Chapter 1 Summary

Monster cover image

Steve Harmon confesses in his journal that the best time to cry is at night “when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help.” He explains that if anyone hears you cry, you will get beaten up the next time that the lights are out. Steve Harmon is in jail. In Monster, Walter Dean Myers tells the story of Steve Harmon’s trial.

The opening chapter introduces several motifs that will be present throughout the story. Harmon explains that in his cell there is a small mirror; when he looks into it, he can no longer recognize his reflection as himself. This introduces his internal conflict over his identity. He goes on to outline the violence of life in prison, explaining how one inmate is violently attacked with a breakfast tray. Myers contrasts Harmon’s shock with the guards’ ambivalence. Harmon finds it difficult to believe where he is, and he feels like he has walked into a movie.

Consequently, Harmon begins to record the details of his trial as though they are a movie. Each chapter opens with first-person diary entries about how he is responding to the trial, and it is followed by the court proceedings, written out as though they are a film script. There are credits that the reader is meant to imagine rolling up along the page like at the start of Star Wars. Harmon decides that he will call the film Monster, which references the Assistant District Attorney’s opening statement.

Assistant District Attorney Sandra Petrocelli explains in her opening statement to the jury that the majority of people are good, law-abiding citizens. However, one citizen, Mr. Alguinaldo Nesbitt, was killed with his own gun while defending his drugstore from robbers. She explains that America’s founding fathers built the justice system to account for these situations. There are men accused, Steve Harmon and James King, of being part of the robbery that took Mr. Nesbitt’s life.

King’s attorney, Briggs, outlines his strategy of defense, which is that the prosecution’s witnesses are almost uniformly testifying to get reduced sentences. He is hoping to shade the testimony of these witnesses to cast a shadow of reasonable doubt on Petrocelli’s case. Meanwhile, Harmon’s attorney, O’Brien, explains to her client that she will try to make the jury see Steve Harmon as an individual. Steve’s fear is that when the jury looks at him, they will see nothing other than a black criminal from Harlem. O’Brien says that their primary effort will be not only to prove Harmon’s innocence but also to illustrate that he does not fit a criminal stereotype. However, she warns Harmon that Assistant District Attorney Sandra Petrocelli is a very good prosecutor.