What is the meaning of "justice" in John Grisham's novel A Time To Kill?

"You can win this case and justice will be served. But if you lose this case, justice will also be served."

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John Grisham is a writer of legal fiction, so there is always a trial in his novels. In each novel, the main character tries to prove that they are innocent and justice should be served. The definition of justice in this novel is: Carl Lee was defending his daughter from cruel people who raped her and Carl Lee's daughter.

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Grisham and his character, lawyer Carl Brigance, argue that the rape and attempted murder of his daughter justifies Carl Lee Hailey's vigilante murder of the two rapists, even though a decent man and sheriff's deputy was wounded and permanently crippled in the attack.

In A Time to Kill, Brigance's young daughter is raped and almost killed by two KKK members. Brigance fears the men will go free, so he murders the two in the courthouse, but he accidentally shoots the deputy guarding them. So strong is Grisham's, Brigance's, and Hailey's belief in vigilantism that they are willing to excuse the lifelong crippling of not just an innocent bystander but extremely good person.

Brigance argues the same to the jury. The jury ignores the law and finds Hailey innocent of the crime. What Brigance argue and the jury carries out is called jury nullification, where the jury ignores the law and argues that the law is wrong.

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In this emotionally-charged novel, Carl Lee Hailey's young daughter (a black girl, in the deep south of Mississippi) is raped by two men--white supremacists.  (They also try to kill her by hanging, but she survives.)

The men are put on trial, and Carl approaches lawyer Jake Brigance with worries that the men will go free in this racially-biased community.  Jake acknowledges that it is possible, so Carl takes justice into his own hands. He hides out of sight until the defendants appear in the open courthouse. Carl reveals himself, carrying a rifle, and shoots the two men, killing both--before a group of witnesses.  There can be no question that he is guilty of their murders.

Jake decides to represent Carl hoping to exonerated him by using an insanity plea.  In this community, all the cards are stacked against him in ways he cannot imagine when he takes the case: Jake is up against almost the entire town, including the KKK.

The question as to how justice will be served if Jake either loses or wins, is paradoxical.  How can justice be served in either event?

If Jake loses the case defending Carl for murder, the murder of the rapists will see justice and Carl will be punished, but the attackers' crimes against Carl's ten-year old daughter will not.  If, however, Jake wins the case, he not only guarantees the freedom of his client, but he will have proven that Carl was justified in his anger and need for vengeance in that his child had been brutally attacked, raped, and almost killed; justice will be served for the innocent young girl.

John Grisham writes an extraordinary novel that asks the controversial question, Is murder ever justified?


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