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


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