Generally, throughout the whole movie To Kill a Mockingbird, the evocation of empathy is accompanied with the recall of Tonya’s miserable story from the former shocking rape scene to the plot of gripping final speech in the court. Empathy in this movie not only gives people a great opportunity to engage in recognizing the distress of victims but also promotes partial justice for defendants. However, the limitations of empathy cause this justice inappropriate to the law. In my paper, I want to address three questions: Does Jake’s closing argument promote the good aspect of empathy or take advantage of the limitations and bias of empathy? How can this empathy encourage justice? Why the justice in this movie is detrimental to law making and changing? These three arguments are specified in the following statements.
Initially, I prefer to adopt Martin L. Hoffman’s definition of influential perspective-taking in empathy. According to Hoffman, of three types of perspective-taking, he emphasizes the “co-occurrence” which means people combine “self-focused” empathy, appealing personal identification of the victims by recalling their similar painful experience, and “other-focused” empathy, associated sympathy of victims by concentrating on others’ distress. (233) Moreover, the definition of “poetic justice is that an outcome in which vice is punished and virtue rewarded usually in a manner peculiarly or ironically appropriate.” (Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary) In this movie, “co-occurrence” empathy is beneficial to promote justice in court because it not only creates the social and emotional climate but also enlarges the scope for logical thinking.
Before the conclusion speech, the combination of Jake’s temporary “co- occurrence empathy” and meaningful ambition cannot be transformed into a cogent statement convinced by listeners. (Hoffman 233) After all jurors’ viewpoints can’t be changed by the flawless and refined appeal of Jake and be doubted by questionable proposals raised by plaintiff’s attorney. It’s extremely hard to win this case because reasons and logos are biased in jurors’ mind.
However, empathy changes both Jake and jurors’ way of thinking and thus promotes justice. As for lawyer Jake, His “other-focused” empathy of Tonya induces “self-focused” empathy to his imagination of his own daughter. (Hoffman 233) Therefore, he would put everyone nearby and even himself in danger to delimitate non-evenhanded justice from his part rather than renounce the case. From my perspective, Jake also has a fraction of self-sufficiency and a sense of mission to prevail certain justice. For instance, he said “a lawyer can’t be rich from a case but they can change and save the world from a case” and this motto encourages him to stand in Carlee’s shoes instead of seeking vanity and wealth. He believes he can promote justice of Carlee’s and his side, which he thinks is harmonic to the law and beneficial to the world. Then emotional and influential final speech comes out.
During the final speech, Jake promotes justice of Tonya’s position when he asks jurors to close their eyes and seek truth from their heart. Since jurors can imagine the pain and hurt of Tonya, the picture that two cruel animals tore little girl’s clothes, hang her on the fragile branches and kick her off from the bridge, pity and sadness of jurors occur at the same time. Thus, their former ineradicable judgments and ingrained principles that Carlee should carry out a death sentence go in fade as commiserative nature predominates. Furthermore, on this jury, there are 8 women and 4 men. Sometimes different genders cannot produce the identical empathy since most of the women shed tears in the movie while other men only look serious. Women can picture the pain of the little girl easily and their emotional thinking and maternal splendor can be exaggerated instantly. After hearing the description of story elaborated by Jake, they pray for the girl and wish there’s less harm on her immediately. Since they understand the hurt of losing the ability to have babies, they feel angry and no matter what punishments of guys cannot cover the hurt of Tonya. Consequently, they change their indifferent characters into empathetic spectators and therefore the justice of Tonya is promoted.
As we can see, the justice from Carlee’s side got lost in the first place but was emphasized even exaggerated after empathy occurs. However, rational reasons are concealed by the emotion and pathos during the final speech because of the limitations of empathy. Aristotle’s definition of pathos is that pathos awakens emotion in the audience so as to induce them to make the judgment desired. Therefore, the justice induced from this way is intrinsically a prejudice and cannot be used to coextend with law. Obviously, jurors’ empathy has the bias which makes them merely concentrate on the distress of familiar groups rather than both unseen and present people. After Jake’s final speech, the pathos of Tonya is amplified easily and the bereavement of two guys’ family is neglected. The clarification of Carlee’s murder accusation thus goes faded in people’s eyes. And the definition of this kind of bias by Hoffman is “empathize more with physically present victims rather than potential victims”. (235&236)
Due to the limitations of empathy, justice boosted in this way cannot be co-extensive with the law. Since the law is not people’s willing but the result of judicial judgments, the law in this movie is not trusted and admitted. Initially, Carlee didn’t believe that the law and court can protect fairness since the previous case that the evils went off without punishment presents an unfair arbitration. And Carlee insists that the law of America can’t set him free and give him a fair judgment but the tendentious perspectives taken by jurors decide if he is guilty or not. Actually, in this whole film, there is no evenhanded justice because whether Jake wins or loses this case, the justice prevails. But as for law, it does not prevail. For example, if jurors’ rational thinking of law takes place, they should imagine the desperation of Tonya’s parents and the distress of Tonya when they see the truth that Carlee kills two evil guys. They should also feel empathy toward the bereavement of the families of two guys when they hear the story about how Tonya is raped cruelty and how pure girl is tarnished by two animals. Radical facts, such as Carlee’s insanity when killing two guys and Carlee’s revenge without respecting the authority and function of laws, should be taken into the final decision.
Because the bias and transience of empathy often triggers people have instant and impulsive motivations, reasons and judicial meditation which promote credibility of law should be taken into the final consideration. Especially in the court, attorneys can easily use some techniques to enable jurors to feel the empathic distress of the victim and allow humanity concealing the rational and judicious judgements immediately. According to Hoffman, “Rational reasons and “affective empathy” together create an emotional climate of the courtroom and evenhanded justice of laws. (233)
In conclusion, on the one hand, the empathy helps us reflect one’s misfortune quickly and response their distress intensely with full of humanness in separate conditions. On the other hand, empathy is vulnerable to bias can simply be used as a technique to pursue the justice which only benefits one side of groups and triggers others’ rights of fairness. Although justice is promoted in the end, this justice is not co-extensive with the law because of the lack of judicial meditation from both sides of justice.
A Time to Kill. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Warner Brothers, 1996.
Martin L. Hoffman. “Empathy, Justice and Law”. Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford University Press. 2014. 213-254