In other words, did Grisham begin writing in order to reveal the innate ambiguities and machinations of the legal system - or were there other unrecognized facets and factors at play that led to this turning point in his life?
These questions become even more pronounced when we take into account his expressed views about his own writing. In many interviews, Grisham tends to assert that his literary work is not of a very serious or profound nature and instead of having any deeper social intentions his writings are essentially only meant to entertain. As he states in one interview:
I'm not sure where that line goes between literature and popular fiction...I can assure you I don't take myself serious enough to think I'm writing literary fiction and stuff that's going to be remembered in 50 years. I'm not going to be here in 50 years; I don't care if I'm remembered or not. it's pure entertainment.
John Grisham has no illusions about writing).
This view of his work therefore tends to reduce his books to a sophisticated form of "pulp fiction." When this may or may not be the case, this view does not seem to concur with the original reasons for his writing in the first place, which were motivated by an extreme sense of indignation at the act of rape and its consequences for the innocent people involved. Many commentators therefore are of the opinion that,
Sometimes he wraps a serious issue around a plot -- the death penalty in "The Chamber," insurance reform in "The Rainmaker," homelessness in "The Street Lawyer." Now the self-styled political junkie and former Mississippi state legislator has written a book that's more political intrigue than legal thriller.
John Grisham has no illusions about writing)
Is it possible therefore that while Grisham's work is now categorized as popular entertainment and light fiction, that this was not the original intention of the author and that he was more concerned with writing novels that would be taken more seriously. This aspect will be expanded on in the next section. In this light, it is important to note some of comments that Grisham makes about the original impetus towards writing. "My motives were pure, I was not dreaming of best-seller lists and big fat royalty check" (Interview: John Grisham, Author).
This impression of the very serious and morally concerned young lawyer is also seen in many commentaries on his life and work. This refers to the rape trial and the profound effect it had life. As one article states:
The seed of 'A time to kill' was a brutal rape of a young girl near Grisham's home in Mississippi. He visualised how he would kill the rapist if he would have been the father of the girl, and he became obsessed with the question what a jury of ordinary people would do to such a father. He guessed that there would naturally be a great sympathy to the father, but he did not know if that would be enough for an acquittal. This question was enough stuff for him, to write a novel, and so he started to write the first chapter.
Time to Kill" by John Grisham)
It is also significant that Grisham returns to the same general thematic concerns and motifs in many of his other works that echo aspects of the De Soto courtroom drama that initiated his writing career. His plots usually center on protagonists who are young and in some way vulnerable and who, "...find themselves fighting against overwhelming odds in situations in which they should not be able to prevail. Ultimately they may win out over antagonists of apparently superior strength: the U.S. government, the Mafia, giant insurance companies"
Notable American Novelists, Revised: John Grisham).
As has been mentioned, another factor that also has to be taken into account is...
Although he won his first case by claiming self-defense -- a client had shot his wife's lover point-blank in the head six times -- he wasn't comfortable with the victory.
This indicates a number of important points. The first is his lack of any great enthusiasm for his career and the second is his realization that the law was in many cases inadequate to administer true justice or, as was the case with the 1984 rape trial, to provide full protection for the innocent. This again seems to empathize that the prevailing 'mystery' that underlies the turning point in his life was not only a desire to write but to grapple with and to describe to others these elements of fallacy and tragedy in the legal system and in human society.
3. Society and religion
Other aspects lend cogency to the moral and socially sensitive nature of the Grisham's reason for turning from law to writing. His awareness of social problems and the need for their rectification can be seen in the fact that even before to the 1984 rape trial, Grisham had shown a penchant for social involvement. In 1983, he ran successfully for the Mississippi legislature. His intention in so doing was that he wanted,"... To help improve education in his state" (Pringle, 1997, p. 2/3). Importantly, in terms of the central thesis that is being explored this paper, we once again see how Grisham became aware of the fallacies and fault lines in both the legal and legislative systems. Grisham left the Mississippi legislature because he, "...realized it was impossible to make changes" (Pringle, 1997, p. 3). Writing therefore became the natural outlet for the deeper moral views and social conscience that Grisham shows in the years surrounding his decision to leave law and write his first novel. "It was during this period that he began writing novels" (Pringle, 1997, p. 3).
This sense of moral and social indignation and the desire to rectify social ills can be seen in the words that Gresham used when asked about the effect of the rape trial in 1984. "I never felt such emotion and human drama in my life," he told an interviewer. He wondered "what it would be like if the girl's father killed the rapist and was put on trial. I had to write it down" (Pringle, 1997, p 3). As has been referred to, writing a novel was obviously much more than just a "hobby" for Grisham. This can be ascertained from the following remarks that Grisham made in an interview with Bill Moyers.
A worked on it for three years. I remember I had to go to court sometimes at 9:00. And I can remember just sitting in court being dead tired 'cause I'd already written for three hours. And it, you know, it's draining. When you do it a lot it really takes a lot out of you.
WEB EXCLUSIVE: Bill Moyers talks with John Grisham about writing and reading).
This perspective also relates to other areas of his life that can be included in order to understand this turning point in his life. One of these aspects is his religious Baptist background. He emphasizes this aspect as a fundamental part of his development in an interview.
When I was eight years old first Baptist church in Parkin, Arkansas. I felt the call to become a Christian. I felt the need to. I talked to my parents. I talked to my pastor. And I accepted Christ when I was eight as old, just a little small boy and- like most of the kids, you know, in my church, and my brothers and sisters -that was very much a part of growing up.
John Grisham, criminal justice reform, and the New Baptist Covenant)
Grisham also intimates that this aspect of his life played a significant part in his career choice and in his choice of a writing career.
It is also perhaps significant that in more recent interview Grisham admits to his concern about social and ethical issues in his novels as his career has progressed. "But as the years have gone by, I've caught myself more and more taking an issue. When I can take an issue, whether it's the death penalty, or homelessness, or to- big tobacco, or insurance abuse or whatever" (John Grisham, criminal justice reform, and the New Baptist Covenant). He also goes on to state that there is social and moral dimension to his work that intends to go beyond mere entertainment value.
But when I can take an issue and wrap a novel around it, and make it compelling, make the pages turn and make it very suspenseful, and get the reader hooked up in the book, and also get the reader,…
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