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Essay/Term paper: The chamber: a look into the novel and film

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Culture

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The Chamber: A Look Into the Novel and Film

Dan Cano
Mrs. Ficarrota
English 10 Honors
9 December 1996

Stories about crime prove to be a strong part of America's entertainment in
this day. In The Chamber, John Grisham writes about a Klansman who is convicted
of murder and a grandson who tries to save his grandfather is on death row. This
story is now a major motion picture. This story carries a strong emotional
following to it because it both questions and supports the death penalty in
different ways. Grisham shows this when he writes: " " I've hurt a lot of people,
Adam, and I haven't always stopped to think about it. But when you have a date
with the grim reaper, you think about the damage you've done.' " The messages
about the death penalty are brought about in different ways in the film and in
the novel. Although the novel and film adaptation of The Chamber have some
significant differences, the plot and character perspectives are used to convey
a political message about the death penalty. (378)
The various characters in The Chamber have different traits and
backgrounds that affect their perspectives on certain issues. Sam Cayhall is
one of the main characters in the story whose background is filled with hate
because of his connection with the Klan. "The second member of the team was a
Klansman by the name of Sam Cayhall," "The FBI knew that Cayhall's father had
been a Klansman, . . . " (Grisham 2-3). Sam, who is brought up under the
influence of the Ku Klux Klan, uses "politically incorrect" terms for other
minorities when he talks with Adam Cayhall in death row. " " You Jew boys never
quit, do you?' ", " " How many nigger partners do you have?' " " " Just great.
The Jew bastards have sent a greenhorn to save me. I've known for a long time
that they secretly wanted me dead, now this proves it. I killed some Jews, now
they want to kill me. I was right all along.' " (Grisham 77-78). These
statements reflect Sam Cayhall's intense hate for others which is derived from
his young upbringing in the Ku Klux Klan. Sam's background as a Klansman is told
by Grisham using Sam telling Adam about generations of Klan activity:
" `Why did you become a Klansman?'
`Because my father was in the Klan.'
`Why did he become a Klansman?'
`Because his father was in the Klan.'
`Great. Three generations.'
`Four, I think. Colonel Jacob Cayhall fought with Nathan Bedford
Forrest in the war, and family legend has it that he was one of the early
members of the Klan. He was my great-grandfather.' " (123).

Adam Cayhall is a young motivated lawyer who is driven to save his
grandfather, Sam, because he wants to find out about his family history as well
as about his grandfather. John Grisham shows Adam's desire to defend his
grandfather and get him out of being executed:
" `I've studied his entire file.' " " " I'm intrigued by the case.
I've watched it for years, read everything written about the man. You asked me
earlier why I chose Kravitz & Bane. Well, the truth is that I wanted to work on
the Cayhall case, and I think this firm has handled it pro bono for, what, eight
years now?' " (28). Adam's desire to learn more about his family through
defending Sam is strong. " "I'm your grandson. Therefore, I'm allowed to ask
questions about your past.' " (Grisham 123). Adam uses his family to relate to
Sam. The author shows this when he quotes Adam saying,
" `On behalf of my family, such as it is-my mother who refuses to
discuss Sam; my
sister who only whispers his name; my aunt in Memphis who has
disowned the name Cayhall-and on behalf of my late father, I would like to say
thanks to you and to this firm for what you've done. I admire you greatly.' "
Lee is Sam Cayhall's granddaughter; she has trouble getting rid of the
painful memory that is her father. Lee becomes an alcoholic to deal with her
pain of being the daughter of Sam Cayhall. Her pain surfaces again when Adam
comes down to try to save Sam and the case becomes news again. Grisham tells
about Lee's problem with alcohol in many ways. " "All right, dammit. So I'm an
alcoholic. Who can blame me?' " (302). " "No you won't, Lee. You're not
drinking any more tonight. Tomorrow I'll take you to the doctor, and we'll get
some help.' " (304). Lee is Sam's daughter, and therefore she had to live with
the memory that her father was a murderer.
The plot and characters have some differences between themselves in the
novel and the film. The melodramatic film takes away from the novel's
descriptive plot. The first major difference I noticed was in the level of
detail. The novel seemed to be much more descriptive than the film. The film
basically focused on the relationships between the characters which left out
much of the novel's detailed plot. The major part of the novel's detail which
was left out of the film was the characters. There were characters written about
in the novel that were not included in the film. The first, and most significant
was Jeremiah Dogan. Dogan was the Imperial Wizard for the Klan in Mississippi in
the beginning of the book. He is the one who set's up the entire bombing which
Sam Cayhall is convicted of single-handedly doing. "He was not stupid. In fact,
the FBI later admitted Dogan was quite effective as a terrorist because he
delegated the dirty work to small, autonomous groups of hit men who worked
completely independent of one another." (Grisham 2).
The difference between the film and the novel that disappointed me most
was the minor but highly significant changes of the plot. In the novel, the
first three chapters of the book describe the events leading up to the bombing
in detail. The movie starts with the actual bomb going off itself. The
beginning of the book that was left out was one of the most interesting parts of
the novel and should not have been left out of the film. (Grisham 1-22).
John Grisham, the author of The Chamber, does not approve of Universal's
film adaptation.
"As his asking price has soared, so has his involvement. Grisham
had approval of the script, director and cast during the making of A Time to
Kill (while grumping about Universal's unapproved adaptation of The Chamber, due
this fall). He is co- writing the screenplay for The Rainmaker with director
Francis Coppola." (Bellafante 1)
The author and film use character perspectives to convey a political
message about the death penalty. Adam's profession, and family influence his
perspective on the death penalty. Grisham shows this in Adam's conversation with
his employer. " "I'm opposed to the death penalty.' "Aren't we all, Mr. Hall?' "
(Grisham 27). Besides Adam's career in law influencing his perspective on the
death penalty, seeing Sam on death row also influences Adam's views. " "It is
not simply about someone being executed, but about a grandfather dying and his
grandson's frightening circumstance of trying to win both a legal victory to
save him and an emotional victory to reach him.' " (Greer 2-3).
Mississippi's Governor McAllister uses the Cayhall case to enhance his
public stature. John Grisham uses many different ways to show how Governor
McAllister supports the death penalty by putting Sam on death row: "In 1980,
eight short years after the trial, David McAllister was elected governor of the
State of Mississippi. To no one's surprise, the widest planks in his platform
had been more jails, longer sentences, and an unwavering affinity for the death
penalty." (50). Sam expresses his hate of the governor as well. " "An hour
before I die, he'll hold a press conference somewhere-probably here, maybe at
the governor's mansion-and he'll stand there in the glare of a hundred cameras
and deny me clemency. And the bastard will have tears in his eyes.' " (Grisham
Ruth Kramer and her family are the characters who are also supportive of
the death penalty. Their perspective is brought about because her husband and
two children were killed by the man who awaits the gas chamber. While Sam
Cayhall thinks David McAllister is a monster, Ruth Kramer thinks David
McAllister is a hero for demanding justice. These are the two sides of the coin
which is the death penalty in The Chamber. As Grisham writes it, Ruth Kramer's
situation is well described by Lee in this line:
" "Bitter? She lost her entire family. She's never remarried. Do
you think she cares if my father intended to kill her children? Of course not.
She just knows they're dead, Adam, dead for twenty-three years now. She knows
they were killed by a bomb planted by my father, and if he'd been home with his
family instead of riding around at night with his idiot buddies, little Josh and
John would not be dead.' " (61).
The Chamber is a story about life and death and how it is treated by
different people. In the film, The Chamber more about relationships. " "The film
is about a young man, very alone in the world, connecting with his grandfather
and trying to understand who he is.' " (Greer 4). Despite the differences
between the two, The Chamber proves to show a political message on the
infliction of the death penalty in America.


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