Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The Firm is a typical suspense novel, ending in a hair-raising chase with the protagonist and his associates being pursued by two powerful and dangerous forces. As a typical example of this genre, The Firm is not overly burdened with theme or meaning, since its primary purpose is obviously to hold the attention of the reader. The novel is, in the popular parlance, a “page-turner,” and thus it is not necessary nor even desirable for the author to burden the reader’s mind with philosophical or moral considerations. Certainly, the actions of the protagonist have heavy ethical implications, but what the ultimate ethical statement of the novel is intended to be is difficult to say. If Mitchell and his associates had merely defeated the Mafia and escaped their murderous plans, a clear moral statement would have been evident in the novel. Yet they also outwit the FBI and escape with a large amount of cash, thus benefiting indirectly from the very illegal acts they were supposed to expose. As a consequence, the meaning to be drawn from the novel is clouded.
John Grisham’s reason for turning to the suspense-chase genre for his second novel was probably a result of the failure of his first novel, A Time to Kill: A Novel of Retribution (1989). That book dramatized social problems, including race relations, and contained serious moral and ethical implications, but it attracted little attention from the reading public or critics....
(The entire section is 280 words.)
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The characters in The Firm frequently debate the problem of what loyalty costs. Bendini, Lambert & Locke buy loyalty from the attorneys they hire, eventually paying them so much and so completely co-opting their lives that the young associates become willing partners, too consumed with enjoying consumables to worry about the morals of their practice. The wife of an associate explains to Abby, Mitch's wife: "It's a question of loyalty. If all your money comes from one source, then you tend to be very loyal to that source. The firm demands extreme loyalty. Lamar [her husband] says there's never talk of leaving. They're all happy, and either rich or getting that way." The firm seeks out people to whom money will matter; the character type they recruit suggests some psychological insight on Grisham's part in creating the firm's methods.
The firm periodically scours the top law schools for candidates to pursue as associates. Mitch fits the type in his humble origins — he was raised in poor, fatherless circumstances in Kentucky — and in his drive to be better than others, to rise above his roots. Writing from the perspective of the firm's partners, Grisham explains: "The poverty hurt, and they assumed, correctly, it had bred the intense desire to succeed. He had worked thirty hours a week at an all-night convenience store while playing football and making perfect grades. They knew he seldom slept. They knew he was hungry. He was their man." The...
(The entire section is 821 words.)