Literary Techniques

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 474

The chief problem Grisham sets for himself in The Client is to present Mark's reluctance to testify as believable. Readers may object that telling the truth would probably solve Mark's problems. Grisham tries to refute this easy answer to the dilemma in three ways. First, the narration goes inside Mark's head to convey his suspicion of authorities, confusion over legal procedures, and fear over what happened with Clifford. Second, the authorities come off almost as malevolent as the mob because they are so focused only on getting the conviction; they are object lessons in how driven, ambitious lawyers can lose touch with humanity. All the officials who contact Mark make the same mistake of demanding that a tough kid cooperate, or else. They are oblivious to their impact on him and blind to other approaches: Grisham gives a sobering comment on how adult figures often treat children. Third, Reggie and Harry Roosevelt both grasp the enormity of the threat against Mark from the mob and both understand his thinking.

Yet even very generous readers who feel that Grisham deftly overcomes the problem of Mark's reluctance must admit that Grisham allows some lapses of logic to enter the plot. Why is Barry Muldanno out on bail for a charge of murdering a Senator? If Muldanno could not move the body earlier because he was being followed, why does he feel safe to move the body at the book's climax — is he no longer being tailed? If not, why not? After Reggie and Mark validate what Clifford told Mark by finding the body, but also after they realize that the mobsters are trying to retrieve the body, why does Reggie feel confident that she and Mark can wait for hours before telling the authorities? Would not the mobsters return to finish the digging? And why do they not return to finish?

The techniques that may keep such questions at bay are Grisham's trademark suspenseful plotting and his dense atmosphere. In this novel he returns to the style of A Time to Kill and lingers over characterization, background, settings (especially the cavernous hospital), and issues. The previous two thrillers, The Firm (1991) and The Pelican Brief (1992), are streamlined to keep the plots rolling. Even the heroes in the latter seem to lack depth (the real energy in The Pelican Brief appears in the political satire). While The Client has characters who are clearly white knights and villains, Grisham spends time making them rounded characters, as exemplified by the wealth of specifics he supplies for Reggie, Foltrigg, and Roosevelt. Whereas in The Firm, the partners tend to be hard to differentiate, in The Client Grisham strives to individualize the supporting players. For example, he distinguishes the two camps of prosecutors, from Memphis and from New Orleans (led by Foltrigg), and develops the rivalry and impatience that exist between them.

Social Concerns

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1375

The chief venue in The Client is the Memphis juvenile justice system, and the chief problem for the system is how to get eleven-year-old Mark Sway to reveal what he may know about a criminal case. Through the frequent use of Mark's point of view, Grisham presents how the system seems callous, frightening, and unwilling to recognize Mark's good nature. While readers may know that the logical, legal, and even moral option is for Mark to tell what he knows, readers can also grasp how the system and its players make Mark resistant and fearful.

While sneaking cigarettes in the woods behind their trailer, Mark and his eight-year-old brother Ricky watch a man place a hose in his car's tailpipe in a suicide attempt. Without much thought, Mark intervenes, removing the hose, but then gets snatched up and taken into the car by the wired man, lawyer Jerome Clifford. Before Mark can escape the car, Clifford reveals in a rambling, hopeless, menacing speech the location of the body of Senator Boyd Boyette, a victim of Clifford's Mafia-connected client, Barry "The Blade" Muldanno. Mark escapes, and Clifford finally shoots himself. Mark faces the dilemma of whether to reveal what he was told and in the process admit his involvement in the ghastly suicide. His proximity to the scene and other clues convince the police that he has much to tell them, but he keeps from them key details. He finds a lawyer to represent him — finds her by roaming around an office building — and explains to her: "I've lied to the police about this, and I think they know I'm lying. My little brother's in a coma because of me [in shock from witnessing the suicide]. It's all my fault. I lied to his doctor . . . I don't want anybody to know what I know, because Romey [Clifford] told me his client had killed many people and was planning on killing Romey too . . . And the cops have threatened me if I don't tell the truth, and they think I'm lying anyway, and I just don't know what to do." While telling the truth seems to be the best policy, he would tell it to people who have threatened him and then he could become a target of reprisal from the Mafia. But only his lawyer understands Mark's confused position; the police and government become increasingly impatient and mount a campaign of legal efforts to force him to testify. Grisham largely presents the authorities as heartless: Although they fight to bring a killer to justice, they are willing to abuse an innocent boy to achieve their otherwise noble goal.

Mark's experiences with the justice system have not encouraged him to have faith in lawyers. In his parents' bitter divorce proceeding, Mark asked to testify and told the judge in graphic terms about beatings administered on him and his mother by his drunken father. Mark believes that only his bold declarations saved him from going to his father's custody. And the officers he meets after Clifford's suicide do not inspire trust. The first policeman accuses him of lying and threatens to take him to the station for questioning, and the FBI people at the hospital mention the possible charge of obstruction of justice against him and his mother. A softer approach might have won his confidence, but these people do not look at the events from his perspective nor realize how threatened they make him feel. When he refuses to talk, the authorities file a petition in juvenile court to have him declared a delinquent for his noncooperation. Although the court is ruled by the humane Judge Harry Roosevelt, the petition has legal standing, so Mark is hauled into a juvenile detention center. He complains to his lawyer, "If I didn't do anything wrong, why was I picked up by the cops and taken to jail? Why am I sitting here waiting for a hearing?" These are sobering questions that concern the limited rights of witnesses, the lack of power individuals have to protect themselves from the authorities, and the sometimes arbitrary influence of the juvenile court.

The Mafia threatens by naked aggression, whereas the government threatens by using a barrage of legal means that strip the individual of power over himself. But the police efforts and the juvenile court proceeding cannot bully Mark into talking about Clifford. When Judge Roosevelt seems willing to wait for a time and hold Mark in custody, the prosecutors become impatient and procure a federal subpoena to bring Mark to New Orleans, to their jurisdiction, where they can squeeze him. They hold the subpoena until the weekend so that it can be served without interference from Judge Roosevelt.

The chief government villain is U.S. Attorney for New Orleans J. Roy Foltrigg, who seeks a career-enhancing conviction of Muldanno and who is sure he can get it if he locates the body of Senator Boyette. He is another of Grisham's driven lawyers, utterly careless of how his efforts affect others as long as he achieves his goal. And his goal, while it may be to put a bad guy in prison, has become highly personalized, so that Foltrigg serves not justice but his own ambition. No one stops him; the prosecutors and FBI men in Memphis bristle at his commands that they serve his interests, yet then do almost all that he wants. And even Roosevelt must admit that Foltrigg's efforts have legal merit. Foltrigg can get the system to work for his own ends. Foltrigg's ruthlessness infects his staff; one of Foltrigg's assistants tormented Clifford, an old law school classmate, by hinting that the drunken Clifford had mentioned the whereabouts of Boyette's corpse. As Clifford endures a rapid descent into suicidal paranoia, the prosecutors see him only as a possible source of information they need. Toward Clifford and toward Mark, Foltrigg and his team are a heartless bunch.

In opposition to Foltrigg, Grisham places Reggie Love, the lawyer Mark serendipitously finds among a maze of law offices. A fifty-two year old with gray hair, Reggie has survived a cruel divorce proceeding, alcohol and drug addictions, and an emotional breakdown. After enduring therapy, Reggie attended law school and now specializes in painful cases few others can tolerate: custody, support payment disputes, and delinquency. Reggie is an example of the politically correct 1990s feminism: Abused in her earlier role as wife and mother, she has overcome personal tribulation to become an independent woman and an advocate of the downtrodden. She even has a male secretary, further reversing the traditional gender roles. Grisham pairs her with Mark, who likewise suffers abuse and trauma in his family situation. Unlike the prosecutors, she understands his fear of the system. That both survive their pasts and retain their sense of mission for others — Reggie for her clients and Mark for his family (even for Clifford in trying to stop the suicide) — proves the strength at the core of their characters. In placing Reggie and Foltrigg in confrontation, Grisham appeals to revised, contemporary overviews of how the sexes approach problems differently. Thus Foltrigg and his cohorts display a masculine aggressiveness that seeks to dominate others, while Reggie partakes of the feminine inclination to hear others out, to understand the nuances of an issue (specifically, Mark's fears), and to reach a compromise.

Grisham provides The Client with a network of social issues. As in the previous novel, The Pelican Brief (1992), Grisham places an environmental dispute as the precipitating factor: Boyette was killed over his effective opposition to a mob-controlled proposed toxic waste dump. Dianne Sway, Mark's mother, works in a sweatshop packing cheap plastic lamps; she is fired when she has to stay by Ricky's hospital bedside. Grisham dramatizes the problems of borderline poor women such as Dianne who must rely on such heartless employers. Grisham does send Reggie to extort concessions from the employer by threatening an ugly law suit, which few poor women would think of filing. The press sensationalizes Clifford's suicide, hints at Mark's involvement, and pries into the closed juvenile proceeding. Grisham allows Roosevelt to punish the reporter for his snooping. In presenting these problems, even as tangents, Grisham returns to the wide social scope he used in A Time to Kill (1989, please see separate entry).

Literary Precedents

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 230

Mark Sway fits the literary tradition of the moral adolescent, a type best represented by Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn from the 1884 novel. Huck and Mark live beyond the margins of respectable society, and they spring from family situations fraught with abuse. Strongly independent, they resist rules and parental authority. Yet these boys, whom society would classify as delinquent, appear in both novels as moral forces. Both instinctively know to do the right things, even at great cost to themselves. In novels about moral choices, both Grisham and Mark Twain locate the strongest morality in the least socially respectable (and respectful) characters. Among literary adolescents, at eleven Mark is nearly the youngest; Huck is about thirteen. Two other characters who are older teens and products of upper class environments yet who are presented as moral forces are J. D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and William Faulkner's Charles Mallison in Intruder in the Dust (1948). In these four books, the authors use the adolescent characters as figures yet unspoiled by the corrupting forces of society. Other fruitful comparisons with Mark are the characters in S. E. Hinton's novels of Oklahoma youths, especially her debut The Outsiders (1967) and Tex (1979). The characters are older than Mark, yet are from roughly the same social class. Hinton places them in violent situations which test their moral standards, just as Grisham places Mark.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 636

Grisham sold film rights to the then still-unpublished The Client in October 1992 for $2.5 million to Arnon Milchan of New Regency Productions, which made the film in association with Warner Bros. With a screenplay by Akiva Goldsman and Robert Getchell and direction by Joel Schumacher, the movie version opened in summer 1994 to box office success. Filmed on location in Memphis, the movie closely follows the action of the novel (contrasted to the film of The Firm [1993], which veers away from Grisham's resolution). The chief change is that the script expands Foltrigg's role to place him at most of the confrontations between Mark and the authorities. As played by Tommy Lee Jones, Foltrigg on film is less villainous than on the page; Jones plays him as a driven and ambitious prosecutor frustrated by delays he cannot control. Susan Sarandon, although younger and better-looking than the part demands, plays Reggie. Jones and Sarandon invest their characters with presence, intelligence, and quirkiness. (The leads in the film of The Pelican Brief, Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, seem to do much less with their roles, and thus the film seems listless, especially contrasted to Schumacher's work with Jones and Sarandon.) Sarandon earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her work in the movie. Unknown Brad Renfro plays Mark, and veteran Ossie Davis has the (sadly) abbreviated role as Judge Roosevelt.

Grisham seems to have liked the film well-enough that he sold the film rights to A Time to Kill, which he had held back from sale for years, to Milchan and New Regency with the proviso that the team from The Client, notably director Schumacher, work on the movie.

From its first episode in September 1995, the weekly television version, entitled John Grisham's The Client, anchored the CBS Tuesday night lineup. The focus is on Reggie Love and her barely solvent legal practice. As in the novel, Reggie crusades on behalf of children (and sometimes adults) caught in the juvenile justice system or ensnared in family disputes. The show sketches morally ambiguous disputes and allows thriller elements to dominate, rather than depend on court scenes for drama.
In addition to whatever threats the court system may pose, Reggie's clients endure chases, explosions, and murder attempts. In the pilot episode, Reggie befriends a teen-aged boy who has somehow gotten a bag of stolen loot, and Reggie and the boy must elude the goons who come after the money. Another episode features a fifteen-year old pregnant girl who wants Reggie's help to keep her baby. In spite of some overly-dramatic adventures, Reggie retains her faith in the inherent virtues of her young clients and finds strong values among the struggling, one-parent families she usually meets.

Set in Atlanta instead of Memphis, the show retains many of the key characters from the book: Reggie's mother (played by Polly Holliday), Judge Roosevelt (again played by Ossie Davis), and a greatly expanded role for Reggie's young legal assistant Clint (ably played by David Barry Gray). Mark Sway is never mentioned. As portrayed by JoBeth Williams, Reggie is open about her status as a recovering addict and a failed mother. A sub-plot running through the episodes concerns her effort to regain her parental rights over her teenaged children (who are much younger here than in the novel), with her ex-husband as a recurring villain. The show's most surprising yet original departure from the source is the use of Roy Foltrigg as the folksy and bluntly ambitious Atlanta District Attorney. John Heard grins as he plays Foltrigg; the character is relentless witty, never flustered, and almost always willing to cooperate with Reggie. As a cordial adversary, he clearly likes and respects her, and may even harbor romantic interests.

Blair Brown reads the abridged Bantam audio version, while John MacDonald reads the complete text for Books on Tape.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access



Teaching Guide