Justice by John Galsworthy Summary and Analysis
Table of Contents
As the play opens in a solicitor’s firm, Cokeson, the managing clerk, is found at his table, adding up figures in a bank pass book. He is sixty and honest-looking. The office boy, Sweedle, comes to tell Cokeson that somebody wants to see Falder, the junior clerk. Cokeson is rather hesitant in permitting private interviews in the office. He is a devout Christian and adheres to some principles. He does not like to entertain private callers in the office as it goes against the rule. When Ruth Honeywill comes, Cokeson tells her that she could not see Falder in his office. But when Ruth insists on seeing Falder telling him that it is a question of life and death for her, the old man relents and permits her to see Falder. At this stage Falder comes. He is rather pale and nervous. Cokeson leaves the room telling him that he must not take more than a minute with the woman.
Falder is with Ruth. Ruth tells him her harrowing tale of woe. Her husband, a drunkard, tried to kill her again and somehow she managed to save herself. Now she has left her husband’s with her children and she does not dare go back again even to take her things. From their conversation we come to know that Ruth is an unhappy married woman in love with Falder. Falder too loves her passionately and is determined to rescue her from the hell and to give her a happy home. We know further that Falder and Ruth have planned to leave the country that night. Falder gives Ruth some money and asks her to wait for him at an appointed place at the appointed time. While Falder and Ruth are locked in a passionate embrace, kissing each other, Cokeson comes back. When Ruth leaves, Cokeson tells Falder that he should not encourage private callers to meet him in the office. He also gives him a pamphlet on ‘Purity in the home’. But the scene proves beyond doubt that the old man is kind-hearted forgiving and affectionate in his relation with the young man.
As Falder goes into his office, Walter How, the junior partner of the firm comes. He is a young man of liberal views and pleasant manners. His father, James How, the senior partner comes and discusses business with his son. While checking the balance in the bank he finds some discrepancies and enquires of his son what exactly was the amount he had drawn a few days back. Walter says it was nine pounds, but the entry shows it was ninety. So they are convinced that the cheque must have been altered by the person who cashed it. Now, Cokeson gave the cheque to Davis who left to settle in another country on the very day the cheque was cashed. So Davis is the suspect. But James How wonders who altered the counterfoil of the cheque-book which was with Walter on the day Davis left. The bank’s cashier comes and identifies Falder who had cashed the cheque. Falder confesses and tells that he was in a daze while doing it all. But James considers it a deliberate forgery and refuses to let Falder go on the plea that it was his first offence. Walter and Cokeson fail to save Falder; he is handed over to the police.
Falder is seen in the dock-accused of forgery. Rather grim-faced judge and the lawyers are seen arguing before the jury. The prosecution counsel wants the accused to be convicted and sentenced, for the forgery is proved He argues that the offence was well-planned and deliberate. Falder altered the cheque to swindle and took a long time to alter the counter foil. So it could not be a case of momentary insanity, nor was it a case of mere coincidence. Falder’s crime is shown to be all the more unpardonable, because while altering the cheque and the counterfoil he believed that Davis would be the prime suspect. Thus he took his time to consider the entire process and to shift the blame to an innocent person who was no longer there to defend himself.
The defence counsel, Hector Frome, does not deny that Falder had altered the cheque. But then he analyses the circumstances that made him commit the crime. He loved Ruth, the unhappily married woman, and wanted to save her from the hell in which her husband treated her cruelly, tortured her and almost strangled her to death only that morning. He tried desperately to find ways and decided to leave the country with Ruth and give her happy home in the foreign land. But he did not have money enough to realize his dream. So, in his desperate bid to get money he saw the cheque as a god-send and in a daze altered it. Later he altered the counterfoil, too, to avoid a row and to ensure a safe passage. Falder did never think of committing forgery before, but to save Ruth he could not help doing what he did.
But the court of justice-the judge and the jury-did not agree to Frome’s argument. Both the forgery and Falder’s relation with a married woman were immoral in its eyes Hence Falder was unanimously found guilty and sentenced to penal servitude for three years.
Act 3 Scene 1
The scene opens in a room in the prison. It is Christmas Eve. Between the governor and the warder there is a discussion about the prisoners-the old ones and the new, Falder. Then comes Cokeson to see Falder. From what he says we know that the old man has some affection for him. He says that Fader’s sister is not permitted by her husband to see him and his other sister is an invalid. Falder is already considered an outcast by even his relatives. When Falder was sentenced, Ruth promised to wait for him, fending for herself. But she could not do so, and for the sake of her children she decided to go to the workhouse. Cokeson persuaded her not to do so. But as she found it impossible to earn a living, she saw no alternative to going back to her husband -the cruel drunkard. Cokeson told the governor how Falder was attached to her.
Then Cokeson resents the way the prisoners are treated. The solitary confinement has shattering effects on the mind of the prisoner. The old man would not keep even his dog in such a miserable state. But the prison doctor does not agree with him. Of course, Falder is nervous and melancholy but his physical health is not affected Cokeson leaves with the assurance that governor will visit Falder soon.
Act 3 Scene 2
The scene takes us to the prison cells of four prisoners- Moaney, Clipton, O’Cleary and Falder. The behaviour of the first three shows abnormality, for they are all victim’s of loneliness. Falder too is found suffering terribly from melancholia and nervousness. But the doctor says he is not different from others. The governor advises him not to think about his private affairs too much and to get over his afflictions.
Act 3 Scene 3
Falder is shown in his narrow cell. He is found standing on the floor, trying to hear something. He is motionless. Then he heaves a sigh and goes to do the work allotted to him. He is lost in sadness. He paces up and down like a helpless, caged animal. In the fading light he peeps into a tin, trying to see his own face. He stands behind the door and tries to listen to something. Then the cell is lighted. Falder gasps for breath. He listens to a distant sound that grows louder, leaving him hypnotized. He creeps towards the door. But then he raises his clenched fist, pants violently and flings himself on the door, beating desperately on it. The scene is gloomy and sickening.
Ruth Honeywill comes to see Cokeson in his office. From their conversation we know that Falder is released from prison. She was no longer living with her husband. The day before she saw Falder. He was all skin and bone and he was yet to find an employment. Ruth tells Cokeson the harrowing tale of her unhappy marriage with Honeywill, how she had to leave him, how she earned her living and her humiliations and despair. But even then she pleads for Falder, to let him have another chance. Falder had tried elsewhere, but when it was found out that he was a convict he was hounded cut. Cokeson tells Ruth that he will talk with his employers and let her know it they are agreeable to giving him another chance. There, of course, is a vacancy, though another man is going to join. Somehow that man has to be kept away.
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But before Cokeson could talk to his employers, Falder comes in Cokeson is embarrassed. Falder just asks for a chance, for he thinks he has paid enough for what he did. He is an outcast, rejected by all ; even his sister could not kiss him now. He is utterly frustrated, having no home, no living, no friend. Cokeson understands him and promises to help him with another chance.
As they were talking, James and Walter How come in. They greet Falder. Cokeson asks them to consider giving Falder another chance, for he has atoned enough for what he did. Walter is all sympathy for Falder, but James would like Falder to dissociate himself from Ruth. Falder does not agree. But Ruth promises that she will keep away from him. After this James agrees to employ Falder in his office again.
But that is not to be. When the stage is ready for a happy ending, Detective Sergeant Wister comes again. Falder has failed to report himself of late and so he must be punished for the lapse. This time even James resents this and tries to protect Falder. But it is of no avail. Haunting memory of prison drives Falder mad and he jumps to his death, giving slip to law. Cokeson rightly says:
‘No one’ll touch him now ! Never again ! He is safe with gentle Jesus !’