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Walter Dean Myer’s book Monster depicts how the American legal system functions. The primary theme of the story is to examine how a person who commits a crime is arrested, convicted, tried, and punished. This book looks at the legal system through the eyes of a young, African American teenager. He paints horrible images of life in jail (but keep in mind… this is a detention center or equivalent to juvenile hall, not the state or federal penitentiary). Further, Myers brings to point that everyone who is sentences to this facility is to be punished, whether they are guilty or innocent. By the end of the story, Steve has a different outlook… things are typically not as bad as you initially think they are… it is all in how you view things.
Walter Dean Myers' novel Monster is about a sixteen-year-old African American male named Steve, a teenager who may or may not be guilty of being an accomplice to a homicide, but whose depiction by the prosecuting attorney as subhuman (as, in a word, a "monster") and whose treatment in the criminal justice system is as depraved as the crime of which Steve is accused, could foreshadow a ruined existence with more than one victim. Steve, however, is a perceptive and creative young man whose depiction of his own journey through the criminal justice system lends Myers' novel a unique perspective into a system that has swallowed thousands of such individuals. If Monster has a theme, then, it is the dehumanizing nature of that justice system, its propensity for casting too-wide a net in its zeal at punishing minority youths, and the seemingly arbitrary way in which individuals condemned to the live on the wrong side of the tracks can find themselves pulled into the labyrinth that is the criminal justice system. In structuring his novel, Myers not only establishes as his protagonist a young man with a gift for documenting his observations, but employs the "Rashomon" technique of describing the same event from myriad perspectives, with Steve's constituting the most important one. Additionally, the author's use of screenplay format to illuminate his protagonist's promising future as a writer lends this novel an added element of poignancy.
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