How would you describe Billy Ray and Willard of A Time to Kill?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In John Grisham's 1988 legal novel, A Time to Kill, James Willard and Billy Ray Cobb rape a black girl in rural Mississippi. The enraged father of the victim, Carl Lee Hailey, kills the rapists, and the majority of the novel follows his trial at the hands of attorney Jake Brigance. Carl kills them as they are leaving the courtroom after a hearing. Before their deaths, Grisham describes them as rednecks. Cobb (the first character introduced in the novel) has already served three years in jail, and is described as "a lean, tough punk" (1) who had a small narcotics business. Willard, age twenty-seven, is "four years older and a dozen years slower" (1) than Cobb. Grisham tells us that he had worked as an arborist but had hurt his back. He has lost his settlement money in a divorce, so he works for Cobb, who pays him little, but supplies him with "dope," (2). The two men behave horrifically to their young, black victim. They tie her up after raping her, but do not kill her. Instead, they throw her off of a bridge, where she is found by fishermen and returned to her father, who takes revenge.


The novel's end reveals the the acquittal of the victim's father, Carl Lee Hailey, on an insanity plea. The novel's graphic introduction of the culprits (themselves turned victims), Cobb and Willard, position the reader against them for their awful behavior.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team