What is the major theme of the novel Monster?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Walter Dean Myers examines several themes throughout the novel Monster, but the most significant theme he explores is how the justice system dehumanizes young African Americans during the judicial process. During the trial, the prosecuting attorney refers to Steve Harmon and the rest of the individuals allegedly involved in the crime as "monsters." Even though Steve is a relatively shy, kind person who has a positive reputation throughout his school as a talented filmmaker, he is categorized as a "monster" simply because he is on trial. This label bothers Steve, and he begins to struggle with his identity for the remainder of the novel. One scene, in particular, illustrates the extent of his identity crisis when he begins to get sick while he is mopping the jail floor after noticing that he looks similar to the other inmates. O'Brien informs Steve that her job is to differentiate him from the other individuals on trial because the jury already views him as guilty. Myers examines how Steve is not viewed as a unique individual while he is on trial, and Steve is at the mercy of the attorneys, judge, and jury. Steve and his attorney struggle to distinguish him as a talented, respected young man in order to win the case. Fortunately, Steve is found not guilty by the jury, but his attorney still views him as a "monster."