Carl Lee is a fascinating character in A Time to Kill. While he does some very cringeworthy things like demanding money from the church and of course killing the two men who raped Tonya, Carl Lee is still able to get Jake Brigance and other people to empathize with him. This is seen first when Carl Lee is initially able to convince Jake Brigance to be the attorney for his trial. On top of that, while he does not have nearly enough money to properly pay Brigance, Jake still understands the situation he is in and accepts the case despite not being paid well for it. The most significant case of Carl Lee getting Jake Brigance to empathize with him occurs after he seemingly blows the case open by exclaiming that the men that raped Tonya should “burn in hell” (TK). This claim brought up the obvious argument that killing people is worse than raping someone so Lee is essentially bringing conviction and likely death upon himself. However, the night before closing statements, Carl Lee is able to convince Jake to help him out while also making the audience empathize with him.
When Carl Lee met up with Jake Brigance the night before the closing speeches, he tells Jake that he has the capability to look at Carl Lee like the jurors have the capability to look at him since they are mostly white fathers like Brigance is. As much as this may be a good point for the case, it inherently makes the audience feel bad for Carl Lee. Because the audience knows that Carl Lee thinks the only way to win the case is for him to realize that Brigance is on the ‘bad side’ despite working on this case for days upon days with him, the audience has to feel for him. While is impossible for the some members in the audience to have experienced this problem, everyone is able to completely understand what is going on in Lee’s mind. Because Lee’s situation allows for people to connect with Carl Lee and Tonya’s experience. Lee knows that no matter what he does, white people will always view him as different. Once Jake Brigance is able to internalize this statement from Carl Lee, he shows Carl Lee and the audience that he empathizes with Carl Lee and his story through his closing statement. Not only Tonya’s story get Jake to empathize with Carl Lee but also Brigance was able to relay the story to the jury and get them to empathize with the jury. As seen by the tears shed by the members of the jury, the empathy felt by the characters in the movie was very real. Transitively speaking, Carl Lee’s plea to Jake to set him free by relating with the members of the jury leads to the most powerful moment of the case that does a complete 180 from guilty to not guilty. The fact that Carl Lee does some pretty unspeakable things makes it all the more impressive that he can ultimately set himself free of charge of the charge for murder. This shows the extreme power that empathy can have in altering people’s mindsets and even redetermining ruling in legal cases.
Works Cited: A Time to Kill. Directed by Joel Schumacher, performances by Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samuel L. Jackson, Regency Enterprises, Warner Bros., 1996.