A Time to Kill by John Grisham

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
A narrative account of the novel, A Time to Kill.

Submitted: September 11, 2010

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Submitted: September 11, 2010



In the small town of Clanton, Mississippi, a ten-year old black girl, Tonya Hailey, is on her way back from the market about a mile from her house when two white men kidnap her, Billy Ray Cobb and Pete Willard. Tonya was brutally raped and beaten to death. Fortunately, Tonya manages to survive and identify the men and have the two suspects arrested. Days later, as both rapists leave the courtroom, Tonya’s father Carl Lee Hailey, kills them with a M16 rifle. Faced with the consequences, Carl Lee hires the white and ambitious lawyer Jake Brigance to defend him. For ten days, an entire nation is consumed by the events.

At the same time, Billy Ray Cobb’s brother Freddy Lee is seeking revenge for his brother. Freddy enlists the help of the Mississippi branch of the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan, or the KKK, to plant a bomb under Jake Brigance’s porch and attacked his secretary Ethel Twitty and her husband Bud. As the trial progresses, KKK increases their attacks. They begin to burn crosses throughout Clanton and Jake’s house is burnt down that made him sent his family away until the trial. Still, Freddy Lee continues his efforts to get revenge for Billy Ray’s death.

Luckily, Jake manages to hang on and still fight to save his client’s life and his own. With the help of Ellen Roark, the law student from Ole Miss, Jake is able to prove to the court and the jurors that Carl Lee Hailey is not guilty. After the lengthy deliberations, the jury acquits Carl Lee by the reason of insanity. Although a lot of other fathers in town said that it was wrong of him to take the law into his own hands, they probably would have felt the same way as Carl Lee Hailey did and would have committed the same crime if their little girl had gone through the trauma that Tonya experienced.

The novel opens with the rape of little Tonya, though she manages to escape the physical distress but not with the mental and emotional scars that will be permanent. Grisham’s detailed and graphic account of the rape is disturbing. It will put the readers into a state of anguish and anxiety that will give them a feeling of hatred towards the antagonists. The plot focuses more on Carl Lee, as he struggles to find justice for his family. The organization of thoughts is gracefully arranged to give a more comprehensible touch.

The story evolves around Carl Lee and Jake. They are both tenacious when it comes to their families. Each chapter connotes a struggle of the main characters. Grisham has created its characters where the readers will be sympathetic to; it draws them from the very beginning to the end.

The novel is told from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, in a third person using past tense. This is the most comfortable view for the reader. Only an omniscient narrator can give the reader access to all warring elements, and none of the main characters could provide a reliable, unbiased report of the events. For example, when Jake’s house burns to the ground, the reader views the event from Jake’s vantage point and not from the other persona from the story. It is easy for the readers to comprehend especially with the dialogs of the characters and it does not compromise the finale of the story.

Jake Brigance is the story’s main character. He is liberal who easily mixes with all the social classes. Most of his clients are blue collar workers, predominantly black, generally unable to pay what he deserves to earn. As the book opens, Jake has successfully defended three murder suspects, including Lester Hailey, brother of the man whose case will soon become central to Jake’s life. Then there’s Carl Lee, the object of Grisham’s idea of reprisal. It is an indictment of racial injustices. The novel focuses on rape, racism and revenge.

Set against the backdrop on the fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi. The scene where the novel’s trials, preliminary and the Circuit Court, as well as the site of the bond hearings, grand jury and trial jury deliberations takes place at the Ford County Courthouse. It is the gathering place of all citizens, both black and white, who come to seek for justice. The grassy lawn of the square is the setting of the blacks’ candlelight vigil and the bloody clashes between the black demonstrators and the Ku Klux Klan.

The language used is quite explicit at times. The reader should have careful judgments before reading the book. It is a streamlined novel that portrays a vivid characterization of the characters. Grisham skillfully organizes his large cast. He quickly grabs the reader’s attention with his violent approach. Jake’s character justifies how committed a lawyer could get, that would cost him his ethics and his life. There are no standards except to fight relentlessly for one’s cause. Grisham describes how other committed lawyers suffer for the embrace of their cause. Further, Carl Lee signifies how far a father would go to protect his family. Grisham’s touch on the parent’s basic instinct to recognize the emotion of committing murder to secure the ones they love is very touching.

This is the best John Grisham book I’ve ever read. He immediately drags me into violence and hostility on its initial pages. The story takes me from the unthinkable, inhumane act that shows a struggle of justice and injustice.

Grisham drew me into the account. I felt like I was right there at the middle of the story seeing every occurrence. I went through with every emotion along with the characters for they were so believable.

This book makes me reflect of what I would have possible done if I’m the parent of a child that was raped. Maybe if I was Carl Lee, I could have done what he did. Like him, I wanted revenge, I wanted justice.

It is a beautifully written book though it invokes graphic details on the first part. The author’s brand of writing justifies Carl Lee’s killings that are so brutal, and because of the explicit details of the rape, it allows the readers to connect with the emotions of Carl Lee.

The book talks about three controversial topics – RAPE, REVENGE and RACISM. Also, it has lots of courtroom drama. It made me question my own beliefs; it made me look at things from a different perspective.

The plot is gratifying. Grisham knows how to amuse his readers with the cliff hanging twists. He is a real artist; he knows his craft very well. It evokes so much emotion from the readers. It opens our minds to racism and social issues that need to be addressed. He had me hooked. I could not stop reading it. I couldn’t wait to finish it for I could not put this book down. It is a definite page

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