Over the past weekend, I read Walter Dean Myers’s Monster. The story is a courtroom drama that follows 16 year-old Steve Harmon. The journey is filled with drama and tense scenes outside the courtroom, but the interesting part is that we get majority of the story from what feels like an outsiders perspective. In the novel, Harmon writes a screenplay depicting the moment to moment interactions surrounding his trial. This is how readers get most of the information in the story. If it is not included there, it is presented in a font that implies that it is something Harmon wrote to himself. Those moments often lack the distance that writing a screenplay allows. He often indulges in contemplation regarding his fears and concern whether they’re about himself or his family.
The format of this book was one of the strongest features in my eyes. We talked about it in my Young Adult Lit class, but I have not stopped thinking about it. It was a wonderful way to present the story to many audiences. It took away the humanity of many of the characters and gave us the feeling that these were characters, not real people. It gave us the feeling that what they said was just a part of the script, not things people actually say and have done so for a long time. The story feels achieves its goal of gaining a response from most readers. It also does something that Walter Dean Myers, and other African American writers have done for centuries. It makes the story palatable to the people whose morals are questioned in the work.
As much as the story shows the American Judicial System working as intended, it also highlights how many parts of it are teeming with biases and stereotypes that serve no purpose in a court of law. We are shown many instances of people going through the system, but are given chances to lessen their sentence. Officials make deals with people who have committed crimes, to tell the truth about who else was involved. If a man can stoop so low as to eat a hearty meal after murdering someone in cold blood, how are we expected to trust them to tell the truth?
How am I to accept theses words as truth, when they come from an unjust man?
Harmon is caught on the wrong end of a criminal’s lie. He gets dragged out of his home into a courtroom (which is more than some young black men get) just by being associated with the men involved. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time is something we hear too often. He was in the right place at the right time for a criminal to use his presence as an opportunity to save his own skin.