Sympathy Invocation in “A Time to Kill”

From my perspective, one of the most important invocations in the film A Time to Kill happens in the meeting between Carl Lee and Jake the day before the final judgement. Some people might think that this plot is much less important than the later one where Jake uses a story of a young little girl to move the jury and successfully turns the case and set Carl Lee back to his family. However, I consider the meeting as the most crucial part of the whole story and should be the turning point of the whole story. In the meeting in jail, Carl Lee attempted, and successfully invoked the sympathetic emotion of lawyer Brigance, which made lawyer Brigance to change his way of thinking of this case and finally reversed the jury’s decision.

Mr. Brigance, did not realize his doing was actually wrong and would never be effective toward the jury until Carl Lee Hailey mentioned him: “America is in war, and you’re on the other side.”(TK) What Carl Lee wanted to express with this sentence is that, what Jake did on the court were all wrong. From the previous plot, it’s easily to find that Jake spent most of his time mentioning that Carl Lee killed two rapist instead of two innocent, taking the doctor to the court and tried to prove that Carl Lee is psychotic, trying to convince the jury in perspective on law.(TK) Fortunately, Carl Lee knew that blacks could never been treated equally by white people at that time, so he wanted to invoke Jake’s sympathy and to make him realize that he was not, and would never be, a part of Carl Lee’s community. During the whole meeting, Carl tried to draw a line with Jake and made him realize that they are different people. After Carl told him: “If you were on the jury, what would it take to convince you to set me free?”(TK) Jake finally realized that what could actually convince that jury would never be the power of law and evidence but the power of sympathy and pity. If he was one of the jury, the only way to make he think that Carl is unguilty is to make him to feel pity of Carl. The brief sentences Carl said to Mr. Brigance accurately point out Jake’s mistake and not only invoked his sympathy towards Carl Lee, but also changed his direction to invoke jury’s sympathy.

During the trail, Jake’s empathy towards Carl Lee Hailey was completely showed to the jury from the story told by Jake. In the miserable story, he described the story of a little girl being reaped and beat on her way to home. The detail of the story was so vivid and intense that everybody in the jury could imagine the unfortunate and desperate that the little girl suffered. After Jake finished his statement, many of the jury, as well as the general population in the courtroom, either cried with tear or filled with anger.(TK) Jake successfully spread his sympathy to the public, but this is because Carl invoked Jake’s sympathy inside him.

Although it took almost the whole film for Jake to understand that his weapon should be sympathy instead of law, lawyer Brigance successfully used sympathy to defeat his opponent and convinced the jury to set Carl Lee free. Nevertheless, no one should forget it was Carl Lee who invoked Jake’s empathy in the first place and saved his own life.


Work Cited

A Time to Kill (Motion Picture: 1996), Directed by Joel Schumacher, 1996.

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