Noon Wine

imagesWe read Katherine Ann Porter’s harrowing novella about a farmer who kills a bounty hunter. The bounty hunter appears one day looking for a farmhand accused of murder. In a bizarre, confusing altercation between the three men, the bounty hunter is killed with an axe. The farmer is charged with his murder. He protests his innocence, claiming he was only defending his farmhand. At trial, the farmer’s lawyer won’t let him tell his own story about what happened. His lawyer tells a different story, one that better fits the legal strategy and wins acquittal for the farmer.

All is not well, however. Neither the farmer nor the small town can accept the not-guilty verdict. The different stories they tell themselves fail to match the story that won acquittal. Why, and at what cost to the accused, the victim, the community, and the legal system?

We compare the law’s judgment with the stories the accused and guilty tell themselves and others. Does a legal verdict give the accused, the victim, or society what they need or deserve? Are the language and authority of the law sometimes inadequate to their ostensible purposes? What happens when law’s stories fail?

We also compare legal language to the fiction writer’s use of words. In what ways does legal language and its many verbal formulas capture, delimit, or falsify experience, including our moral experience?

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