English 10 Honors
9 December 1996
The Chamber: A Look Into the Novel and Film
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.’ ” (45).
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 122).
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.