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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

A Time to Kill

1. How would you describe Sheriff Ozzie Walls?

2. Why did Tonya envision her father running "desperately" through the woods?

3. Talk about the town's reaction to Tonya's rape. What role does race play in the way the townspeople respond?

4. Why does Carl Lee Hailey shoot Cobb and Willard? What are the chances that the two men would have been convicted and sentenced? What were your feelings when Hailey shot them?

5. Is Carl Lee Hailey sane...or insane?

6. Why does Jake Brigance decide to take Carl Lee Hailey's case? What, according to Brigance, would a similar case normally cost?

7. Why does Brigance hang a portrait of William Faulkner in his office? What does Faulkner represent to him? And what is implied by the fact that, as Brigance notices, no streets or buildings are named after Grant or Lincoln?

8. Talk about the three families: the Haileys, Cobbs and Willards. How different are they? Do they have anything in common?

9. What do lawyers fight for—according to Chapter 10?

10. Describe Rufus Buckley. How do he and Jake Brigance compare with one another—in their beliefs, motivations and in the way they approach the law? Now compare Omar Noose. Why does Brigance liken him to Ichabod Crane?

11. How does Brigance's respond to Ethel's concern about the phone calls? What does this reveal about his state of mind?

12. What does Brigance reveal about himself during the New York Times interview?

13. Talk about the various decisions that Jake Brigance makes throughout the book? Are they ethical? Is Jake ethical?

14. What about Reverend Agee, who collects donations for the Hailey fund? Is he fair?

15. What is later revealed about Tonya? Has she recovered from her ordeal?

16. Talk about the role of court testimony by psychiatrists? How credible...or non-credible are they?

17. What have you learned in this book about way the legal system works? What are preliminary hearings, grand juries, and arraignments? Does the system work the way you believe it should?

18. Talk about the volunteer/pro bono team that assists Brigance. What do you think of Ellen Roark, for instance? What assets and liabilities does each team member bring to the Hailey case?

19. What is the significance of Jake's vomiting and weeping? How is this trial changing him? What is the (non-literal) meaning of the sentence, "Jake sipped his beer and searched for daylight through the window"?

20. Talk about the Ku Klux Klan and its role in the trial.

21. Examine Brigance's closing argument: how does he endear the jury to Dr. Bass and reestablish the relevance of the doctor's testimony? How does Brigance portray Buckley as a father figure? What part of Looney's testimony does he call to mind? Does his recalling the rape scene from Tonya's perspective help the insanity plea?

22. Talk about the jury...and the way in which it reaches its decision. Why are members unwilling to deadlock? How does Wanda Womack's proposal sway them?

23. After reading this book, has your attitude toward the legal system changed in any way?

A Time to Kill
by John Grisham

  • Publication Date: June 1, 1992
  • Genres: Legal Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 515 pages
  • Publisher: Island Books
  • ISBN-10: 0440211727
  • ISBN-13: 9780440211723