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Fiction Versus Reality: Crime as a Social Phenomenon

While making an analysis of various societies of the world at large, it becomes evident that no human society has ever been free from crimes, perversion and deviance at all since the arrival of man on the Earth. It is therefore the theorists view crime as a social phenomenon and exists in every society from the most primitive clans and tribes of the Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras to the most modern civilized societies of contemporary times. “Emile Durkheim”, Coser submits, “views crime as normal in terms of its occurrence, and even as having positive social functions in terms of its consequences. Where crime exists, collective sentiments are sufficiently flexible to take on a new form, and crime sometimes helps to determine the form they will take. How many times, indeed, it is only an anticipation of future morality–a step toward what will be.” (1977: 141)

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Individuals developed political setups for the smooth running of the affairs of their social arrangement, and the political authorities made laws to observe peace and solidarity. It is therefore the concept of political authority came into being for the proper regulation of social set-up and control of crimes within tribes, clans, cities, states, countries and societies. The political authorities devised laws and introduced a judicial system for the maintenance of law and order situations, which not only determined the rights and obligations of the individuals but also declared some activities as perilous and jeopardizing for the peace and solidarity of society. The criminal justice system is also one of the most formidable steps taken in this direction, which consists of practices, procedures and institutions involved in maintaining law and order in the perfect decorum. Abnormal attitude creating public nuisance has been declared a crime against the state and its individuals, and the institutions of the criminal justice system appear to deal with the precarious situation as a result of perversion, deviation and the breaking of the law. “In case a serious deviation or violation of law occurs”, Macionis observes, “a formal response of the social justice system, including police, courts and prisons gets involved to address the violation of the law.” (2007: p 222) Hence, police, courts and prisons make the whole criminal justice system.

Since literature is the imitation of life, it presents almost all aspects of human life in one way or the other in order to describe different situations and circumstances through which the individuals undergo. As crime is also an essential part of social life, the writers have also penned down the criminal justice system in their books, works and writings. But the portrayal of the justice system is not the accurate one as it exists in real life, though fictional tales resemble the realities to some extent. Actually, people look for something fascinating and a bit supernatural; the authors also include few unnatural elements in their stories for capturing the attention of the readers and spectators. The same is applied in the four-act play under the title “Justice- a Tragedy” by John Galsworthy and in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, where the authors have presented the criminal justice system in a different way.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960) is one of the most popular and admired novels of the twentieth century that won great applause not only in its native land from its local readers in the USA, but also from all corners of the world at large. Even before its release, four national mail-order book clubs had chosen it as their monthly selection. Within two years, it had won the Alabama Association Award, the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference on Christians and Jews, and, of course, the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.” (Melissa 2007: retrieved in Brooklyn Book Talk) The author, Harper Lee, has magnificently raised a stupendous voice against apartheid as well as prejudiced behaviour on the basis of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, and gender discrimination. Lee has very skillfully conveyed the theme of how an individual, especially belonging to some minority group of society, is looked down upon and mentally tortured on the basis of his ethnicity on the one hand, and his low financial position on the other. In the novel understudy, Tom Robinson is the representative of the black community of Alabama, and is the defendant at the court of law, while Mayella Ewell, a white girl, is the victim, who has declared Tom as the person culprit of committing rape of Mayella. Tom has been symbolized as the mockingbird that imitates the footprints of the white community in respect of merry-making with a white girl, who blamed him for the criminal offence by raping her, though Mayella Ewell was the person to seduce Tom. Atticus Finch is the solicitor from the defendant and tried to prove the very fact that sexual acts between Tom and Mayella were performed on the basis of free consent between the two. The judge, in the novel, also belongs to the white race, who has unabated prejudice against the black community and is determined to announce sentences to inflict punishment upon Tom. The court clerk, who types the judgment, is also white by ethnicity and destroys the papers supporting the accused (defendant) i.e. Tom. Lee also shows the public pressure regarding punishing the “nigger” offender for raping the white lady. The unreliable judicial system, favouring the influential groups on a racial basis, is an imperative theme of the novel. The author has also tried to submit that unseen forces also maintain both positive and negative elements within it; though positive elements come out successful at last by paying a ransom amount of losses, pains and sacrifices, which does not exist in the real world.

Though literature is the mirror of human society, it does not reflect the same that exists in society. Rather, there is a significant difference between fiction and reality. The novelist has portrayed the lawyer, Atticus Finch, as a highly committed solicitor, who displays a high level of courage and morality while fighting for the cause of justice and fair play, and does not scare the strong opposition from the majority of the prejudiced white community during the court trial; nor his foot trembled by the constant threats made by Mayell Ewell. But it does not happen in real life. It seldom happens in the real world that a judge could display biased behaviour during judicial hearings. In addition, it never happens that a judge or clerk clearly condemn or rebuke an innocent accused, or bow down before a specific community or racial group, particularly in a country, where so many social classes, races and communities are living in peace. Multicultural understanding has been the order of the day in the modern contemporary age, and neither judge nor other employees of the court support a person guilty of some criminal assault or offence. The nobility and wickedness go hand in hand both in society and literature. Writing has been esteemed as one of the noblest professions for the last many centuries all over the world. The writers, poets, novelists, playwrights and critics are thought to be the pioneers of society. Their creative pieces are regarded as the mirror to society that points out the errors, mistakes and blunders being exercised by both the individuals and authorities. Hence they serve as the brain-developer of the individual including rulers, conquerors, economists, politicians, business tycoons and others. The significance of this stratum has been evident because of moulding and shaping the minds and characters of future generations. Jones (2000) observes: “The mind is cultivated, nurtured, and assisted primarily by writers. And because of these essential activities, writers and their profession have been esteemed throughout history.” Harper Lee has proved the very fact that writers are the pioneers and reformers of their society and play a vital role in respect of eliminating social evils from the very face of their culture, though fiction and reality are in sharp contrast with one another.

Almost the same is applied in the play Justice, a famous tragic play written by a British playwright and writer John Galsworthy in 1924. The play revolves round two lovers named Ruth Honeywill, a young married woman and his suitor William Falder. Falder is accused of committing forgery on a bank-cheque to draw money from the account of his employer, the solicitor James How, which could help him run away along with his helpless beloved Ruth far away from the city, but is caught and handed over to the police. Hence, in this case, Falder is the defendant in the courtroom, who undergoes cross-questioning during judicial trials. James How is the victim in this case and judge also exercises discourtesy and partiality towards the helpless Falder and ruins the lives of Ruth and Falder consequently.


  1. Coser, Lewis A. (1977) Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context, 2nd Ed., Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.,
  2. Galsworthy, John. (1910) Justice- A Tragedy in Four Acts.
  3. Lee, Harper. (1960) To Kill a Mockingbird.
  4. Macionis, John J. (2007) Sociology. Eleventh Edition. Pearson Prentice Hall Inc.

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