This play examines the meaning of the word “justice”, pitting the cold, remorseless legal meaning against the social injustice that come about when the law freezes its interpretation. From the start we see that Falder’s motives were honorable, but that his reasons for the forgery do not ameliorate the written punishment for such a crime, as least not in the eyes of the court. As Galsworthy dramatizes the excessive punishment (solitary confinement, indifference to his mental condition, etc.—especially in the mimed Act III Scene iii,--dramatized to show how the punishment does not fit the crime) we sympathize with Falder, but the Law sees his act as “taking the law into his own hands” (and makes the point that marriage is a law, no matter how destructive.) So the title point out the main dramatic conflict—is justice an abstract idea, an agreed-up set of cause-effect regulations, or a humanistic concept open to interpretation? The two final “injustices”—Ruth Honeywell’s degradation and Falder’s return to jail on a tick-of-leave (parole) technical violation—bring the title full round. As was always the case in the dramas of this period, the overplaying of the social dilemma had a social target and social consequences.
Galsworthy's play examines the injustice of the British penal system. In the drama, a solicitor's clerk named William Falder forges a check to protect his married sweetheart, Ruth Honeywill, from her abusive husband. In forging the check, Falder had hoped to escape with Ruth and her children and spare her the abuse of her husband. The system is rigged against the couple, as Falder is sentenced to prison, and Ruth cannot divorce her husband. Falder suffers in solitary confinement in prison, and Ruth lives with another man because she can't support herself otherwise. In the end, Falder, facing a return to prison when he does not report for his parole, winds up killing himself.
The play asks the audience to grapple with whether justice has been truly meted out to Falder and Ruth. While Falder is punished for a small and justified infraction, the punishment itself causes misery and suffering. Is justice so blindly administered truly fair? As the play speaks about the nature of justice and the injustice of the penal system, it deserves its name.