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Literature / The Chamber

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The Chamber is a 1994 legal thriller novel by John Grisham.

Adam Hall, a young lawyer, becomes involved in the case of Sam Cayhall, a member of the Ku Klux Klan who has been sentenced to death for a racially-motivated bombing that resulted in the deaths of two children.

Adapted to film in 1996, starring Chris O'Donnell and Gene Hackman.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: At Mississippi State Penitentiary, low-risk prisoners wear white uniforms. Sam Cayhall and his fellow condemned prisoners wear red jumpsuits. Adam also notices some prisoners in blue uniforms, but the reason for those uniforms isn't explained.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sam Cayhall heavily bleeds with sarcasm from his mouth especially towards his grandson Adam.
  • Downer Ending: Sam Cayhall is executed for a crime he didn't actually commit, having refused to break the Klan's code of silence to identify the actual culprit. The real bomber gets off scot free.
    • It's a Bittersweet Ending in the movie as while Sam is executed and betrayed by the governor, the information he releases about the Klan allows his partner in the bombing to be arrested along with numerous other members in the White Supremacist movement.
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  • Everybody Smokes: It's repeatedly noted that most of the condemned prisoners at Mississippi State Penitentiary are heavy smokers. They spend 23 hours a day in their cells, so there isn't much else to do, and since they're going to be executed, they don't care about the potential health risks: they actually consider it a race, to see if they can kill themselves before the state does.
  • For Want of a Nail: Sam prior to the Kramer bombings killed his African American neighbour all over a stolen toy soldier.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Referenced. A prisoner complains to a guard that breakfast is being served eleven minutes late. The guard sarcastically says, "Sue us." The prisoner says he has his rights and the guard replies that prisoners' rights are a pain in the ass. The prisoner then threatens to sue him for using abusive language.
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  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Rollie Wedge, aka Roland Forchin, goes from being a young, eager volunteer for the Ku Klux Klan to a shadowy, deadly assassin and senior figure in a powerful neo-Nazi organization.
  • Insistent Terminology: Adam Hall visits the Mississippi State Penitentiary and explains that he's there to meet with a prisoner on Death Row. A corrections officer says there is no such thing as Death Row. Condemned prisoners are housed in the Maximum Security Unit (or MSU), but the prison has no area that is officially named Death Row.
  • Lampshade Hanging: How did a prominent, liberal-leaning law firm with a number of Jewish senior partners end up representing a former KKK member on Death Row for killing the children of a Jewish lawyer? One of the firm's lawyers flat out asks the question, to which another lawyer responds that it's a long story, and at that point kind of irrelevant.note 
  • Meaningful Rename: Adam Hall was born Alan Cayhall, but his father changed their names to obscure their relationship to Sam Cayhall, Adam's grandfather, because he was convicted of murdering two Jewish children on behalf of the Ku Klux Klan.
  • Mundane Luxury: During a meeting with Adam in the prison library, Sam mentions how much he enjoys simply walking around the room; he spends 23 hours a day in a cluttered six-by-nine cell, but in the library he can "walk eighteen feet without hitting bars. This is freedom, man."
  • Pet the Dog: Despite doing his job leading Sam to the death chamber, Sergeant Parker gives Sam while taking the handcuffs off a sympathetic looking face, particularly as he had known Sam for 16 years and it was implied he actually grew close to him despite Sam being an evil man. However Parker was simply doing his job and knew deep down Sam still had to face the price for his actions.
  • Prisoner's Work: Many of the low-risk inmates at Mississippi State Penitentiary work in the nearby cotton fields, but this is voluntary. They probably appreciate the chance to earn a little extra commissary money, and Lucas Mann implies that they find the work preferable to sitting in a cell all day.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: Downplayed. When Sam first arrived on Death Row, he started exercising and worked his way up to 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups every day. Then he decided that improving his health was pointless since he was going to be executed anyway, so he pretty much gave up on his workout routine.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Adam Hall applied for, and received, a job as a prestigious law firm specifically so that he could work his way to the pro bono department and represent a specific client: his grandfather. When news of this reaches the partners, the first thing they try to do is fire him for lying and/or falsifying his job application.