The Brethren by John Grisham Analysis

Literary Techniques

Grisham opens The Brethren with a false court presided over by the imprisoned judges and a character who performs the duties of a bailiff but thinks of himself as the "court jester." This mockery of justice neatly foreshadows the opinion Grisham offers in this novel of the real court system, showing that it and the rest of government are not what they are supposed to be. And yet, in prison, the three ex-judges appear to pass fair decisions and help keep the peace, so Grisham shows us the positive aspects of a justice system even at its lowest. This does not, however, redeem the ex-judges.

Two main story lines intersect in this novel. The first is the squalid tale of the exjudges running their blackmail scam, and the second is the election plot, tied into an epic tale of an impending third world war. This thread seems like a classic spy thriller, except that it is only a sketch of a plot. Grisham zooms in on the first storyline, the tale of the fallen judges in mimesis, full close-up mode with extensive dialogue and description, while offering the secondary plot in diegesis, or summary-style story telling with indirect dialogue and exposition. When the characters from the secondary plot, Lake and Maynard, intersect with the first plot, then they are given scenes full of detailed description as they happen, especially with Maynard's agents, but this mimesis is in context of the first storyline, the blackmailing scam, and the second story- line always...

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The Brethren Ideas for Group Discussions

In many ways, Grisham's novel emphasizes milieu and theme over character and plot. Using thorough description, Grisham carefully paints a world inside a prison where a small group of men are doing something abhorrent. Readers gain a strong feel for the fictional workings of this prison scam as well as other aspects of the prison and justice system. Carefully intertwined with this environment is a secondary plot concentrating on theories about the function of our government and our election system. Thus, Grisham highlights many topics of importance in our society today.

1. In the CIA subplot, Teddy Maynard is willing to break laws and sacrifice individuals for the good of the nation. Does the fact that, unlike the other characters, he is not breaking laws for his own benefit justify his actions to any degree?

2. Does the lack of female characters affect your involvement in the novel?

3. What are the advantages to not including any protagonists?

4. Does reading a novel which weaves such a realistic web of details around its characters affect how you view similar real life figures such as judges and politicians at all?

5. Much of the body of the novel is dialogue. Does the dialogue sound realistic to you? What criteria can you use to tell if dialogue between character types you may never have met such as judges or CIA directors is in fact realistic? What effect does this have on your perception of the novel?...

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The Brethren Social Concerns

At its heart, The Brethren is full of warnings for our society. The novel displays a frightening distrust of American officials and government. The three blackmailers are former judges of varying levels from different states, suggesting widespread corruption among our justice system officials. Not only are they all guilty of crimes to begin with, showing great fallibility in those most trusted to safeguard justice, but they have dedicated themselves to full-time crime in prison. While all were caught by the system, the sense conveyed is that they are not exceptional but typical, and any confidence the legal system regains by the fact that they were caught and convicted is lost when we see the innocent Buster in prison because of the poor judgment of a prosecutor and yet another judge.

The novel includes lawyers in its indictment of legal professionals with its portrayal of the immoral lawyer Trevor Carson. Grisham makes his characters seem very realistic, almost too much so. They have drinking and smoking addictions, marriage problems, gambling interests, exercise habits. Grisham appears intent on showing us that the legal system is full of individuals who are not above corruption and criminal activity.

Despite his indictment of the legal system, Grisham embeds the majority of his warnings in his second plot thread, pointing out the dangers of trusting the behind-the-scenes machinations of those in the intelligence community. First, he...

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The Brethren Literary Precedents

Tom Clancy novels are obvious contemporary models for the world military/political intrigue plot in The Brethren. This subplot is also reminiscent of older spy thrillers such as the classic La Carre novels. The view of society as corrupt has roots in hard-boiled detective novels such as Raymond Chandler's, Dashiell Hammett's, or Ross MacDonald's.

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The Brethren Related Titles

After rising to fame with adventure/ chase novels in The Firm and The Pelican Brief, John Grisham has been experimenting with different narrative forms within the legal fiction subgenre. He is a legal expert, and his novels go into great detail on aspects of the legal profession such as ambulance chasing, jury deliberation, and inheritance law in The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, and The Testament, respectively. In The Chamber, Grisham focuses on the death penalty and its execution. With The Brethren, Grisham continues to focus on the legal system by having his main antagonists be ex-judges in prison, partnered with a crooked lawyer. However, Grisham continues to attempt to develop his range in this novel, not only staying far from any real courtroom action but including a full-fledged spy plot for the first time.

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