Now this is a novel I read after watching the film, both are amazing at portraying the racial tension present in 1980s Mississippi as well as other themes but I’ll go into those later.
Now to give you all a little introduction…
In Clanton, Mississippi; Tonya Hailey, a 10 year old African American girl, is viscously raped and beaten to within an inch of her life by two white supremacists. Her father, Carl is rightfully outraged at this incident he seeks revenge. Most of the white community are equally outraged, that is until Carl murders the two men. Carl is charged with capital murder carrying a death penalty sentence if found guilty. In his hour of need, Carl calls upon Jake Brigance, a white male attorney to represent him.
With a team beside him, Jake must find a way to convince a more than likely all white jury to spare his clients life. This proves more difficult when he also has to protect his own life. There’s more than just two lives at stake…
“I want to tell you a story. I’m going to ask you all to close your eyes while I tell you the story. I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to yourselves. Go ahead. Close your eyes, please. This is a story about a little girl walking home from the grocery store one sunny afternoon. I want you to picture this little girl. Suddenly a truck races up. Two men jump out and grab her. They drag her into a nearby field and they tie her up and they rip her clothes from her body. Now they climb on. First one, then the other, raping her, shattering everything innocent and pure with a vicious thrust in a fog of drunken breath and sweat. And when they’re done, after they’ve killed her tiny womb, murdered any chance for her to have children, to have life beyond her own, they decide to use her for target practice. They start throwing full beer cans at her. They throw them so hard that it tears the flesh all the way to her bones. Then they urinate on her. Now comes the hanging. They have a rope. They tie a noose. Imagine the noose going tight around her neck and with a sudden blinding jerk she’s pulled into the air and her feet and legs go kicking. They don’t find the ground. The hanging branch isn’t strong enough. It snaps and she falls back to the earth. So they pick her up, throw her in the back of the truck and drive out to Foggy Creek Bridge. Pitch her over the edge. And she drops some thirty feet down to the creek bottom below. Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to die. Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.”
(That quote above is when Jake is talking to the jury and is actually one of my favourite from the book)
For 10 days, burning crosses, burning homes, the KKK and sniper fire fills the streets of Clanton…all for one trial and two men.
The book mainly focuses on racial inequality…about how if this was a white girl, what verdict would they give the father? Why should skin colour change this view point? Why should one person be treated any differently to another if both had the same actions?
“And until we can see each other as equals, justice is never going to be even-handed. It will remain nothing more than a reflection of our own prejudices”
This book isn’t make believe…in fact John Grisham took inspiration for this book from a real life case. In 1984 at the De Soto County courthouse in Hernando, Grisham witnessed the harrowing testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim Marcie Scott and her 16 year old sister Julie. However, in this case – the girls were white and their assailant, Willie Harris was black. Grisham began to explore what might have happened if the girls father had murdered her assailants. In the three years following this harrowing trial, Grisham wrote A Time to Kill.
“Perhaps the most horrible crime of all is the violent rape of a child. A woman who is raped has a pretty good idea why it happened. Some animal was filled with hatred, anger and violence. But a child? A ten-year-old child? Suppose you’re a parent. Imagine yourself trying to explain to your child why she was raped. Imagine yourself trying to explain why she cannot bear children.”
Whilst this book will make you angry and make you cry and parts make you smile, it gives you a real insight into life in the 80s, when race meant everything and how if you believe in something enough, you should fight for it.
DON’T GIVE UP, NO MATTER HOW TOUGH IT GETS!
“Lucien had taught him that fear was good; fear was an ally; that every lawyer was afraid when he stood before a new jury and presented his case. It was okay to be afraid – just don’t show it.”
The sequel to this novel Sycamore Row ( I didn’t realise there was one till recently), will be an upcoming review of mine.
Below are the links for the film and the book!