Wrestling Angels into Song: The Fictions of Ernest J. Gaines and James Alan McPherson

By Herman Beavers | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
"The Life of the Law Is Thus a Life of Art": Antagonism and Persuasion in McPherson's Legal Fiction Trilogy

the broken heart and the broken
tongue are the theme of the evening; betrayals
in pictures, offered in court, the racist judge,
friends and colleagues, raised on literature,
unable to see the crown of thorns, the landscape,
a woman who'd been saved unafraid to testify.

-- Michael S. Harper, "Certainties,"

"What is to be done? I propose we do the wise thing, the law- abiding thing."

-- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man


1

As we turn in this chapter to an assessment of James Alan McPherson's fiction, perhaps there is a way to ascertain the ramifications of literacy, storytelling, and rhetoric as they pertain to legal matters. Perhaps it is a matter of seeing the mundane in new ways or choosing faith rather than disbelief. In an essay entitled "Perspective of Literature," Ralph Ellison tells the story of how, as a boy living in Oklahoma City, he worked for Mr. J. D. Randolph, the janitor of the State Law Library. Though the workings of the governmental process fascinated and mystified the young Ellison, his memories of that time and place were stimulated by a recurrent experience:

while I was never able to observe the legislature in session, it was not at all unusual for me to look up from pushing a broom or dusting a desk to see one of the legislators dash into the library to ask Jeff -- Mr. Randolph was always

-181-

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