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Randy Elliott

LIT 2020 Paper #2

April 9, 2007

Prompt #2

The Conscience of the Court

There are far 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

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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

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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.

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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?

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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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