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A Time to Kill

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“A Time to Kill”, a novel written by John Grisham and set in Canton, Mississippi in 1995 can be considered a cynical update to the classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, a novel set the 1930’s old South of Maycomb, Alabama.  Although there are considerable comparisons between the two novels such as the political themes and perspectives, many contrasts are also evident.

The following are some facts about A Time To Kill by John Grisham:

  • Publishing Date: 1989
  • Publisher: Wynwood Press
  • Setting: United States - South - Clanton, MS
  • Genre: Legal Thriller

“A Time to Kill” credits a young white lawyer as the story’s main character.  He can be regarded as short on experience but long on bravado.  When a black man kills the two white men who raped and brutalized his young daughter, in a moment of pure vigilantism, this young lawyer, Jake Brigance, takes on the case. 

A Time to Kill

A Time to Kill and To Kill a Mockingbird

Comparatively in the novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, when a black man is wrongfully accused of raping a white woman, Atticus Finch, a white lawyer takes on the case, despite the consequences to his family.  These two men both believe in a legal system that will prove a man innocent despite his racial heritage.  They feel the need to point out the inadequacies that a white man would be acquitted or a black man would be convicted.

Both stories address the political perspective of the judicial system of our nation.  While trying to believe that justice will prevail, each novel suggests the circumventing and distortion of justice plain and simple.  In “A Time to Kill”, the father recalls a incident in the previous year of “four white boys who raped a black girl over in the Delta last year.  They got off, didn’t they?”  This sets the premise to the story that the father feels he must take justice into his own hands rather than rely on the legal system.  Brigance wants to make the reader believe that vigilante justice is not necessary and that the legal system of the United States will prevail.

Brigance tries to move the trial out of the immediate area but is denied with the judge’s assessment, “It is impossible to find a fair and impartial jury in Mississippi.”  Unfortunately the entire story is riddled with illegal manipulations throughout the legal system. 

Racism in A Time to Kill

There are KKK confederates among every branch of the system and the ‘good guys’ with Brigance even bend the rules to obtain evidence.  The prosecutor manages to keep black people off the jury and the jury decides on a guilty verdict even before all the evidence is presented.   Despite the racial content, the book, “A Time to Kill” like “To Kill a Mockingbird”, is a more a statement on justice and the legal system of the United States than racism and discrimination.  Atticus Finch accept the controversial case in “To Kill a Mockingbird” only to stand off with a mob attempting to lynch his client before he is even tried.  He accepts the case without hesitation even though there are consequences to his entire family.  The public does not want justice they want retribution regardless if it must come from an innocent black man. 

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