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too many moral and ethical decisions that were made in The Conscience of the Court to properly describe and analyze all of them in the space of this essay. The judge presiding over the court case had to decide how to handle the situation he was faced with, regarding the leniency that he showed in the case, and realizing that as Laura Lee said, “I don’t reckon [a lawyer] would do me a bit of good” that she had realized that it was her against the world. Also for the judge to even allow the expert testimony of Laura Lee about her background with Mrs. Clairborne itself, that took a good deal of commitment to not allow the objection of the plaintiff. The most prominent of these, and more decisions however, was made by the main character herself, Laura Lee Kimble, who had to choose whether or not to let the plaintiff, Clement Beasley, enter the house of her lady, Mrs. Clairborne. The first move that Laura Lee makes during the time that she knew Beasley was to give him the benefit of the doubt. This first response is one that would be characteristic of a well-meaning housekeeper, one who may or may not care for her lady of the house at all. It was a response of someone who would be a prime target of today’s telemarketers and scam artists. She appears as someone who means well, but would not be prepared enough so as to properly to defend an attack, someone who “places other folks’s cares in front of her own” (687). In this case, this trait of hers extends ironically
all the way to Beasley himself, who seems to have a real genuine need of getting in touch with Mrs. Clairborne. She went and got the letter Mrs. Clairborne had sent so to her, so that Beasley could reach Mrs. Clairborne. Sadly for him, Beasley’s intentions were not nearly as innocent as Laura Lee’s response was. The next decision that Laura Lee had as far as ethics goes, was a much easier one to make. In fact, she really didn’t have much of a say in her response to the events that took place following the first day that Beasley had come by. Her response was a very simple “watch-dog” response (691). She was struck as a direct result of not backing down and allowing a white man to enter. This would usually be enough to send most people either into the fight or away from it. Laura Lee actually gave Mr. Beasley time to kick her before she retaliated and refused him entry. I am still confused as to where she
got this vast amount of strength from, that she could knock a full-grown man to the ground with one punch. I can understand him being immobilized after she hit the porch railing with his head, but to knock him down with one hit, and also, to carry him from the porch to the gate and throw him over the yard fence, I am very skeptical as to how this actually happened. It is obvious to the reader that she loved Mrs. Clairborne too much to let someone come and haul off her very fine antiques without at least putting up a fight in her stead. However, it is not my opinion that Laura Lee acted out of the ordinary in this instance. It is my opinion that she did what anyone hired to guard anything in any similar situation would have done. She guarded the merchandise and protected the house. While I do not think her response was extraordinary, I do think it is extraordinary that she took on a man, in principle, who also had two other men with him, and she did not back down
even after being struck twice and kicked. This is where the morality of the story comes into question. There were many allusions to the Bible and God made in this story by Laura Lee, but the Bible’s teachings say to turn the other cheek when someone strikes you, and basically, to not fight back. Therefore, one could argue that Laura Lee did not act morally in this instance. But the court found her not guilty. So how then can a judicial system, which was founded on Biblical principles, pardon an individual for directly going against one of its main principles? Even further than this, the Bible says to give to all those who ask, including when a man steals your jacket, offer him your shirt as well. So Laura Lee ended up NOT choosing the morally correct action in this instance, as per her beliefs, but what about ethics? Ethics says to protect all that she has been paid to be in charge of. No one would say anything negative about Laura Lee after she put her own safety on the line protecting what she knew she was in charge of, but would morality agree with ethics here? The Bible says to turn the other cheek when struck, but there was also a parable of the talents. This parable was to demonstrate guarding what you have been entrusted with, and making good use of everything you have. Doesn’t this seem a little contradictory then, to say, protect what you are entrusted with, until someone strikes you or asks for it? There is no contradiction made here between ethics and morality, because the context that we are told to give to those who ask is to give to those who are in need. Clearly, Beasley was not in need of all those very valuable antiques, and therefore should not have been entitled to them. So then, the only argument about morality left would be for Laura Lee to have turned the other cheek. This is one place in our justice system that morality has been replaced by self-preservation along with self-advancement.
So we come to the conclusion that for this particular decision, Laura Lee had decided to make the ethical choice and protect all that belonged to Mrs. Clairborne, which turned out to not be the moral choice in the situation. Now let us suppose that Laura Lee had acted morally, but not ethically, and had let her lady Mrs. Clairborne’s fine collection of antiques be taken by Mr. Beasley. What would have happened? Undoubtedly, Mrs. Clairborne would have been deeply saddened for her loss, but I’m sure her love for Laura Lee would have quickly overtaken that initial superficial reflex that we humans have, and redirected her attention to Laura Lee and questions of are you hurt, and what happened, followed by responses of well I’m just glad you’re okay. Further, Beasley would have successfully gotten rich on the pretense of claiming the collateral shown to him to have a $600 loan approved. Laura Lee would now not have as much of her lady Mrs. Clairborne’s trust as she does at the present, but the issue never would have gone to trial, and the judge never would have had a rebirth or rejuvenation of his career because of Laura Lee’s testimony. Laura Lee would not have the conviction or the self-assuredness that she has now, she would not really have faith in the justice system as it pertains to black people, simply from her experience of being taken advantage of, and she would forever feel like she did not do what she should have done in protecting Mrs. Clairborne’s things. Which is more important, morality or ethics? In the prompt they were mentioned as substitutes, different words for different definitions of what people think morality really is I suppose. Why is it so hard to define morality? When did it become okay for there to be more than one right or wrong? How is the justice system supposed to distinguish between some of these cases if they are moral for some, but not for others?
This story had a perfect example of this, the justice system deemed it admissible to defend oneself physically when one is being attacked. However, if one were to follow the Bible explicitly, as Laura Lee seems to do, one would see that we are morally obligated to turn the other cheek when we are struck. Laura Lee ultimately decides she would rather protect the items she has been entrusted with, and deal with the moral consequences later. We are not told that she weighed all these options before she took action, and it is highly unlikely that these passages of Scripture crossed her mind just before she made her decision. It is also not probable that she recognized the battle between morality and ethics in the decision she was about to make. It is most likely that she was angered, threatened, and more than happy to teach Mr. Beasley a lesson in manners and in the end assert herself and her position in the house of her employer, Mrs. Clairborne.
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