Children Into Men: Lawyers and the Law in Three Novels
Children Into Men: Lawyers and the Law in Thr ee Novels
Gregory J. Sullivan
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GREGORY J. SULLIVAN*
It is a contradictionin terms
to attempt a sinless Literatureof sinful man.'
The interdisciplinary law-and-literature movement has
burgeoned in recent years. Numerous books and articles have
appeared within the past decade or so and many law schools now
regularly offer courses on the subject. This essay, however, will
not address the movement itself; indeed, I believe it is replete
with sundry limitations.2 Nevertheless, one facet of the growing
area of law-and-literature-and the connections between the two
fields-that is salutary is the renewed interest in, and
explication of, works of literature that have legal themes or involve
characters who are lawyers. This area is one in which lawyers
can provide insights into the novels that a reader untrained in
the law would perhaps overlook or misunderstand.
Associate, Hartsough & Kenny, New Jersey. B.A., cum laude, Trenton State
College, 1985; M.A., Villanova University, 1987; J.D., Seton Hall University School
of Law, 1992. The author gratefully acknowledges the guidance of the Rev.
Monsignor Harold P. Darcy of Seton Hall University School of Law during the composition
of thisJOeHssNayH. ENRY NEWMAN, THE IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY 174 (1875).
2 See RICHARD A. POSNER, LAW AND LITERATURE: A MISUNDERSTOOD REL LION
1 (1988), which cogently analyzes these limitations. Judge Posner's book also
includes masterly discussions of various works of literature, including James Gould
Cozzens' THE JUST AND THE UNJusT. Id. at 79-82. For a more favorable and
ambitious view of law-and-literature, see RICHARD H. WEISBERG, THE FAILURE OF THE
WORD: THE PROTAGONIST AS LAWYER INMODERN FICTION (1984).
This piece will examine the law and lawyers in three fine
American novels: James Gould Cozzens' The Just and the Unjust
(1942), Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), and Herman
Wouk's The Caine Mutiny (1951).' While these novels vary in
many respects and all present lawyers in very distinct ways,
none of these novels is about law in any direct sense. In fact,
each of the three novels is a Bildungsroman--concernedmore
with the moral development of the protagonist than anything
else. Yet all three do present a lawyer as a significant character.
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Abner Coates (and
others) in The Just and the Unjust, and Barney Greenwald in The
CaineMutiny are among the most vivid characters in these
novels (but not in all cases protagonists), and all are defined by their
work in the law. Further, although these novels contain trials as
integral dramatic events (criminal trials in both To Kill a
Mockingbird and The Just and the Unjust, and a military court
martial in The CaineMutiny), none of these trials results in a
justor, in The Just and the Unjust, the statutorily required-verdict.
This essay will examine what these outcomes imply, and more
importantly, explore the distinct world view in each
novelrealism in The Just and the Unjust and The Caine Mutiny and
romanticism in To Kill a Mockingbird. Realism (i.e., taking man
and the world he inhabits as they are) and romanticism (i.e.,
envisioning man and the world as they ought to be) represent
one of the central tensions in a lawyer's moral life, and this essay
will consider the ramifications of these conflicting views as they
appear in each novel.
Finally, a few words on method. My approach to this
analysis will be conventional. I intend to examine the novels closely
' JAMES GOULD COZZENS, THE JUST AND THE UNJUST (1942); HARPER LEE, To
KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1960); HERMAN WOUI, THE CAINE MUTINY (1951). The selection
of these novels is governed by no principle save quality; they are all good books. Two of
the three-To KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and THE CAINE MUTiNY-appear in Richard
Weisberg's updated "Wigmore" list. Richard H. Weisberg, Wigmore's "LegalNovels"
Revisited: New Resources for the Expansive Lawyer, 71 Nw. U. L. Rev. 17 (1976). In
1922, John H. Wigmore published a list of those novels he believed "any lawyer in
search of enlightenment and enjoyment could not 'afford to ignore.'" Id. at 17 (quoting
John Wigmore, A List of One HundredLegal Novels, 17 ILL. L. REV. 26, 27 (1922)). In
his article, Wigmore articulated his reasons for selecting these novels, and Weisberg,
in his more recent work, gives the list "renewed attention" and "revision." Id.
Curiously, however, Weisberg omits Cozzens' THE JUST AND THE UNJUST but includes his
BY LOVE POSSESSED. Id. The latter is certainly a good "legal" novel, but the former also
merits similar attention.
and draw on relevant secondary sources only where appropriate.
Moreover, my interpretive framework will be essentially New
Critical," that is, I will rely on evidence found in the novels to
support my analysis. No preconceived ideological system of
reading-e.g., feminist, deconstructionist, or Freudian-will be
employed. Rather than subordinating the novels to an
ideologically driven critical view, I hope to emphasize that these works,
although not having law as their primary theme, are
sophisticated depictions of the complexity and dignity of the lawyer's
THE JUST AND THE UNJUST
"Every law student," wrote Zechariah Chafee, Jr., "ought to
read The Just and the Unjust. It tells him what to expect when
he gets out of law school." 5 This exhortation strikes just the
right note with respect to Cozzens' novel, for the book is
characterized by an almost reportorial approach to its subject. Cozzens
was not trained in law, but the exactitude with which he
observes the criminal process-the rules, the attorneys, the
The Just and the Unjust, set in a small rural town during
the early 1940s, focuses on a felony-murder trial. The
protagonist, Abner Coates, is the county's young, competent, but rather
aloof assistant district attorney. He tries the case for the
prosecution along with the district attorney, Martin Bunting.
Although the district attorney is lead counsel, Coates does play an
active role in the trial, making the opening statement to the jury
and Texhaemtirniainlgrseevveearlasl tihmapt otrhtaentdewfeitnndeasnsetss,. 6 Howell and Basso,7
New Critical relies on a "close reading of the text and awareness of verbal
nuance and thematic (rather than narrative) organization, and [is] not concerned with
the biographical or social backgrounds of works of art." THE OXFORD COMPANION TO
ENGLISH LITERATURE 693 (5th ed. 1985).
' Zechariah Chafee, Jr., Book Review, 56 HARV. L. REV. 833 (1943); see also Henry
B. Cushing & Ernest F. Roberts, Law andLiterature:The ContemporaryImage of the
Lawyer, 6 VILL. L. REV. 451 (1961), which is a lucid examination of Cozzens' novel. For
the background of the real murder trial on which Cozzens based THE JUST AND THE
UNJUST, see Morris H. Wolff, The Legal Background of Cozzens's The Just and the
Unjust, 7 JOURNAL OF MODERN LrrERATURE 505 (1979).
6 POSNER, supra note 2, at 80.
7 One of the minor but satisfying points of verisimilitude in the novel is Cozzens'
portrayal of the criminal defendants as stupid-rather than romantic or
idealisticoutlaws. For example, when Abner Coates reflects on the criminal events, Cozzens
along with a third man named Bailey, had kidnapped a drug
dealer named Zollicoffer. After the ransom was paid, Bailey
decided it would be unsafe to return Zollicoffer alive. So on the
way to the location where the kidnappers were to drop Zollicoffer
off, Bailey shot him, and Howell and Basso helped Bailey weight
Zollicoffer down with leg irons and dump him into a river.
Bailey subsequently died while attempting to flee the police.
Although Howell and Basso do not deny taking an active part in
the kidnapping, their roles in the murder are unclear, and it is
unknown whether they authorized, knew about in advance, or
participated in the murder.8
While this summary portrays the novel as one almost
exclusively about the law, such a view reduces the essence of The Just
and the Unjust.9 Indeed, as Judge Posner astutely observed,
Cozzens' book "is a rite of passage novel, a Bildungsroman:"
The hero is a prissy kid at the beginning and a man at the end,
having assumed family responsibilities and learned the
difference between pure forms (of law, of career advancement) and
sordid realities (law may diverge from the lay sense of justice,
politics influences promotions), as well as the need to
compromise, to moderate demands, to scale down ideals, to trim
absolutes, to empathize-with the Republican boss, and above all
with his sweetheart, to whose feelings Coates is remarkably
insensitive at the beginning of the novel. The work has none of
the resonance of Hamlet or the Iliad but is recognizably part of
the same broad category of works, in which youthful idealism
becomes tempered with realism through a series of crises.1°
Still, The Just and the Unjust uses law as the setting within
which Abner's coming of age is enacted, and it is not surprising
that Cozzens exploited this area. In few professions is the chasm
between the ideal (justice) and the real (petty technicalities,
logical legerdemains, legal fictions, and so on) so vast. Law is a
Abner supposed they thought it prudent to get rid of this [i.e., the car in
which the victim had been slain]. He could not do more than suppose,
because their plans never seemed to follow any logical pattern. If they rose at
times to a sort of shrewdness, without intermission they fell to the most
staggering stupidities. Only they themselves could know what they
thought they were doing.
COZZENS, supra note 3, at 19 (1942).
8 POSNER, supra note 2, at 80.
This confusion of a legal part for the aesthetic whole is a standard error among
some scholars of law-and-literature; the error lies in the reductive tendencies of this
natural setting for maturation-the tempering of youthful
idealism with realism. For example, the trial itself seems headed
toward a certain guilty verdict, with the death sentence as the
legislatively prescribed punishment for the conviction. The
charge against the defendants is felony-murder, a controversial
if well-established doctrine, 1' and conviction seems certain
according to the statute. 12 However, the jury returns a verdict of
murder in the second degree, which runs directly contrary to the
evidence presented by the Commonwealth. (One should note
that Howell is represented by the able and flamboyant Harry
Wurtz, the most colorful attorney in the book.) Abner is
tnhuelljiufidcgaetisons,e3" The controversial nature of this doctrine is clear from its definition:
At common law, one whose conduct brought about an unintended death in
the commission or attempted commission of a felony was guilty of murder.
While some states still follow the common law rule, today the law of felony
murder varies substantially throughout the country, largely as a result of
efforts to limit the scope of the rule ....
BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY 617 (6th ed. 1990).
In his jury instructions, thejudge reads the following statutory language:
Murder which shall be perpetrated by means of poison, or by lying in wait,
or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing, or
which shall be committed in the perpetration of, or in attempting to
perpetrate, any arson, rape, robbery, burglary, or kidnapping, shall be deemed
murder in the first degree; and all other kinds of murder shall be deemed
murder in the second degree.
COZZENS, supra note 3, at 368-69.
'3 Jury nullification is a term used to describe the power of a jury to acquit a
defendant regardless of the strength of evidence against him. See David C. Brody,
Sparfand Dougherty Revisted: Why the CourtShould Instruct the Jury of its
NullificationRight, 33 AM. CRIM. L. REV. 1 (1995). Brody writes that jury nullification as
a term is really a misnomer because the jury does not have any effect on or nullify
substantive law; a jury's verdict of not guilty is "simply an act of mercy to a
particular defendant in a specific case." Id. at 90.
The issue of whether a trial court should instruct the jury that it may disregard
its instructions on the law and acquit a defendant is the subject of continuous
debate. See Id. at 6-7. The majority rule, however, is that a trial court need not
instruct the jury of this power. See United States v. Powell, 955 F.2d 1206, 1213 (9th
Cir. 1992) (holding jury nullification instructions unnecessary); United States v.
Kerley, 838 F.2d 932, 937-38 (7th Cir. 1988) (stating jury nullification is a power,
not a right); United States v. Avery, 717 F.2d 1020, 1027 (6th Cir. 1983) (holding
juror's duty, notwithstanding power to ignore law, is to apply law as interpreted by
court and juries should be instructed to do so).
For excellent discussions of jury nullification, see David N. Dorfman and Chris
K Ijima, Fictions,Fault, and Forgiveness:Jury Nullification in a New Context, 28
U. MICH. J.L. REFORM 861 (1995); Lieutenant Commander Robert E. Korroch and
Major Michael J. Davidson, Jury Nullification:A Callfor Justiceor an Invitation to
but his dismay is leavened by his father, the very wise and
respected Judge Philander Coates. Judge Coates provides Abner
with the mature view of the matter. He remarks:
The ancient conflict between liberty and authority. The jury
protects the Court. It's a question how long any system of courts
could last in a free country if judges found the verdicts. It
doesn't matter how wise and experienced the judges may be.
Resentment would build up every time the findings didn't go
with current notions or prejudices. Pretty soon half the
community would want to lynch the judge. There's no focal point
with a jury; the jury is the public itself. That's why a jury can
say when a judge couldn't, "I don't care what the law is, that
isn't right and I won't do it." It's the greatest prerogative of free
men. They have to have a way of saying that and making it
stand. They may be wrong, they may refuse to do the things
they ought to do; but freedom just to be wise and good isn't any
freedom. We pay a pr1i4ce for lay participation in the law; but it's
a necessary expense.
This rationale is not mere rationalization; it is an adult view
of the power and authority of juries to nullify in particular and
the law in general. (It is also one of the finest justifications for
jury nullification that one is likely to encounter).
The realistic view of Judge Coates is sounded earlier by
Bunting when he upbraids Abner for his aloofness from the
political process through which he must pass to become district
attorney. Abner continuously expresses disgust with Jesse
Gearhart, the Republican county chairman who
controlswithout any evidence of corruption-much of the political process
in this solidly Republican community. It is with him that Abner
must work if he is to become Bunting's successor. "Standing off,"
Bunting tells Abner, "and saying you don't like the way things
are run is kid stuff-any kid can work out a program of more ice
cream and less school and free movies and him telling people
what to do instead of people always telling him-" 5
What I say is ... until you have some responsibility, do
something besides kick, or try to heave in a few monkey wrenches,
you aren't going to know what you're talking about. Sure, one
way to get rid of the rats is burn down the barn! That's
brilAnarchy, 139 MIL. L. REV. 131 (1993).
14 COZZENS, supranote 3, at 427-28.
Id. at 365.
liant. Wait until it's been up to you for a few years, until you've
had to decide, until you've seen how a few of those brilliant
ideas turn out. Wait until you have to do the work instead of
the talking. Then you may begin to know something, not just
think you know.
The advice is prudent, particularly in the context of the law.
The "Ir]omantic' temperament," says Judge Posner, "is one of
humankind's fundamental moods, reflecting the boundless
egoism of early childhood and the sense of loss that accompanies
growing up." 7 And this temperament is in conflict with the
bounds that form the law. Bunting's instruction does point
Abner in the direction of maturation-and the concomitant sense of
loss-with respect to the law, public office, and service to the
community. Romantic ideals must, Bunting implies, yield to the
reality of adult responsibility; otherwise, duties go unfulfilled
and the public is not served.
While Cozzens' realism could be interpreted as slipping into
cynicism, The Just and the Unjust is not a cynical novel. In fact,
it is the consistently antiromantic view of law that is most
appealing about the novel. The conflicts in the novel are not, to be
sure, great metaphysical struggles-this book, after all, is not
Billy Budd--but in its own modest way, The Just and the Unjust
is as satisfying as any of the literature dealing with the law.
Cozzens' affirmation of the judicial process depicted with a keen
eye as to its flaws is compelling because the novel is not
measuring the criminal trial-and by extension the law in
generalagainst an impossible utopian ideal. Abner's conflict is an
inevitable one for a young attorney: all too often the verdict is not
what it should be, career decisions involve factors not found in
political science textbooks, and justice remains elusive in this
world. Such imperfections, however, are tolerable with a mature
view of institutions, one that recognizes that the imperfections
that inhere them are derived from the flaws found in the men
who make them. This view represents the actual adult
worldthe one that is embodied in The Just and the Unjust.
To KILL AMOCKINGBIRD
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is, in many respects, the
'eId. at 366.
17POSNER, supra note 2, at 140-41.
most lyrical and compelling of the three novels under discussion.
There are moments of great moral intensity captured perfectly in
the first-person narration of "Scout" Finch, the young daughter
of the saintly lawyer, Atticus Finch. 8 This novel does, however,
lack the authority of The Just and the Unjust and The
CaineMutiny because of the puerility of its view of human nature. To Kill
a Mockingbird is a book that ultimately embraces the romantic
view of man affirming his essential goodness-in a way that
conflicts with the savage conduct of some of its characters.
Set during the 1930s in Maycomb County, Alabama, To Kill
a Mockingbird traces the coming of age of Jem and Scout Finch,
the son and daughter of Atticus Finch, a lawyer and
representative in the state legislature who is revered in the community.
Roughly the first third of the book depicts scenes of youthful
tranquillity in a small Southern town. But there are darker
aspects and they come to the fore when Atticus defends a black
man, Tom Robinson, against an accusation of rape by a white
woman, Mayella Ewell. Clearly, Atticus is the moral center of
the novel, and his struggle with Tom's case demonstrates what
can only be called his saintliness. As he explains to Scout:
Scout ...when summer comes you'll have to keep your head
about far worse things ..i.t's not fair for you and Jem, I know
that, but sometimes we have to make the best of things, and the
way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down-well, all I
can say is, when you and Jem are grown, maybe you'll look back
on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn't let
you down. This case, Tom Robinson's case, is something that
goes to the essence of a man's conscience-Scout, I couldn't go to
church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man.' 9
The reason Tom's case has such a moral impact on Atticus is
because the man is manifestly innocent. Atticus, moreover, is
not fighting the evidence but the racial bias of his community.
His job is to convince a jury of white men that a black man was
wrongly accused of raping a white woman-an unenviable case.
But Lee, so to speak, stacks the deck in Atticus' favor,
notwithstanding that this case is lost before it begins, for Tom Robinson
is a noble black man-kind, decent, who only wanted to help
Mayella Ewell, a white woman and daughter of Robert E. Lee
"6See Thomas L. Shaffer, ChristianLawyer Stories and American Legal Ethics,
Ewell, who is the patriarch of Maycomb County's most loathsome
white clan. Lee obviously wanted to condemn the racism
inherent in Southern life, but presenting the characters in a
cartoonlike depiction of good versus evil deprived her story of a great
deal of moral force.
Atticus conducts his defense of Tom brilliantly-his skill as
a lawyer is never in doubt-and his closing argument is among
the most compelling in fiction. He closes his appeal to the jury
with a resonant affirmation of equality before the law:
But there is one way in this country in which all men are
created equal-there is one human institution that makes a pauper
the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an
Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president.
That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme
Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. court in the
land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have
their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country
our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are
I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and
in the jury system-that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working
reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you
sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its
jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I
am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion
the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore the
defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.20
This appeal to the jury is shrewd; it seeks to evoke the better
angels of the jurors' natures. It is, however, not enough: Tom is
convicted of rape and sentenced to death according to the law.
What lesson should Scout take from this watershed event?
One would think a sober view of the human condition, with its
capacity for injustice, its blindness to manifest truth. But this is
not the case. The novel closes with Atticus tucking Scout into
bed. Responding to Scout's comment that somebody "was real
nice," Atticus says, "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see
them."21 Really? Such a conclusion, though appropriate perhaps
from the saintly Atticus-it is the view of only a saint--runs
contrary to the events in the novel. Most people are not very nice
20 Id. at 218.
21 Id. at 296.
when you finally see them. The jury-a reasonable cross-section
of the population, at least the white male part of it-convicts
Tom based on passion and prejudice. Also, Jem's teacher, Miss
Gates, expresses horror when discussing Hitler and supreme
faith in the goodness of democracy, but she is pleased with the
trial's guilty verdict. Finally, Jem and Scout, while walking
home from a school play, are violently attacked by Bob Ewell,
and Jem has his arm broken. (The children are saved only by
the mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley, the eponymous
The romantic view of man that To Kill a Mockingbird
endorses undermines its moral import. The reader has followed a
narrative that involves the horrors outlined above and is
expecting a conclusion not unlike Cozzens' stern acceptance of human
limitations. Instead, he gets a child's view that all is, finally,
good. And it is this view that is so offensive: original sin, and the
evil that is its inevitable consequence, requires more respect
than this novel provides. However much Atticus is and ought to
be an ideal figure for a lawyer, the triumph of the child's vision
leaves To Kill a Mockingbird bereft of an enduring moral
THE CAINE MUTINY
Like The Just and the Unjust, Herman Wouk's The Caine
Mutiny is another Bildungsroman. The naiveth of the hero,
Willis Seward "Willie" Keith, is lost in the cauldron of war (like the
law, an ideal arena for maturation) as he emerges a mature man
ready for work, marriage, and other adult responsibilities. Like
Cozzens, Wouk is antiromantic in his view of the human
condition, and he, like Cozzens, tells the story in conventional prose
using third-person narration. Although The Caine Mutiny is
much less about law than the other novels discussed,23 it
contains a crucial court martial and defense attorney, Barney
Greenwald, who constitutes and defines the moral center of the
' As one character explains: "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for
us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do
one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
Id. at 98.
0 Indeed, it is among the best World War II novels, comparable to Cozzens'
outstanding GUARD OF HONOR (1948).
In this long but straightforward tale, Willie is introduced as
the son of privilege. The scion of a fairly distinguished New York
family and a recent graduate of Princeton University, Willie is a
frivolous young man whose academic talent for literature goes
uncultivated while he plays piano in cocktail lounges, waiting to
join the U.S. Navy. Just prior to commencing his officer
training, Willie meets and falls in (superficial) love with May Wynn
(her real name is Marie Minotti), and he has difficulties, largely
because of his overbearing mother, with Marie's social (lower
class), ethnic (Italian), and religious (Roman Catholic)
Willie's maturation unfolds on the ship to which he is
assigned, the U.S.S. Caine. Initially, the ship is under the
command of Captain de Vriess, whom Willie despises instantly for
his slovenliness and lackadaisical style of command. Soon,
however, de Vriess is replaced by Captain Queeg, whom Willie
immediately likes. But Queeg's character flaws rapidly reveal, and
Willie comes increasingly to despise him. The critic Frederick
Karl succinctly comments on the central event-the mutiny--on
the Caineresulting from Queeg's erratic mental state:
What makes Willie mature are the episodes on the
Caineinvolving Captain Queeg. Wouk's overt plan is to demonstrate that
Queeg is an incompetent skipper, not to speak of one suffering
borderline madness, as demonstrated in arbitrary and cruel
punishments and an inability to respond to crucial situations.
His behavior drives Maryk, the executive [officer], and Keith
and Keefer, a novel-writing officer, to believe he is incapable of
command. Seduced by the amateur psychologizing of Keefer,
Maryk is persuaded Queeg must be replaced as skipper when
the Caine moves into the eye of the typhoon and almost
capsizes. Citing three articles of navy regulations, Maryk, along
with Keith and Keefer, takes over the ship and brings it safely
back to port.24
Maryk is, of course, subject to court martial for his mutiny.
His representation is assigned to the extraordinary lawyer and
naval officer, Barney Greenwald. Karl is again to the point with
respect to Greenwald's trial strategy: "At the trial of Maryk, who
is held responsible for the mutiny, Greenwald argues brilliantly
24 FREDERICK R. KARL, AMERICAN FICTIONS 1940-1980 111 (1983). The three navy
regulations under which Maryk assumes command permit relief of the captain only
under extraordinary circumstances.
that Queeg was indeed mad at the moment he had to decide the
fate of the Caine, although he may be considered sane when
beyond periods of stress." 5 Greenwald's closing argument is a
perfect example of his subtle forensic manner:
I was reluctant ... because I knew that the only possible defense
of the accused was to show in court the mental incompetence of
an officer of the Navy. It has been the most unpleasant duty I've
ever had to perform. Let me make one thing clear. It is not and
never has been the contention of the defense that Commander
Queeg is a coward. The entire case of the defense rests on the
opposite assumption: that no man who rises to command of a
United States naval ship can possibly be a coward. And that
therefore if he commits questionable acts under fire the
explanation must lie elsewhere.
Greenwald is depicted as a superb trial attorney, and his
efforts earn Maryk an acquittal. Yet, the shrewdness and subtlety
of his defense, as indicated in his closing argument, as well as
the underlying nature of his representation, are not revealed
Wouk could have ended the novel at this point, with the few
scenes completing Willie's passage to manhood-including,
finally, his command of the Caine and a more enduring bond with
Marie. But he uses Greenwald to make a more profound point.
At the celebration dinner following Maryk's acquittal, hosted by
Keefer, who has just received news that his novel has been
accepted for publication, Greenwald arrives drunk but lucid
enough to deliver the following denunciation of the true culprit of
the entire mutiny:
'Scuse me, I'm all finished, Mr. Keefer. I'm up to the toast.
Here's to you. You bowled a perfect score. You went after Queeg
and got him. You kept your own skirts all white and starchy.
Steve is finished for good, but you'll be the next captain of the
Caine. You'll retire old and full of fat fitness reports. You'll
publish your novel proving that the Navy stinks, and you'll make a
million dollars and marry Hedy Lamarr. No letter of reprimand
for you, just royalties on your novel. So you won't mind a li'l
verbal reprimand from me, what does it mean? I defended Steve
because I found out the wrong guy was on trial. Only way I
could defend him was to sink Queeg for you. I'm sore that I was
pushed into that spot, and ashamed of what I did, and thass
why I'm drunk. Queeg deserved better at my hands. I owed him
washing his fat behind with my mother.H17ermann Goering from
a favor, don't you see? He stopped
Greenwald's attack of Keefer goes right to the moral heart of
the novel: Queeg is the innocent party. Though Keefer's conduct
is diabolically clever inasmuch as his seminal part in the mutiny
remains beyond the reach of the law, it remains within the
penetrating moral intelligence of Greenwald. This "verdict" is
controversial, and Karl finds it untenable:
Here is the equation: Queeg, despite his limitations as a
skipper, fought for his country, represented its values; and he was
done in by the viper on board his ship, the intellectual,
novelwriting Keefer, who knew nothing of the nature of the
individual's responsibility or of obedience to a higher authority. And
Keefer, by virtue of his glibness and shallow sense of human
rights, was able to foment a mutiny, all based on duplicitous
issues, and then withdraw when the going became difficult. The
real enemy is Keefer, and behind him the Nazis. The reasoning
is tortuous .... 28
Wouk finishes Keefer off at the close of the novel. The
Caine, under Keefer's captaincy at this point, is hit by a
kamikaze and burns. Willie decides to stay on board and save the
ship while Keefer, his novel in a sack, cravenly jumps into the
ocean. The ship is saved by Willie's skillful command in Keefer's
absence; Keefer's cowardice could not be more egregious, and he
realizes it.29 Thus, Greenwald's attack on Keefer and his defense
of Queeg are vindicated-and he was honest in his
representation of Myrak.
Left simply as a Bildungsroman,then, The Caine Mutiny is
27 Id. at 442-43.
' KARL, supra note 24, at 111. I find the logic much more coherent. Wouk, to be
sure, is provocative in endorsing Greenwald's view of the ultimate culpability for the
mutiny, but it is a very compelling view.
As Keefer observes:
See Willie, there is one lousy thing about having brains. Makes me worse
off than Queeg. He could swallow all his own feeble self-protecting lies
because he was a stupid man. But I can analyze. I'm imprisoned forever by
the fact that I jumped. It has given me an identity. I can't forget that fact
except by going paranoid like Queeg, and I'm pretty clearheaded. Not much
guts, but a lot of brains. The combination is quite possible-in fact maybe
there's a correlation, I don't know-.
WOUK, supra note 3, at 458.
an outstanding example of the genre; but Wouk pushes beyond
Willie's maturation to make more substantial points about
responsibility. It is noteworthy too that he uses a lawyer to
accomplish this task: the trial saves the innocent man but the
guilty man is condemned by Greenwald's speech to a lifetime
with his own sullied conscience. Justice is done but outside the
confines of the established judicial forum. Wouk, like Cozzens,
realistically affirms human and institutional limitations while
demonstrating the consequences of morally irresponsible
The Just and the Unjust, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The
Caine Mutiny all contain what one can correctly term heroic
views of lawyers. (This view probably goes too far with respect
to Cozzens' work, but the lawyers there are all depicted as
honorable men who fulfill their substantial duties). The sense of
duty of John Bunting and Abner Coates, the moral courage of
Atticus Finch, and the sheer brilliance of Barney Greenwald are
all qualities that lawyers-especially young lawyers-would do
well to emulate. The themes of the books do not involve the law,
but the law is hardly an insignificant part of the protagonists'
moral development. What strikes a reader who is trained in law
is the accuracy of, and faith in, the legal processes depicted in
these novels. A trial, especially a criminal trial, is an inherently
dramatic event, and it is not surprising when a novelist draws on
its form, intricacy, weaknesses, and grandeur for a story.
But what one primarily takes away from these books is a
view of the world-any serious novel vouchsafes one, however
abstruse or incoherent --0and it is here that To Kill a
Mockingbird falls disappointingly short, notwithstanding the splendid
moral example of Atticus Finch. For a lawyer is, in a sense, the
ultimate worldly figure, resolving issues in what often seems a
coldly positivist universe. His moral compass must be set
accurately if justice is to be effected and cynicism kept.at bay. The
Just and the Unjust and The Caine Mutiny provide the requisite
world view for the lawyer. It is one where maturity is a good to
so "A novel," said the distinguished literary journalist and novelist, Anthony
Burgess, "ought to leave in the reader's mind a sort of philosophical residue. A view
of life has been indirectly propounded that seems new, even surprising." ANTHONY
BURGESS, 99 NOvELs: THE BEST IN ENGLISH SINCE 1939 17 (1984).
be sought and is a triumph when achieved. In other words, it is
a world view where fulfilling the responsibilities to oneself and
the community represent the enduring ideal for lawyers.