Two reactions are a constant from readers on reading John Grisham’s A Time to Kill
One idealistic, self-confident and liberal white lawyer, Jake Brigance, the protagonist is enough to influence the racial prejudice of the Mississippi citizens and bring about a judicial change. The second reaction is one of awe when the reader’s realize that it is Grisham’s first work of fiction.
Quantifying Jake’s idealism is difficult.
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On the one hand he is opportunistic enough to take up an offer that does not seem to be very promising just for the fact that it is closest to his home town (Grisham, 1989, page no.30). But he is a man of extremely disciplined habits as described in Chapter 3. But what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong in the opinion of Brigance. His idealism is distinguished for two very pragmatic qualities attached to it.
He is aware that a high profile case can make him very popular and by inference very rich if he succeeds (or may be, even if he is not). But he is also aware that he might be let off if HE as a white had dispensed vigilante justice if HIS daughter had been brutalized and in that possibility his client Hailey, was being denied natural justice.
He was incapable of watching it from the sidelines and he ends up taking the plunge. In the face of several surreal obstacles that crop up, he is in a situation where he seems to be left with nothing in his own words “I’ll have no wife, no daughter, no house, no practice, no clients, no money, nothing” (Grisham, 1989, page no.464). Still he labors on towards what he believes is justice.
Towards the end of the story, his friend and mentor Lucien offers to bribe a juror (sisco) to hang the jury. With so much hanging in the balance for him, his professional and personal life and for his client, Jake rejects his offer. That is the kind of idealism Jake brings to the narrative but makes it so believable by the several instances of drinking binges he allows himself in moments of despair. Idealism is the only fuel that has brought about most instances of human greatness, but Grisham ably depicts that it must be very hard, almost breakingly so, for its practitioners.
They are sure to be plagued, as was Jake, that a compromise seems safer and so much better, through out the journey towards your goal. It makes the reader ask him/herself sheepishly in their own private recesses, how many they have taken the easy way out. This firm belief in an ideal and the compassion to pursue it no matte what, affects the jurors, the community which they come from and ultimately the entire Mississippi to take cognizance of the silent racism and do something about it.
A prerequisite to follow one’s heart when the entire world seems to preach that the journey is not worth it is a self belief, Self-confidence. Jake possesses this quality in ample measure though not of the aggressive variety hung for exhibition around professional boxers or say ball players. When one of the rapist’s mother comes to seek him out as her son’s counsel and tells his secretary that he heard he is the best criminal lawyer in the county he replies “Tell her that’s true. But I’m not interested” (Grisham, 1989, page no.34)
He is quietly confident that he has the fire to pursue a case so controversial and also hopes that he would be able to succeed. He has the confidence required to continue with his efforts in the face of increasing and scathing criticism of his stand, his foolhardiness and their possible consequences.
The most invisible characteristic of any crusade (this case for Jake was no lesser than a crusade) is not the belief of its proponent in the theory but his belief in his fitness to carry forward such a task. It is a rare single general, scientist or leader who is not plagued by self doubt and the sensibility of his cause, pursuit or research. Any pretensions to such all pervading belief would be arrogance and that is not the measure of any idealistic pursuit.
The one factor that keeps winning over all the small demons in several rounds of small battles within the confines of the mind and continues to show the way when all the flickers of hope are extinguished is SELF-CONFIDENCE. When a theory or appoint is made with such conviction and self-confidence many in the audience are forced to acknowledge the leanings towards such honesty.
The compassion and the confidence in his being right which becomes clear in Jake’s summation helps the Juror Wanda to come up with the honesty to face the truth about their prejudice and help other jurors to face theirs with the ingenious way of closing their eyes and simulating her auto suggestions in their mind9Grisham, 1989, pages 504 &513) It is small wonder that Jake’s client was acquitted with unanimity.
The vision that Jake had of a white man being acquitted if he happened to enforce vigilante justice just passed on to the jurors through the sheer force of his belief and confidence in his own self. Being right is generally very transparent. Only prejudice requires masks and veils