The Case for the Defense

by Graham Greene

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 789

Graham Greene was a noted British author and playwright whose works were both considered literary and popular due to the social issues his stories raised as well as his simple style of writing. Greene’s short story “The Case for the Defense” was first published in 1939.

The story begins with the statement that what is about to be described is the strangest murder trial the narrator has ever witnessed. The narrator is a reporter who attends the trial on assignment. He has reported many other trials but never one that ended so oddly.

The trial should have been an easy one, the narrator claims. Four eyewitnesses were available to provide statements that they had seen the murderer at the scene. The murderer has a unique appearance and so is easily recognizable. He is a stout man with thick thighs and bulging eyes. The reporter describes the accused as an ugly man with a face and figure that are hard to forget. The four witnesses saw the accused outside the victim’s house. One woman, Mrs. Salmon, even saw the accused with a hammer in his hands. She watched the man drop the hammer in the bushes. The man then turned his face toward a street lamp, and that was when Mrs. Salmon got a full view of the killer’s face. She had been watching him from her window across the street. A town clock had just struck two in the early morning, so even the time of the murder was easily established.

When the judge calls Mrs. Salmon to the stand, the narrator assumes the trial will be over quickly; a verdict will be reached easily. Mrs. Salmon is a perfect witness. It is not hard to distinguish that Mrs. Salmon has no malice in her manner or voice as she gives her account of that fatal evening. She not only sounds honest but has a very truthful look about her. Her face reflects care and kindness. She exudes no sense of self-importance as she takes the stand, though everyone in the courtroom is staring at her, listening intently to every word she says.

In addition to Mrs. Salmon, there is Henry MacDougall, who was driving home that night when he came close to running over the accused man, who was walking down the middle of street with a glazed look in his eyes.

Mr. Wheeler, who lived next door to the victim, Mrs. Parker, had heard noises coming from Mrs. Parker’s flat. The noises roused him from bed. He went to his window and saw the accused man from behind. When the murderer turned, he too, like Mrs. Salmon, saw the man’s face and described his distinctive, bulging eyes.

After the witnesses’ testimonies, the defense lawyer cross-examines Mrs. Salmon. He asks her if she is sure she recognized the murderer. Mrs. Salmon states that she would know that man anywhere. He has a face she would never forget. The lawyer asks Mrs. Salmon about her eyesight. After all, the murder happened very late at night. To this Mrs. Salmon responds that she has never worn eyeglasses and that the moon had helped to light the night. She also reminds the lawyer that the accused man had turned his face to the lamplight. She saw him perfectly and without a doubt; the man sitting in the courtroom dock is indeed the murderer. Then she repeats that the man has a face that is hard to forget.

The defense lawyer then asks Mrs. Salmon to look around at the faces of people who are sitting in the court. While she does so,...

(This entire section contains 789 words.)

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the lawyer asks a Mr. Adams, who is sitting in the back, to stand up. When he does, everyone turns to look at him. The narrator reports that this Mr. Adams is the spitting image of the accused murderer. He has the same bulky figure and the same bulging eyes. He is even dressed identically to the man on trial.

The lawyer asks Mrs. Salmon again if she is sure she has identified the correct man, the one she saw on the night of the murder. Mrs. Salmon cannot be sure.

This closes the case. None of the witnesses is now sure they correctly identified the right man. So the accused man—and his twin brother—walk out of the courtroom. Once outside, the brothers are pushed into the street; no one knows for sure who pushed them. One of them is hit by a bus. His skull is crushed and he is pronounced dead. Even after this strange twist of events, however, no one knows if justice has been served. Still no one knows for sure which of the twin brothers committed the crime.