A Time To Kill Themes
Jake certainly is a committed lawyer, yet the book sketches how this commitment exacts costs in his ethics, his family life, and his mental stability. In the novel's morally relative world, commitment may be the only idealism available: There are no standards except to fight relentlessly for one's cause. Grisham describes how other committed lawyers suffer for their embrace of their cause. Norman Reinfeld, the white NAACP lawyer who specializes in desperate capital cases and who almost seizes the Hailey case from Jake, is both an idealist and a tenacious fighter: "with each execution [of a client — he has seen four] he renewed his vow to break any law, violate any ethic, contempt any court, disrespect any judge, ignore any mandate, or do whatever to prevent a human from legally killing another human . . . He seldom slept more than three hours a night. Sleep was difficult with thirty-one clients on death row... He was thirty and looked forty-five." Reinfeld is both energized and worn-down by his thankless duty. This passage again refers to the novel's premise that the judicial processes need to be stretched and even abused, as Reinfeld does. Lucien Wilbanks, during the heyday of his practice, felt zest for adopting the cause of civil rights, but his efforts exacerbated his already eccentric, abrasive personality and his alcoholic tendencies. As she is perhaps the novel's best legal mind, Ellen Roark is also the most openly idealistic character; she announces that her ambition is to be a radical lawyer and fight against capital punishment in the South and that she is ready to endure public scorn for her cause. She is enthusiastic and unspoiled, perhaps what Reinfeld was like when he was younger. The unanswered question is whether her commitment can withstand the trauma she experiences in Clan ton.