A Civil Action Book Essay Example

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Analysis of Jonathan Harr´s A Civil Action Essay

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Jonathan Harr wrote a compelling novel, called A Civil Action, on the actual events of a thrilling court case involving two major corporations and the families who were affected greatly. In Woburn, Massachusetts there were twenty-eight children who contracted acute lymphocytic leukemia between the years of 1964 and 1986. The explanation for the contraction of the disease and even the death of some of the children was discovered in the water; two municipal wells near the town were found to be contaminated with toxic chemicals. Eight families filed suit against W.R. Grace & Co. and Beatrice Foods Inc., accusing them for the contamination of the wells and the death of their children. The families only wanted an apology and the truth but when…show more content…

Jonathan Harr wrote a compelling novel, called A Civil Action, on the actual events of a thrilling court case involving two major corporations and the families who were affected greatly. In Woburn, Massachusetts there were twenty-eight children who contracted acute lymphocytic leukemia between the years of 1964 and 1986. The explanation for the contraction of the disease and even the death of some of the children was discovered in the water; two municipal wells near the town were found to be contaminated with toxic chemicals. Eight families filed suit against W.R. Grace & Co. and Beatrice Foods Inc., accusing them for the contamination of the wells and the death of their children. The families only wanted an apology and the truth but when the case began, discovering the truth became difficult. One prevalent theme found throughout the book is the conflict between finding the truth and the judicial process. The two are almost always incompatible with each other in the courtroom, and A Civil Action illustrates that quite well. The fight for the truth was taken over by trial tactics used by the defendant, whose goal was to keep the truth from getting out. It is natural for the plaintiff and the defendant to use tactics to create the verdict rather than using the facts of the case because both aim for success. Misinformation, partial truths, and hidden facts are common in the courtroom and one scene of A Civil Action shows how it can change the whole trial. People of the

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SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 70-page guide for “A Civil Action” by Jonathan Harr includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Justice and The Value of Life.

Plot Summary

Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action is a nonfiction account of the legal case between several families in Woburn, Massachusetts, and two corporations, Beatrice Foods and W.R. Grace.

When the book begins, a young boy named Jimmy Anderson gets sick. His mother, Anne Anderson, believes it is just a cold. Jimmy’s condition rapidly deteriorates, however, and soon he is diagnosed with leukemia. Approximately the first quarter of the book presents the backstory of the Andersons and several other Woburn families whose children are stricken with leukemia. The cases all occur within a relatively small neighborhood, an uncanny coincidence that leads Anne to seek legal representation.

She and the other families with sick children enlist the services of a lawyer named Jan Schlichtmann, who puts together the lawsuit that will try the two corporations for poisoning the groundwater that would spread hazardous chemicals into the water supply that led to the Woburn neighborhood in question. Schlichtmann is an obsessive, odd figure. He believes in a grand destiny for himself, which is what leads him to take the case, a case that few other lawyers would even consider, given the enormity of its size and the difficulty in proving the link between the chemicals and the cluster of leukemia cases.

Although the courtroom drama is compelling, most of the book takes place in the details of the Woburn case, which are shown in minute, sometimes excruciating detail. There are endless motions filed by both sides, innumerable meetings with the judge, constant bickering between the lawyers and their partners, and bottomless financial woes for Schlichtmann’s firm, which does not bring in enough money to finance the case.

Ultimately, the jury exonerates Beatrice Foods and indicts W.R. Grace, but Grace settles with Schlichtmann before the second phase of the trial can begin.

A Civil Action is a detailed and at times difficult. The case is presented in the clearest manner possible and reflects the procedures and machinations that take place in the development and prosecution of the trial. It is nearly impossible for anyone but the lawyers and the judge to keep up with all of the facts, expert testimony, and tens of thousands of pages of documents, and eventually, even they despair at the limits of their own abilities.

Themes of justice, bureaucracy, obsessiveness, and greed emerge in A Civil Action. It will make readers reexamine what they thought they knew about the American legal system and ask themselves hard questions about the faith they would have in their attorneys and a jury of their peers, should they ever find themselves on trial. The book received the 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and was adapted into a film in 1998.

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