David’s Outline

David Stevens

ENGL 016: Literary Cities: Chicago, New York, San Franscisco

Long Essay Outline


Prompt 1:

Lawyers, the police, and the courts appear in all three Chicago novels that we read: The JungleNative SonHumboldt’s Gift. How does the representation of law enforcement differ from novel to novel, and what do these variations say about the authors and the versions of Chicago they have created?


Preliminary Thoughts:


All three of these novels present the law in different ways, and the authors use this discretionary depiction to craft a specific simulacrum of Chicago for their characters. Sinclair emphasizes the machine-like operation of the police, enforcing his theme about the brutal efficiency of Packingtown and the rough experience of the immigrant population. Furthermore, his depiction of incarceration as a reprieve presents a sharp contrast to the supposedly more free world of Durham and Co.’s packinghouses, reinforcing his narrative of debilitating-not-dignifying employment. In Richard Wright’s Chicago, the legal system is naturally a product of the racist society that created it, containing elements of anti-Communism and anti-semitism as well. This portrayal serves to outline the tremendous disadvantages of marginalized groups of all kinds, and to give context to Bigger’s breakdown. The intertwined role of the police and the media is also notable. In Humboldt’s Gift, finally, Bellow presents the reader with a fundamentally different image of lawyers, one that is more forgiving, but not without his own societal commentary.


The Law’s presence in Native Son


The portrayal of the machinery of justice in Richard Wright’s magnum opus is in fact a dogged display of injustice. He uses the institutions of the law to establish the entrenched nature of racism and other viewpoints of prejudice.


  1. The State’s Attorney’s characterization
    1. Politician first and officer of the law second
      1. “When questioned as to what effect the Thomas trial would have upon the forthcoming April elections, in which he is a candidate to succeed himself, Mr. Buckley took his pink carnation from the lapel of his morning coat and waved the reporters away with a laugh.” P. 342.
    2. Timing of elections in April and trial in February/March
      1. “’You’re afraid that you won’t be able to kill this boy before the April elections, if we handle his case, aren’t you, Buckley?’ Jan asked.” P. 292.


  1. Law as the establishment, the establishment as fundamentally racist.
    1. The same societal forces that encourage Bigger’s psychosis engender a racist legal system.
    2. Establishment of the court is also anti-semitic and anti-Communist.
      1. How do these biases contribute to Wright’s goals?
      2. Foster sympathy for the societal “outsiders” he depicts


  1. Police interaction with the media
    1. More interested in the best “story” than investigation
    2. Is it notable that a journalist, not a detective, discovers Mary’s remains?


The law and the police in The Jungle


Similar to in Native Son, Sinclair’s work is another exposé of inherent prejudice in the legal system, in this case against immigrants and laborers.


  1. Negative experiences serve to reinforce “the machine”
    1. Police beholden to managers
      1. Incident when Jurgis assaults Ona’s manager
      2. Immediately reported, arrested, blacklisted
  • Machine-like interconnectedness of industry, justice system


  1. However, jail does present a reprieve from brutal Packingtown life
    1. Interaction with Jack Duane, a man beyond the legal systems of society
    2. Role of jail as a safe haven
      1. Serves to further reinforce Sinclair’s anti-capitalist, humanitarian theme. If prison is better than free life, how great can the life of a workingman be? Sinclair’s answer: not very.


The law in Humboldt’s Gift


The law and lawyers feature prominently twice in Saul Bellow’s novel. First with respect to divorce, and second with respect to Humboldt’s willed screenplay, bequeathed to Citrine. These examples have a much less political angle than the other two novels considered.


  1. Lawyers’ impact on divorce proceedings
    1. Effect of legal system on Humboldt’s character
      1. Do these interactions help encourage his decline into ignominy?
    2. The law and Humboldt’s will
      1. Role played by Humboldt’s wife
        1. She was very fair to Charlie in splitting the money from the screenplay. What does this say about her character, about the portrayal of women in the (very man-heavy) novel?
        2. Room for kindness and fairness within the legal operating system of society, an idea not acknowledged in the other novels.


David —

A great outline, and already overflowing with supporting material.   One possible way to organize all of these is under the title: “Human Faces of the Law.”  This emphasis would allow you both to make general observations about three novels and to zero in on particularly memorable characters.   Begin with the Jungle and the machine-like inter-connectedness between the meatpacking industry and the justice system, but show that, even here, the law is given a human face in the person of Judge Callahan and, above all, in the person of Jack Duane in jail.  Then move on to Native Son and the law operating on the same continuum with the mass media, and then zero in on the predictably racist  but nonetheless human face of State Attorney Buckley.  Finally, end with the less obviously brutal legal system in Humboldt’s Gift, with well-behaved police officers, but also featuring Judge Urbanovich and the lawyers Tomchek and Srole.   It should make for a splendid essay.

Hi David—

I really like your topic, and I think you have a lot of material to work with! The two more obviously related systems of law in these novels are present in The Jungle and Native Son—Humboldt’s Gift portrays a far more positive, and as you said, less politicized view of the law. As far as connecting all these depictions goes, I think it might be interesting to consider how these varying portrayals relate to the race/class/societal positions of the protagonists in the novels. Would the police in Humboldt’s Gift be as helpful if viewed from the perspective of Charlie’s doorman? Are the police in Bellow’s novel less politicized because from the point of view of his main character, the police have never needed to be political? The idea of the law as a reflection of the characters’ position, the authors’ positions (race/class wise) and intentions, and the actual reality of the city might be interesting to think about. Just some suggestions, along with Professor Dimock’s comment above, because I think you’ve already made a great start with this. Good luck! –Shireen

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