jury and takes place in the very town where opinions about him have already been formed because of the judge’s denial of Hailey’s lawyer’s request for a change of venue. Grisham displays this obvious tainted justice in his powerful novel through means of the setting and his many characters.

The northeastern states, in contrast to many of the southern states, consist of groups of people unwilling to accept the death penalty and other harsh convictions. Therefore, the law is different up in the cities because of people fighting with the ACLU and opposing what they feel are barbaric sentences. Ellen Roark, who becomes Jake Brigance’s law clerk, is astounded when she encounters the law in Mississippi. “Whose law? It’s not the law in Massachusetts” (Grisham 302).

The setting of A Time to Kill resides in the south where it is clear that racial tensions still exist and the law has executed many people, considerably more people of color by means of tainted justice. Throughout the novel, Grisham’s characters discuss that a trial for a white man who killed two black rapists would be an entirely different ordeal that would not require as much work as Hailey’s defense does. The white man would most likely be freed, but the black man could potentially receive the death penalty, which would only happen in racist southern states, like Mississippi.

Jake Brigance is offered Hailey’s case and endures much of the people’s vast hatred. A few members of the Ku Klux Klan attempt to blow up his house with dynamite, but one member is caught by Ozzie Walls, the sheriff, before the property can be touched. Later, the Klan succeeds in burning Brigance’s house to the ground and beating his law clerk, calling her nasty names that relate to her supposed love of black people. “She saw the white robes and pointed hats, and tried desperately to spit out the oily, cotton rag crammed in her mouth. She managed only to gag and cough” (432). The Klan’s disruption of peace and orderly conduct in Clanton should have been a reason for Judge Noose to accept Brigance’s change of venue request. However, tainted justice continued to be served to Hailey as he heard of many of his supporters being threatened by the dangerous Klan and its leader, Stump Sisson, while locked up in the town’s jail.

Brigance filed another change of venue request to Judge Noose when the Klan burned crosses in twenty of the potential jurors’ lawns. Noose denied the request once again because of time concerns and Brigance responded, “What’s time when a man’s life is at stake? We’re talking about justice. The right to a fair trial, remember, a most basic constitutional right” (381). Because Hailey was a black man, a change of venue would only be fair in order to accommodate some black people on the jury.
During the trial, Brigance becomes more endangered when threats to kill him arise. Members of the National Guard escort him from his law office to the courthouse and a shot is fired, paralyzing a soldier standing right next to Brigance, protecting him. “‘This is kinda silly, ain’t it?’ he had just said to Jake when a bullet ripped through his throat. He fell into Jake, grabbing at his neck, gurgling blood and screaming. Jake fell, and was tossed to safety” (427). The dangers of defending Carl Lee Hailey become even more apparent, but Brigance, although severely shook up, does not give up on his client. Grisham, throughout his novel, portrays Brigance’s courageous attitude and determination to win his client’s case in order to become a successful and famous lawyer, but also to conquer the awful tainted justice.
The rape of Tonya Hailey was an important cause of Hailey’s murders, but the justice system did not allow much discussion about the rape because according to the state’s prosecutor, Rufus Buckley, it was not relevant to the case. He briefly mentions the rape at the beginning of his opening statement, saying that no matter the horror of the act the white boys committed it was no reason for Hailey to take justice into his own hands. However, if it was a white man convicted of murder, the situation, according to the defense, would have been much different in that the rape would have been considered vastly important and a conviction would not have been plausible. Again, Grisham, through his characters, shows a presence of tainted justice.

Wanda Womack, one of the jurors deciding the result of the case, convinces the other jurors to listen to her and carefully contemplate her reasons for a vote of not guilty. Womack is a foil to Jake Brigance and tells the jurors exactly what Brigance had been trying to subtly do throughout the entire trial. “She told them to pretend that the little girl had blond hair and blue eyes, that the two rapists were black…And then she told them to imagine that the little girl belonged to them-their daughter” (513). Because of this courageous white woman, the jury voted to not convict Hailey of the murders of Cobb and Willard. Tainted justice, although administered throughout the whole trial, was not served in the end.

John Grisham’s setting in southern Mississippi, in the town of Clanton, holds many racial white folk. Carl Lee Hailey’s trial brings in the influence of the Ku Klux Klan. The people in the small southern town, by means of an all-white jury, denial for a change of venue, and disregard of the rape of Tonya Hailey, administered tainted justice. Grisham skillfully portrayed his characters as both sympathetic and violent towards the trial and excellently laid out a proper setting. His depiction of tainted justice was suspenseful and creative.

(S.J. 2011)

The Runaway Jury by John Grisham"The Case of Moral Versus Legal Justice"
[(Essay date 10 June 2011) In this essay LM will examine the idea of moral justice compared to legal justice. LM will analyze Grisham’s use of the legal system to create a social commentary.)
The American court system has always prided itself on its commitment to fairness and justice, and it is a prominent symbol of these virtues. John Grisham, in his novel The Runaway Jury, creates a compelling plot through the juxtaposition of the legal system, which serves as the main setting, with the tangled and highly unethical events which unfold within this context. The fact that the entire plotline centers around the law and the court system leads to an interesting commentary on the nature of justice. There are strict rules and codes of ethics under which the main characters are expected to operate. Throughout the story, they bend these rules and even break them, without ever getting caught. Out of all of this arises a central theme of the novel- the idea of the difference between legal justice and moral justice.
A character’s actions may often just barely fall within the boundary of what is considered “legally just,” but still be a blatant violation of what we would consider to be morally just. This contradicts the common perception that the law serves to enforce principles of ethics and morality. Grisham begins to establish this contrast from the very start of the story, with each side’s investigation into the private lives of potential jurors. In the landmark trial that is the central focus of the story, each side, the plaintiff and the defendant, has its own idea of what justice should entail, and will go to extremes to ensure that the outcome is in its favor. As the plot progresses, the principles of justice and fairness all but disappear in the face of the manipulation and deception that takes place. This can be seen in the way that the lawyers on either side of the trial pull strings and employ questionable tactics to make certain that the people chosen for the jury will be sympathetic to their side. “Jury consulting firms” are hired by each side to follow potential jurors, conduct searches of their homes, and dig deep into their pasts. “Carl and his associates flirted around the edges of laws and ethics, but it was impossible to catch them. After all, there’s nothing illegal or unethical about photographing prospective jurors” (Grisham 5). The vast majority of the lawyers in the novel operate based on the mentality that if their actions can be considered legal, however close they may be to unlawful, then they must be perfectly acceptable. Never once does the idea of morality or righteousness cross their minds.
The only juror who is aware of these suspicious developments from the start is the mysterious character of Nicholas Easter. On occasion he shares this information with the other unsuspecting jurors, who feel shocked and violated. “The law forbids them to directly contact any prospective juror before selection, so they do everything else. They probably photographed your house, car, kids, husband, place of employment. They might have talked to co-workers, or eavesdropped on conversations at the office or wherever you eat lunch. You never know” One juror responds to this revelation, saying, “That sounds illegal, or unethical, or something.” Easter replies, “Something. But they got away with it because you had no idea they were doing it” (93). The irony of all of these events is that they occur as the result of a trial which has the intention of maintaining justice and upholding the law. The ideals of the justice system are blatantly disregarded by all but a few characters, which sets up a striking contrast between idealism and reality.
Grisham continues his bold statement on the ideas of justice and ethics through the characters of Nicholas and Marlee. At first Nicholas is just another person called for jury duty in the trials against a major cigarette company. However, Nicholas’s role in the story quickly evolves into one that is much less innocent. It becomes apparent that his presence on the jury is very much deliberate, and that he has an agenda all his own. With the help of his conniving girlfriend Marlee, he too effectively infiltrates the legal system with his secret scheme to make millions. While the jury consultants and hired men on both sides interfere and meddle in the lives of the jurors, bending the laws to their breaking point, Nicholas works from the inside to manipulate and influence the decisions of his fellow jurors. As a result, the idea of justice is undermined by those who are designated to be fair and impartial. Nicholas’s lies and mind games may not be inherently illegal, but they are certainly immoral and have a significant impact on the outcome of the trial. The lawyers are so desperate for a victory in this case that they are willing to “purchase a verdict” at whatever price it may come. Marlee, working closely with Nicholas, negotiates with the defendant’s lead council. “Fitch, my friend is controlling the deliberations even as we speak. He’ll have his votes long before the lawyers stop talking” (354). From the start this case has been tainted by greed and personal agendas, and it becomes progressively more so. Grisham creates a significant shift in the story, from a trial which aims to deliver a fair and just verdict, to one that depends almost entirely on money and greed. “I’m in it for the money, Fitch…We have worked for this moment. It’ll work because all the players are corrupt. My partner and I are corrupt. Corrupt but smart. We pollute the system in such a way that we cannot be detected” (532). The utter corruption here is even more shocking because it is set against the backdrop of the American judicial system, which, in theory, should be the supreme voice of fairness. Laws are being broken, but more importantly, so is every single moral guideline known to govern reasonable human beings.
A clear contrast is created between the ideal of justice and the kind of justice that Grisham’s characters believe in. This contrast is strengthened as the twisted morals of those in power begin to seep into the personal lives of innocent jury members. The men involved in these schemes choose to disregard not only their legal obligation, but also any form of conscience they may have. When men who are professionals entrusted with the task of promoting justice take it upon themselves to meddle with others’ personal lives for the sake of greed, this demonstrates the ultimate perversion of ethics. Grisham has effectively taken a longstanding American symbol and turned it completely around.
The concept of justice seems to be completely lacking when the plaintiff’s side sets a trap and attempts to blackmail Millie’s husband Hoppy so that he will convince his wife to vote with the plaintiff. It is far from fairness when the defendant sends his hired men to follow Stella and her husband on their vacation in Florida, where both are confronted and threatened. And morality is certainly nonexistent when Nicholas and Marlee poison Frank Herrara, a blind seventy-year-old juror, just days before the trial is set to end, without any regard for the danger this might present. “There was no evidence of an imminent heart attack…He remembered an odd taste to his coffee, then he was on the floor” (546). It is clear that principles have no chance when faced with greed and corruption. Throughout the story, it becomes clearer that just because something is legal, it is not necessarily morally right. And just because something is established by the justice system doesn’t guarantee fairness or even justice. In this novel, victory and money seem to trump any ideal. “We have to win…You understand? We have to win. Spend whatever it takes” (374).
On the surface, Grisham’s novel seems to be a typical mystery novel. However, layered within this piece is an insightful commentary on the nature of justice and its role in society. This work effectively demonstrates the way in which an ideal can be twisted by greed and corruption to the point where it is no more than a mere suggestion, easily disregarded and thrown away. The judicial system has typically stood as a symbol for fair and unbiased justice in its purest form. The strength of this symbol emphasizes the tremendous gap between true justice and the kind of philosophy that guides the main characters. This piece is an example of how values can become twisted and tainted, and Grisham effectively structures the novel in such a way as to illuminate this phenomenon. (LM 2011)

by John Grisham: Symbolism and Growth

[(Essay date 3 June 2008) In this essay RP will discuss John Grisham’s ability to focus on the conflicting aspects of the human persona.RP will concentrate on Grisham’s usage of time, symbolism and character development]

Every great author is capable of using ordinary objects and creating them into significant and meaningful stages of life.John Grisham capitalizes on this ability, and exploits the beauty and confusion of existence.Bleachers focuses on the hardships of living in a small town and the difficulty for one man to comprehend whether the influence of a high profile, intense and brash football coach enabled him in life, orrestricted him from attaining incredible goals.

Time is such a vast and vital element to life; time can generate healing, peace, and understanding; however, it can harbor guilt, anguish, and resentment.When the promise of potential and possibility are brewing, time appears limitless; however, when reality and despair emerge, restrictions and boundaries evolve.Grisham displays the importance of utilizing time to the fullest by labeling his chapters, not numerically, rather by the days of the week, beginning with Tuesday.This immediately sets the tone for the audience that the narrator has no intention of delaying the overall message that time cannot be halted or reversed and that with each decision made, there are consequences to be accounted for.

There are numerous repetitions of the word “slowly,” “driving slowly along the road to Rake field…All movements were slow now, all thought weighted heavily with sounds and images of another life” (2-3).Neely Crenshaw was slow to move on from his own ordeal when he realized that he would never reach his ultimate life goal of playing professional football.The small, simple town of Messina, Mississippi was slow to fathom the idea that their beloved number 19 would never be able to play again.Fifteen years had rapidly passed them by and they were unaware that anytime had elapsed, instead Crenshaw was hearing, “the drum corps of the band, and the deafening sound of the bleachers rattling as the fans jumped up and down” (6-7).Grisham places into perspective that life is not going to wait for anyone, no matter how much a single person would like to savor the moment of triumph and victory, the circle of life will continue on.Each day has a special purpose, and it is the responsibility of that individual to capitalize on that blessing.Grisham wanted to show the importance of utilizing an individual’s time wisely, each chapter-each day, was critical in developing the main character’s personality and background.Grisham focused on Crenshaw the Messina High School football star, not Crenshaw the man, because Crenshaw was still caught up in his own high school dreams; “And you haven’t given it up.You’re still living back then, still dreaming, still the all-American quarterback” (14).Being unable to grow from troubling and challenging experiences greatly affects the individual, because all the time exhausted on self-loathing and bitterness will never be reimbursed, and all that time could have been produced to create greatness.

Time is an intangible object and is not guaranteed, and it is the responsibility of the beholder to take advantage of the opportunities presented.
The Bleachers in the Messina Stadium are a reoccurring image and reference throughout the work.They represent all that is good and evil in the minds of the Messina football players.The Bleachers were moments of glory, punishment, fame and sorrow.The Bleachers encompassed moments where Crenshaw was painted a hero by the townsfolk and ten thousand fans stood and chanted his name; the Bleachers were instances where the players dreaded practice because they “ran bleachers until we puked” (15); the Bleachers were the setting where heroes became legends in the midst of their glory days; and the Bleachers were the location where young Scotty Reardon lost his life when trying to uphold the respect of Coach Rake. The Bleachers are more than just an area for workouts and cheering sections, they represent the depth and strength of life.The Bleachers seem to be forever growing and changing and they take on a new identity with each new batch of students, fans and generations.The Bleachers have endured the equal amount of pain and happiness and they continue to reach new heights; each stand, gate, row, rail, section and seat contains a story; they enclose a life story.

Although different players, fans and coaches will trample on those steps, the Bleachers remain stable and firm, unwavering under the pressure.The Bleachers mirror the continuation of life and that there will always be a new phase or generation, there will always be bliss and heartbreak, heroes and villains; however, life does not stop to admire those instances.Those moments will occur regardless of the faces and names; “Little had changed.Different coaches, different players, different cheerleaders, different kids in the band, but it was still the Spartans at Rake Field with Rabbit on the mower and everybody nervous about Friday…another year, another team, another season” (105). “The bench is hard” (80) but life goes on anyway.

The story of Bleachers centers around Coach Eddie Rake; however, he lies in wait on his deathbed, never interacting with the main characters.He was the reason for quite some time that Neely Crenshaw despised the game of football.

The complexity of Rake’s character is terribly important because it is emphasizing the density of human nature.Rake highlights that life and people are not strictly black and white but the beautiful variety of shades of gray.Rake is blunt, harsh, severe and impatient and expects nothing short of excellence from his players and those that he encounters on a daily basis.He invokes fear and thrives upon horror and insecurity.Rake pities the weak and is unwilling to accept failure.As much as he can be hated, he is loved because of his passion for life and winning and his dedication to those loyal to him.

Rake personifies the balance of good and evil.He is human and his character portrays him making mortal mistakes although he is idolized as a legend.Rake fits the stereotype of the old-school male dominant character and being a High School football coach only adds to that labeling.He sees weakness in showing true compassion and expressing his love, and the only way he knew how to convey his emotions was by barking orders.

The purpose of Rake was to show that love can be demonstrated in an assortment of ways and love is prevalent in almost all situations regardless how dismal it may seem.Never allowing his boys to accept failure, or being allowed to quit was his way of preparing them for the outside world; taking on the role of the authoritative role model that each boy needed in their life was the burden he accepted in hopes of making them stronger and better.

However, this also was a message to prove that despite how wise a person may be, there is always opportunity to learn and grow as an individual.Life is about change and adjustment, and even though certain methods may have worked in the past, it is not guaranteed they will result in success once more.Bleachers is a reflection on the human growth and existence of life and that each individual must possess the appreciation toward the journey of that new found enlightenment and acceptance; “And when they name of Eddie Rake was mentioned, he would smile and maybe laugh and tell a story of his own.One with a happy ending” (229). (RP 2008)

A Painted Houseby John Grisham: Correlation of Rural Life and World Problems

[(Essay date 12 June 2008) In this essay, RP will examine Grisham’s connection of everyday life and global concerns; as well as, the importance of gender roles in American society in the early 1950s in the south.RP will discuss Grisham’s views on the church, roles in economic status and the stigmas of the minorities and poor.]

The best writing occurs when authors write about what they know, and John Grisham follows this advice with his novel A Painted House.Grisham tells the story of a young boy, Luke Chandler, and his coming of age in the summer of 1952 while picking cotton on the family farm in Arkansas.These adverse situations test seven-year-old Luke and force him to mature much faster than any little boy should; however, not only does Luke learn from these set of circumstances, but he ignites his family, as well as, the town to open their minds to different people and different ways of thinking.

Living in a mundane and country town, life becomes routine and habitual.Life in 1952 in the Deep South was like living in the 1800s.The majority of families did not know what it was like to experience indoor plumbing, running water, talking on the phone, watching TV or listening to the radio; and everyday, except Sunday, they worked.The children were not excused from hard labor, but instead, were required to reach quotas.Life was about consistency, “Pappy drove thirty-seven miles per hour” (2) and he was not willing to change even though the times were, thirty-seven worked before when driving the automobile, and that is the speed that will generate the most effectiveness now; “the truck belonged at that speed.”It was not about compromise when dealing with the traditions of the South and each family had their set code in handling matters of the farm.

Being a citizen of a small town requires its habitants to be aware that an individual’s business becomes the town’s gossip, regardless of the social standing in the town.This is their one true form of entertainment, and is consistent for most townsfolk because when a scandal breaks, it brings to light another topic of conversation instead of it revolving solely around farming, cotton and the weather.It is unfailing that the farmers and their families will have something to worry about, whether or not the floods will come or if the rain will be substantial for the fields; they only add to the load in their minds and carry a bigger burden when the local news hits about murders, pregnancy and war.

For being such God-fairing people, Luke’s neighbors, and even his own family, are incredibly driven by gossip and scandal; especially the women.The men are more preoccupied with generating a “good crop” for the summer months and to pay off their countless and mounting debts.The poverty stricken Latcher family was the center story of Craighead County when their fifteen-year-old, unwed daughter was rumored to be pregnant.In their dire circumstances, families would bring them an abundance of food so that the young children would not suffer from the burden; however, the townspeople’s’ kind hearts were not the sole cause for this outpouring of love, but their burning desire to know whether or not Libby Latcher was indeed living in sin; “We’d return in a few days with another load of produce in a second attempt to confirm the rumors.As long as they kept Libby hidden, the Latchers would be well fed” (125).Young Luke was capable of spotting the deceitfulness of these acts; however, his mother was doing a noble thing of bringing her own grown fruits and vegetables to the unfortunate Latchers; there were still other intentions behind it.

Religion partakes in a vital role in Luke’s story and Grisham illuminates the fact that not all Bible swearing individuals are decent and respectable; however, when certain people revoke the faith and the church, then they are criticized for not being good people, in general.Since the Latcher family are sharecroppers and have their own stigma in the town, when they come forth that Ricky Chandler is the father of the baby, Gran’s words are “The Latchers are not trustworthy people.They’re not good Christians; that’s how the girl got pregnant” (214-215).Immediately the reason as to why the girl became pregnant was because she did not go to Church every Sunday; there are no negative declarations of the young man who religiously attended mass with his family, the golden boy that is currently fighting in the Korean War; instead, all the blame and persecution is placed upon the fifteen-year-old.

In such a small, quaint town, religion can easily become the centerfold of all events.They pray for the good, the bad, the unfortunate and the less fortunate.Since there are not many other outlets to adhere oneself to, they become wrapped up in the social atmosphere of church and the bond that is created.However, there is an air of superiority and the belief system that conformity is the only way to survive.The preachers and voices of the Church take it upon themselves to spread the word of God, and truly believe that a better world would exist if they would give up their ineffective ways and embrace the Christian way; “giving money so we could send more of our people to places like India, Korea, Africa, and China.Jesus taught that we should love all people, regardless of their differences.And it was up to us as Baptists to convert the rest of the world” (162).Unconditional love and the acceptance of others is the word of God, not forcing and policing the world to become the mold of America.During the 1950s the threat of Communism was at its full strength, and the Korean War only heightened such fears that Communists would invade, kill and brainwash America’s and God’s children.Brother Akers was the spokesman for Craighead County; however, there were countless other preachers similar to him that believed enforcing the word of God was as respectable as allowing individuals the right to choose.Brother Akers fueled on invoking fear on his patrons, etching into their minds the wretchedness of Hell and the cruel and horrible things that would happen to little boys and girls if they were to deceive God and sin; “He was subdued that morning.He was preaching on love and charity, not sin and death, and I don’t think his heart was in it” (162).A man of God should get as much pleasure and satisfaction speaking the words of love and goodness, as he would when spewing the words of hate and destruction.However, Brother Akers is a representation of what Church and God should be the opposite of; one does not become religious for recognition, acknowledgement, or fame; one should embrace God for personal matters and for inner solace and strength.

The Korean War hit close to home for Luke because his Uncle Ricky was serving; however, Ricky seemed like a world away, brought to life by “Mr. Murrow’s reports and Ricky’s letters, we lived the war” (34).Each member of the Chandler household had their unique way of dealing with such a traumatic event of having their son/brother/brother-in-law/uncle fighting a lifetime away.Even when all seemed normal on the farm, any spare moment of thought was given to Ricky and an outpouring of prayers to have him return home safely.Ricky’s term and his family’s coping with it represent what it is like for any family enduring a loved one serving overseas; and even though the Chandler’s may be have a different standing economically than those that live in the north, or have it better financially in the south, they still hurt and feel the same way.They still possess the same guilt for sleeping in a safe, warm bed when their loved one is fighting in the trenches being shot at from every possible angle; when they are eating a freshly cooked meal, and their loved one is just trying to make it through the night not thinking about food; when they complain about having to complete their chores and work and their loved one is sacrificing their life on a daily basis.There are so many instances that make them feel grateful not to be in that situation and so terribly distressed worrying about their well-being.Ricky fighting in the Korean War also reflects that war affects everyone, from the farmers to the white collar workers, as horrible as war is in how it keeps families apart; it is also the driving force that can unite people nationwide that are enduring the same heartache.War plays a part in everyone’s lives; even the townsfolk because, they too, feel connected since they were once a component of their upbringing.

Stigmas and stereotypes are prevalent in Craighead County when dealing with the farmers, sharecroppers, the hill people and the Mexicans.The Chandlers were more terrified of their name being connected with the Latcher family than being associated with Hank Spruill who killed a kid during a Saturday brawl; “the town would seize the rumor as if it were the gospel truth, and the Chandler blood would be forever tainted” (219).The hill people are resentful to the farmers they work for because they have the reputation of being ignorant, dirty, incestful creatures.However, the Mexicans have the biggest hardship because under the wrong leadership, they are given little to no rights or respect.They are expected to work and slave in the fields without being given proper shelter, food, and forms of transportation.The Mexicans were just hardworking and generous people that just wanted to focus on work and did not want to complain for fear of losing their jobs.“They were in a trailer again, an old one with planks for sides and nothing over the top to protect them.It was true that cattle had it better” (16);the Mexicans were treated as animals, and although certain people wanted to see their conditions and treatment change, some farmers (like Luke’s family) wanted to look out for their laborers; however what it ultimately came down to was produce, and the farmers and the Mexicans just wanted to work.This directly relates to the times of the 1950s when civil issues were just pushed under the rug.If it was not mentioned or talked about than these problems did not exist; minorities were not considered of importance to the masses because they had no power in society, they were used and abused under the wrong authority.

Women also faced stereotypes in the south and during the 1950s.Gran and Luke’s mother were expected to tend to the house, feed the family and do their part in the fields picking cotton.The day in a life of a woman was never complete, once dinner was finished, it was their job to clean up and start preparing for tomorrow’s meals; “We cleared the table and placed our dirty dishes in the sink.Pappy would never consider washing them; that was work for the women” (190).Women are able to withstand the pressure of whatever life chooses to throw at them, and it is their responsibility to keep the family moving forward in a positive direction.They were under the orders and notions that women were to be seen and not heard, that they mind their place in the home, fulfilled their duty as caregiver, but when it came to making decisions regarding the family, it was the job of the man.Luke’s mother wanted more for him and for herself and dreamed of once again living in that painted house, like she did when she was a young girl.Luke’s mother wants to engrave within her son respect and gratitude toward women, and by educating him, she hopes to further his appreciation for all people.

A Painted House symbolizes Luke’s gradual transformation, as well as, his family’s as they embark in a new and unknown phase in their lives.Grisham’s novel explores that small, rural towns experience the same triumphs and downfalls, heartaches and bliss that people nationwide endure.Although people may be separated geographically, they all experience the same events and learn and grow from tragedies and hard times and prosper and thrive when correcting their mistakes.

(R.P 2008)
A Time to Kill by John Grisham
“The Law vs. Vigilante Justice”

[ (Essay date 14 June 2009) In this essay SD will discuss the theme of criminal justice vs. vigilante justice in John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. SD will focus on Grisham’s use of dialogue and description.]

“Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, and intolerable one.” (Thomas Paine, 1776, Common Sense).
In the town of Clanton any father of a ten year old rape victim would avenge his daughter’s rape by killing the rapists. Any father in America would consider killing a rapist of a little girl. John Grisham uses the conflict of what is right according to the law and what is right according to society to create an intense drama of criminal justice vs. vigilante justice.

The novel A Time to Kill addresses the conflict between criminal justice and vigilante justice. John Grisham is known for his legal dramas and writes in a descriptive suspenseful way. Grisham creates a case that is not black and white but gray. The main character Carl Lee Hailey kills two white men who raped his ten year old daughter. Carl Lee Hailey is a black man in a small southern town with deep rooted prejudices and strong moral convictions.

Through pages of suspense and detail Grisham uses dialogue to portray the feelings of the small town. The most impacting exchange of dialogue in the novel is when Officer Looney forgives Carl Lee in court and tells the jury “’He’s a hero! Turn him loose!’” (p.422). Looney is the representation of pure human understanding. Though Looney has every right to condemn Carl Lee for accidentally shooting him, he forgives Carl Lee. Looney stands up to the social paradox of racism and proclaims to his community that he would have done the same thing if his daughter was raped. Looney represents the true feelings of the community and the true meaning of justice. Grisham manipulates the dialogue to engross the reader in the rich story of social justice, and creates suspense through the accidental shooting of Looney.

He also uses a wide array of minor characters to create a realistic town. Dell, Cat, Ozzie, Lester, and Lucien are only a few of the realistic characters. Each character is significant in the case of Carl Lee. Carl Lee’s attorney is able to reveal the impact the case has on the community through dialogue with the minor characters. Dell represents the blue collar work force and how they feel about the case, Ozzie represents the black public official, and Lucien is the outside omniscient view of the criminal case.

The novel has many themes including the theme of racism. The small normally quiet town of Clanton becomes the battle ground of the KKK and NAACP. The two extreme groups are symbolic of the larger battle within the southern justice system in the early 1990s. Though law regulations had desegregated schools and restaurants, de facto segregation was and still is an issue. Grisham wanted to make his reader come to the realization that though civil rights laws had been passed injustice still occurred. (SD 2009)

The Innocent Man by John Grisham
“Corruption of the Judicial System”

[In the following literary criticism S.D. discusses the way in which Grisham uses straight facts of a small town criminal case as an allegory to the corruption of the American judiciary system]

“An earthquake achieves what the law promises but does not in practice maintain - the equality of all men.”~Ignazio Silone

The basis of The Innocent Man is the true story of Ron Williamson’s life. A small town hero turned neurotic debauched town nuisance. Ron Williamson is wrongly convicted of a rape/murder along with Dennis Fritz. Grisham uses the case to voice his opinions on the death penalty and to tell the public about the mistreatment of prisoners especially those on death row. Grisham writes in a necessary factual manner to ensure the deliverance of facts. Grisham manipulates the facts to show the corruption of the American judiciary system.

The novel has minimal dialogue even in the courtroom scenes. It is apparent Grisham used Williamson due to his blatant mistreatment and the neglect of Williamson’s mental instability. Grisham uses factual instances of neglect and obvious manipulation of Williamson to show the cruelty of prison guards. In the novel the prison guards force Williamson to overdose on his medication which leads to further mental instability.

Unlike his other works there is a definite good and evil force, the evil being Glen Gore and the prosecutor Bill Peterson. Grisham uses Bill Peterson as a symbol for all dishonest attorneys. Grisham’s message is clear throughout the novel he uses the evidence of the case to build his own case against the American judiciary system. He also uses the theme of injustice in a small town. The town felt Williamson’s was a nuisance and many were willing to testify against him. The false confessions and sloppy police work also contributed to the injustice and allow the readers to feel the pain of injustice.

Grisham writes in a way in which the average person can put themselves in the place of Dennis Fritz. Dennis Fritz is innocent and was assumed guilty by association with Ron Williamson. Dennis Fritz is not the main character, but the character easiest to identify with. Grisham uses this character to pull in the average person who could be caught up in the injustices of the American judiciary system. (S.D. 2009)