I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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A note about the end of Sanctuary and Faulkner’s legal fiction

Plot disclosure warning: I know at one person reading Sanctuary, and this post probably reveals more plot than you’d want if you’re going to read the book any time soon.

I last read Sanctuary in undergraduate school in the 70s. I wasn’t a lawyer, yet, and the ultimate end of Popeye– another man convicted and then lynched for a crime Popeye committed, and then Popeye convicted and hung for a crime of which he was innocent– seemed forced to me at the time.  Tying up a lot of plot in the last 12 pages or so.

It didn’t this time, through.

I’m not entirely sure what that is about.  I’ve repeatedly had the experience of revisiting flawed works of art, and discovering that, already aware of the flaws, they recede a great deal, and the virtues shine through.  I’m sure that is part of this.  But I’m also pretty sure my experience, since, doing criminal cases has an impact on my reaction.  What seemed forced then seems a lot more plausible now.

Here’s a passage, with Popeye, accused of murder, appearing before an Alabama Justice of the Peace.

The judge and the bailiff conferred aside.

“You’d better get your lawyer,” the judge said.

“All right,” Popeye said.  He turned and spoke generally into the room.  “Any of you ginneys want a one-day job?”

The judge rapped on the table.  Popeye turned back, his tight shoulders lifted in a faint shrug, his hand moving toward the pocket where he carried his cigarettes.  The judge appointed him counsel,* a young man just out of law school.

“And I wont bother about being sprung,” Popeye said, “Get it over with all at once.”

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Request to readers:   Listen to the song.


*This was written three years before Powell v. Alabama, the Scottsboro boys case holding a right to counsel in capital cases.


14 comments to A note about the end of Sanctuary and Faulkner’s legal fiction

  • Floyd Pink

    Good song.

  • NotZachScruggs

    Well sung. Sad, sad. Earnest Gaines spoke well in A Lesson Before Dying: “ But let us say he was (guilty). Let us for a moment say he was (guilty). What justice would there be to take his life? Justice, gentlemen? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.”

  • Apropos of nothing, I read the first chapter of Something Wicked This Way Comes aloud to myself at lunchtime. Oddly I didn’t like the book when I was a kid, but I think this time will be the trick.

  • NMC

    It was not one of the Bradbury books I liked as a kid, either, and, revisiting descriptions of his books this week, I thought it seemed more appealing than I’d remembered it. I haven’t read any Bradbury since high school, and read most of it in Junior High, begining with the Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man.

    Tying it back (almost) to the subject, there’s a funny account of Dean Faulkner Wells meeting Bradbury on an ocean liner back in the 50s. Bradbury saw her name on the passenger list, and Mr. and Bradbury asked her for tea. Dean, then a teenager, had no idea how to talk to a famous writer and his wife. Dean later got over that problem.

  • Yah, seeing it mentioned by so many people I respect made me pick it up at the library today. Definitely a short-story man, Bradbury. I posed at TBA his appreciation for Welty.

    … I hadn’t realized how Tea Party he’d gotten in his dotage, but considering the power of nostalgia in his work, it’s not terribly surprising.

  • WantedToBeALawyer

    Was that you I heard on Taggart’s and Nash’s show NMC, today. Good job.

    Meanwhile folks, our capitol city continues to provide much entertainment. The lowliest council member (its a race to the bottom) gets to face a second election since a twelve person jury said that she violated election laws.

  • NMC

    That was me. It was fun. I got to talk about murder in Greenwood and the new poet laureate.

  • Kevin

    But Billy Austin was in fact guilty by his own admission.

    A great song, yes. From a day when my (then) hero Steve Earle wrote one political song every album or so. He went full-retard Lefty after the 2000 election, though. Sad.

  • NMC

    The lefty was there all along, Kevin.

  • Kevin

    Oh, I know, Tom. Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear.

    I know he’s always been a lefty, going back to when his dad (an air-traffic controller) was fired by Reagan in the PATCO strike.

    My point was that before the 2000 election, he confined himself to one or two overtly political songs per album. And those were fairly benign.

    He writes nothing but political songs now. And it’s sad. He’s not Woody Guthrie. But he thinks he is.

    His pet issues used to be the death penalty, and a worldwide treaty banning the use of land mines. Now his pet issue is “Republicans and capitalists are evil.” And there’s no subtlety. It’s 2×4-to-the-mule’s-head.

    Since I’m both a Republican and a capitalist, I don’t buy his records anymore. And again, it’s sad. I gobbled up his albums for years. Steve Earle was my inspiration to learn guitar. Hell, I wrote letters to him when he was in jail, KNOWING his political views differed greatly from mine.

    But now he’s just a loud-mouthed, FILTHY RICH liberal who likes to bash the capitalist system that made his wealth possible. Just another hypocritical, Leftist bore.

  • Kevin: Now his pet issue is “Republicans and capitalists are evil.” … Since I’m both a Republican and a capitalist …

    Surely this is a significant confirmation of Earle’s opinions?

  • NMC

    Kevin wrote:


    He’s not Woody Guthrie. But he thinks he is.

    << Well, I can’t argue with that, but he’s had runs all along that have been less interesting to me– e.g. when he was trying to be a sort of southern-fried Springsteen/arena rocker– yet something interesting here and there throughout. The best stuff to my taste was early and then right after he started stuff on his own label after the jail time.

  • Acoustic guitar,
    if you think I play hard,
    well you coulda belonged to Steve Earle …

    –The Magnetic Fields

  • pr1954

    think I’ll go out and buy some Steve Earle!!!

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