The character Coffey does not have any of these social bonds that, in theory controls people’s tendencies to commit crime. Yet, as seen in the film, despite the absence of such bonds, Coffey was a kind and gentle yet strange soul. This may serve as a reminder that such things as weirdness, unusual nature, or being a loner do not necessarily make people criminals or even possible criminals. The time period of 1935 was also a dark period for black-white American relations.
In those times, lynching and persecution of black people were common particularly in the Southern states (Smith 184). The view of Negroes at that time was reflected in Hammersmith’s comparison of Negroes to a dog that does things without reasoning or intelligence. Big and black as he was, Coffey is an automatic outcast by virtue of his race. While such discrimination was not directly discussed in the film, the implication of Hammersmith’s views of Negroes on the efforts or lack thereof that he put into Coffey’s defense is thought provoking.
It is true what he said, that everybody is entitled to his or her own defense. But such defense may be tainted if the defender assigned operates under personal discrimination and prejudices. Language barriers. America today is a land of mixed cultures brought by the arrival of migrants from all over the world. The probability of encountering communication difficulties with a person charged with a crime is very real. In the film, it was a case of just one sentence: “I tried to take it back. “
Such was the line uttered by John Coffey when he was first arrested, and again in his first conversation with Paul Edgecomb. Interpreted literally, the townspeople and wardens took the statement to mean that Coffey tried to stop what he was doing but simply couldn’t. It was only later in the film that it was clarified that what he meant by “taking it back” was “taking the bad thing or evil away and into himself. ” The cellblock itself had mainly people of different races, languages and cultures.
Bitterbuck was a Native American Indian, Delacroix was of French/Creole background, while Coffey was an African American. Being set in the Depression Era, there was vast movement among people of different lands looking for work. The same situation is in effect in America today with the continually growing numbers of migrant workers and families seeking citizenship on American soil. At one point or another, one or more of these foreign migrants with a minimum grasp of the English language will come before American justice (that is if it hasn’t been already happening in the past years).
What measures can be done to ensure that what language barriers may be there may be overcome and that there is little possibility of miscommunication between law enforcers and the person being tried/accused? Sasson (19) best sums it up in the statement: But in the real world, human consciousness is bound up with social context and language, both rife with shades of symbolic meaning. What people think and say depends in part on who is asking, who is listening, how the question is posed, and a host of related details. (19)