Monday, September 21, 2009

The Last Juror and a sad moment of truth!

Two things!

One: Watered-down socialism seems to be a ‘status symbol’ for intellectuals and writers, like limousine is for millionaires.
Two: Every writer has a political agenda, no matter how hard they may deny. Paperback fiction is the easiest way one can push this agenda.
I like John Grisham for his gripping court room dramas. I liked ‘The Last Juror’ for the same reason. ‘The Last Juror’ is two major plots woven into one. The first: the crime and punishment of Danny Padgitt, who raped and murdered Rhoda Kassellaw. The second: the making of a wealthy Newspaper Owner out of a 23-year-old college drop-out, Willie Traynor. And like most of John’s novels, this one too has its share of court room dramas one will fall instantly in love with. [Tell you a little secret: I have this thing for American Court Room Dramas and that’s why my all-time favourite is the Tom Cruise-starrerA Few Good Men.”]

Last week was the second time I read ‘The Last Juror’ as there was nothing else interesting around to read. Towards the last few pages of the novel I noticed something that made me write this post and begin it the way I began. Just like the sudden twist in the tale, towards the end of the novel that made Danny Padgitt, the hunter, the hunted; there is another twist in the second plot that went unnoticed the first time I read ‘The Last Juror.’
To give you the background: The Last Juror is set in ‘the fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi from 1970 to 1979.’ Well, 70s were the time in American History when the Civil Right Movement was bearing fruits and Black Americans were accepted into the mainstream American Society. Willie Traynor, our hero, was an all-out Black American Supporter. He made friends with Black Americans. Ate from their houses. Visited their churches. Supported integrated schooling in America, where blacks and whites would learn together. And Ford County Times, his newspaper, was the first to print Black American Obituaries as he would print White American.
Then again, 70s punctuated the height of American failure in Vietnam War. Those were the Cold War Days. And Ford County Times was the first newspaper to raise voice against the War in Vietnam, according to the novel. Willie Traynor wrote editorials after editorials against the war, published all the letters that came in as response, be they for or against the war.
And, 70s saw the birth of Walmart-like stores. When Ford County was besieged by Bargain City, a retail giant, Willie was the only one who had the guts to testify against them. He told the judge how the retail giant would affect local businessmen and force them to close down. He told them the ‘jobs they were promising would be at minimum wages.’ The town and the judge did not listen to his solitary voice, went ahead and approved the Bargain City Mall in the County. And our good Willie waged his war single headedly against Bargain City, by reporting every time a local merchant closed shop because of the market pressure, in an ‘I-told-you-so tone’.
For all this, he was called a Communist. A ‘radical-liberal’. A name that Willie would gladly accept because he believed he was doing the right thing. Then comes the twist in the tale!
Here was the moment of truth: Willie looked back at all that he did as he was planning to sell his Newspaper. He bought it for $ 50000. Now, he was going to sell it for over a million dollars. His take on the War in Vietnam. What he did for the Black Americans in Ford County. His war against bargain City. Now, he thought, they were just fights he picked because of boredom. This was what he said:
“But looking back, there were fights I started not only out of conviction but also out of boredom. As I grew older, I wanted to be a regular citizen. I would always be an outsider, but that didn't bother me anymore. I wanted to come and go, to live in Clanton as I saw fit, then leave for long periods of time when I got bored. Amazing how the prospect of money can change your future.”
There you are! We leave thinking Willie is right. After all, John tries  his best to portray Willie as the boy-next-door so that we don’t really mind what ever he says and we are in the acceptance mode. There are several instances in the novel where the author tries to tell us how having a simple name like Willie made it easy for people to like the ‘hero’. So when Willie pretends to be a socialist and then cut the throat of socialism by his last sentence of self-realization about how money can change things, we buy it. When we buy it, we are also buying the idea that everything Willie did that made people call him a radical-liberal were things that he did to get out of boredom. Because, Willie ultimately wants to get married, go beaches and enjoy life. Everything else was, well, just to while away time. Purely epicurean. What else can you call it when a happening hero suddenly stoops to this level?
Off the Topic
I would like to thank Pra for giving me an award. This was very encouraging.

I would like to pass the award to two people as this is the blogosphere tradition:

1. To Bharathi Subbarayan who writes A Naked Opinion. In my opinion, he writes some of the best researched, harder than truth posts. Great to read him.

2. To Pramoda Meduri who writes Being Pramoda. This award is for the Love of The Little Hearts, her recent post. I liked the innocence with which she narrates her experience with a few children learning from her and how they were happy about it.
May all of you rule the blogosphere forever!