Essay Sample: Retribution and Justice Depictions in The Film "A Time to Kill"

Published: 2022-11-03
Essay Sample: Retribution and Justice Depictions in The Film "A Time to Kill"
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Justice Movie
Pages: 8
Wordcount: 1956 words
17 min read

'A Time to Kill' is a film that depicts the effects of hegemony through illustrated consequences of dominant ideologies. The compelling and entertaining movie focuses on two main concepts of retribution and justice. These concepts have been revealed through the dramas that unfolded in the courtroom and the criminal act. The film tells the story of a ten-year-old black girl who was gang raped. The inhuman crime committed by two drunken white young men led to feelings of shock, remorse, and horror among the members of the Mississippi society. As a result, the young girl's father, Carl Lee Hailey took matters into his own hands and avenged her daughter's misery. The father killed the two white men and crippled the deputy who had accompanied them to a court hearing. Fortunately, the local liberal lawyer, Brigance accepted to defend Carl Lee Hailey in court fully aware of the controversy likely to unfold due to racism. The subplots in the film include the young white lawyer, Bullock, who offers to be an unpaid aide to the case. Aware of the drama awaiting the case, Brigance declines the offer, but Bullock approaches him with important evidence likely to counter the plaintiff's case against Carl Lee Hailey (Schumacher, 1996).

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'A Time to Kill' is ultimately a story that revolves about justice. The story demonstrates various ways in which justice is embraced in different races as well as personal experiences and love. Besides, the film demonstrates the extent to which people are likely to go in search for justice. The story develops on a horrific rape case of a ten years old black girl which is followed by the vengeance of the father. The heartbreaking narrative sees various issues of race relations which are impacted by blind justice thereby questioning the issues of hope and morality in the society. The story takes place in Northern Mississippi where the attackers sexually assault a young girl and later throw her into the shallow ravine. Although they expected her to die, the girl survives and is taken to the hospital to undergo surgery. The story also introduced the reader to Jake Brigance, who is a young lawyer who tries to make a name for himself by representing people of lower class. However, the process sees the father of the girl informed the lawyer about his intentions to murder the two men who assaulted his daughter. In essence, A Time to Kill is a film that highlights the deaths that people are willing to go to fulfill their beliefs regarding hate, love, and particularly the personal views on justice. It was established that no real character in the story is beyond reproach. Through this, Grisham demonstrates how fallible people are.

Works of fiction are a common platform used in the field of criminology to analyze and develop the conceptual systems and theories used in the discipline (Frauley, 2011). The social constructions of race are detrimental to a healthy community and economy at large since it only causes strife in the society. In this regard, racism negatively impacts the justice system in 'A Time to Kill' through twisted criminal perspectives. The US population majorly comprises the Whites who make up 72 percent of the population while the African Americans are at 13%. However, the US Department of Justice provided a disproportionate percentage of 28% arrested black people (FBI, 2012). The paper further discusses the general strain theory that depicts criminal acts are coping mechanisms amongst certain individuals triggered by life experiences which explains the actions of Carl Lee Hailey. By a different token, the differential association framework explains the criminal acts of the two rapists by illustrating that criminal acts are learned behaviors. Lastly, empathy is the main phenomenon used in the courtrooms to deliver a verdict on Carl Lee's case. In this regard, the film aims at identifying the extent of justice prevalence for a case involving a black man and white men both of whom engage in criminal acts.

The Social Constructs of Racism in the Film

The biased view held by the society that a particular group of people are better; as a result, receive more privileges than the rest only serves as a detrimental factor to the growth of an economy. These biased ideals have significantly shaped America's criminology and criminal justice (Peck, 2016). The social dominance framework is used in the film to depict the remorseless acts of the two white men against the young black girl. Additionally, the framework has been used on several occasions in the court by Carl Lee Hailey's lawyer to illustrate the extent to which the whites feel obligated to subvert the blacks in the society. Social dominance orientation in a society of white people views other minorities in the same community as inferior social groups. The theory further provides for the mentality held by the whites that black people are dangerous species who stream into their nation via borders; as a result, threaten their existence. The framework is disordered since it develops from an ethnocentric view that depicts the whites are the backbone of the country, and any invader is out to commit a racial crime.

The general strain and differential association frameworks theorize the characters of Carl Lee Hailey and the two rapists. The social structures of the Mississippi society mold the lives and eventually the criminal acts of the two rapists through the differential association theory. Contrary, Carl Lee's experience and anger on what the two rapists did to her daughter influenced his choice to murder the rapists. The general strain theory explains Carl Lee's actions. Additionally, the dichotomy between the blacks and the whites about criminal acts can also be explained by the theories above. As a result, cultures are distinctly separated causing conflicts which result in negative consequences such as the rape of the ten-year-old black girl and the murder of the two rapists. Moreover, the savage depths of racism in the South prompts the threatening messages the lawyer receives after taking up the case in defense of a black man. As a result, the wife and the family of Brigance have to move to safety as efforts by the lawyer are put into place for justice to rule over the case of Carl Lee Hailey and the two white men.

According to Parmar (2016), social identities such as race, gender, and class have played a significant role in shaping the criminal justice system. As a result, failure by governments to acknowledge the effects of race on the criminal justice system is likely to compromise fair verdicts in the courtrooms. Justice is easily circumvented in nations where racism are intense since the judiciary operates on groupings to serve the interests of a particular social group at the expense of another. In this regard, the verdict given by the jurors was fair and just; however, the ruling was unique since it was not coextensive with the law. In the midst of several challenges experienced by the lawyer and Carl Lee Hailey, the jury stacked against the two exonerated Carl Lee Hailey on an empathetic ground. Brigance was at the verge of a marriage crisis and is threatened on several occasions by the Klan; however, these factors do not discourage him from presenting Carl Hailey in court. On the other hand, racism is the major factor likely to compromise a fair and just verdict since blacks also promote it in society. A Reverend from the local church organized for fundraising and managed to raise a good amount of cash to hire a lawyer, but the condition Carl Lee was given was that the lawyer had to be black. As a result, Carl Lee denied the offer; at the same time, remains worried whether would surely prevail in the South.

The Role of Empathy in the Film's Court Verdict

Empathy plays a critical role in the maintenance of law integrity as demonstrated by the reversal of the juror's decision to convict Carl Lee. The juror's in a dinner prematurely claimed that Carl Lee was guilty, an indication of the level of racism that prevailed in the courts and the South at large. At this point, the judges were blind to the true character of Carl Lee, an emotional and supportive father whose actions were based on a protection motive. Additionally, the sentiments from the crippled white deputy officer aimed at erupting an emotion among the juror's did not auger well. The jurors based on the evidence presented by the lawyers were still determined to convict Carl Lee. The deputy referred to Carl Lee as a hero despite losing his leg in the murder scene. The final remarks by Brigance were based on an appeal to pathos after he realized all evidence and well-prepared arguments were not convincing to the jury. The empathetic process aims at striking a balance between the feelings of the victims and convincing the judges (Wettergren & Blix, 2016). In this regard, Brigance decided to implement an approach where he brings the judges into the shoes of the victim by narrating the rape ordeal and the experience Carl Lee's daughter underwent. The narration touches the jurors and begins to brim with tears as sympathetic sentiments follow.

By a different token, justice was not fully promoted by the jury through the verdict that acquitted Carl Lee. The prosecutor's families did not receive justice for the death of the two rapists. Two wrongs do not make any right, and suppose the rapists' parents sought to avenge the death of their sons by killing Carl Lee would it be considered a just action? From this point of view, Carl Lee who accepted was guilty as charged ought to have been subjected to the law and received appropriate punishment. However, empathy at a time of intense racial discrimination prevailed, and the just verdict was the acquaintance of Carl Lee. Empathy aims at presenting the victim's point of view by making the jurors relate with these feelings; as a result, guide the juror's decision-making process. Brigance's closing statement in the court was based on an emotional language aimed at convincing the jurors of the criminal offense committed by the two white men. Additionally, statements such as "imagine she is white" were initiated to emotionalize the court proceedings which were effective. The use of such statements implied that the courts would not have found the two rapists guilty since the victim was black.

The emotional language through empathy significantly influenced the decision by the jurors to declare Carl Lee, an innocent man. The judges, in the long run, were moved and acted irrationally since they did not put into concern the effect of their decision on the prosecutor's family. The decision was made from the ten-year-old girl and her family's point of view since the juror's related to the crime on a personal level. The use of empathy defeats the norm that guides a win in a courtroom case through the use of hard evidence. Defendant lawyers have to present evidence in court hearing sessions aimed at competing against the prosecutor's points. However, the introduction to the use of empathy serves the court right in its decisions but becomes biased since no limitations are provided to guide its use. According to Hoffman (2011), empathy has a major influence on court decisions such that discrimination may be upheld at the expense of rationality through the ignorance of the law and provided evidence.


In conclusion, the riveting story of racial violence aims at illustrating the uncertainties associated with the American justice system. To some extent, the law emphasizes cases from a racist perspective, and the roles of the offender and the victim can be morally reversed resulting in unfair court decisions. As a result, lawyers opt to use empathy to drive fair and just verdicts in the courtrooms.

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Essay Sample: Retribution and Justice Depictions in The Film "A Time to Kill". (2022, Nov 03). Retrieved from

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