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. Thus Grisham apparently determined after that failure to write a book that would sell, and he did. Ironically, as a result of the phenomenal success of The Firm, A Time to Kill subsequently became a best-seller in its own right.