Study Guide

Alex Cross's Trial Themes

  • Race

    You don't have to get very far in Alex Cross's Trial to figure out that race is a big deal. In fact, it's at the heart of pretty much everything in the book. Every court case, conversation, and friendship is subject to this one central idea. In pre-Civil Rights Mississippi, skin color affects the way characters treat each other and the way they are treated in turn. The history of slavery still haunts everything, even influencing lawyers, police, and courts, so that things we usually take for granted like justice and fairness only come your way if you look a certain way (ahem, white).

    Questions About Race

    1. How do the white characters think about race? How do the Black characters think about race? What is different or similar about their behavior toward racial segregation?
    2. Ben learns that many feel white men are afraid of Black men in the novel. What are they afraid of specifically? Does this apply to all the characters? How does this relate to their actions toward other races? And do you think Ben is right?
    3. How are violence and race related in the novel? Which is more disturbing, the fact that so many people are racist, or the fact that they use this to justify their violence?
    4. How does Ben change the way he thinks about race over the course of the novel? What doesn't change about his opinions? Does anyone else changing their opinions about race? If so, who and how?

    Chew on This

    Race, more than any other single element, drives the plot and characters of Alex Cross's Trial. Without the theme of race, the book would not exist.

    Much as Ben aims to fight racism, in positioning him as a sort of white savior character, the book is actually pretty racist.

  • Truth

    You might think the truth is easy to pin down, but in Alex Cross's Trial, it means different things to different people. There's the truth that Ben knows about race—it's only skin deep. And then there's the truth the KKK members tell themselves—that they're just protecting what's rightfully theirs. This is just a sampling of the takes on truth in this book. We get a lot of different versions, and while everyone claims to support the truth, most characters actually just want their understanding of things to come out on top. In other words, the truth is a hot mess in this book.

    Questions About Truth

    1. How does the concept of truth relate to the Bible for many of the characters? Do you think these characters would be as invested in the truth without the Bible to support their claims?
    2. Is there objective truth in the book? Why or why not? What does this tell you about truth in this racist society?
    3. Truth is brought out in the courtroom a lot as an encouragement for the jury to find a defendant one way or the other. Why do you think so many characters rely on the notion of truth? How is this flawed if both sides are doing it?
    4. Can the truth ever be a bad thing? Moody lies on the stand to help Ben and Jonah. Do you think she's right to do so?

    Chew on This

    Alex Cross's Trial shows us that truth is touted so often in the courtroom because it does not exist within the justice system. Everyone can't be right, after all.

    Moody might lie for noble reasons, but she still participates in the lack of truth in the Eudora courthouse and this undermines any benefit gained from her lie.

  • Change

    As you've probably noticed, change is inevitable in life. Still, sometimes we resist change because we like things the way they are, and we're afraid of what might happen if we shake things up. That's exactly what many in Eudora are afraid of in Alex Cross's Trial—and precisely what's necessary for their town.

    In a town governed by racism, many white citizens want to keep on keeping on, with Black people working themselves to the bone and being denied all kinds of fair treatment. Thing is, change is needed for everyone. It isn't just Black people who are suffering from the violence and chaos that constantly erupts in Eudora. But just because change is necessary doesn't mean it doesn't have a price. But hey, change is rarely easy.

    Questions About Change

    1. Abraham claims that blood in the streets is a sign of change. Do you think this is true in the novel? Why or why not? Give evidence from the text to back your answer.
    2. Why is change so difficult to come by in Eudora? Aside from racism, what contributes to people's attitudes toward change? Work with specific examples, please.
    3. What makes Ben so invested in changing a town he no longer lives in? Do you think he would go to Eudora without the President's directive? Why or why not?
    4. Is President Roosevelt genuinely interested in change or just trying to save face? How does his passivity impact your understanding of his attitude toward change?

    Chew on This

    Regardless of Ben's hard work, nothing really changes in the book. The white citizens of Eudora are just as racist at the end as they are when the book begins.

    Even though Ben loses the trial, his hard work is the beginning of change in Eudora. His fight sparks a defiant attitude in citizens who have long desired equality.

  • Violence

    It looks like no one ever told most of the characters in Alex Cross's Trial to use their words. The white citizens of Eudora repeatedly resort to punching, drowning, lynching, shooting, and stabbing men for no reason other than racism. What's worse? They turn violence into entertainment. Citizens build a grandstand and hire a photographer for the lynchings so whole families can watch them together, complete with refreshments. This cavalier attitude toward violence only makes what they are doing that much worse. It's one thing to hurt someone, but it's something else entirely to take such delight in it.

    Questions About Violence

    1. What is the relationship between violence and racism in the novel? Are the two always linked? If not, when aren't they and what does this tell you about violence in the book? How do the Black citizens of Eudora respond to violence?
    2. How did you react to the historical violence described in Alex Cross's Trial? Was it too explicit for a young adult novel? Why or why not?
    3. What changes about Ben's reaction to violence when he experiences it? Why do you think he's a victim of violence in the novel?
    4. Which is worse: the fact that violence is taking place at all, or the idea that it should be entertaining? Why are people taking their families to a lynching? What does this tell us about desensitization to violence in the community?

    Chew on This

    Violence is primarily used in the novel to shock and make sure readers hate the White Raiders.

    Physical violence in the novel is simply a symptom of the deeper ideological violence of racism.

  • Justice and Judgment

    Simply put, there's nothing just about what's going on around Eudora. What makes this such a compelling theme in Alex Cross's Trial, though, is the fact that some people think the actions of the White Raiders and KKK are justified. In fact, most white citizens see nothing wrong with them, and Ben is appalled by the fact that many of his former friends willingly grab their guns to hurt Black people simply for saying or talking a certain way. Trouble is, with white people running the courts, there isn't anything particularly just about the justice system either. Yikes.

    Questions About Justice and Judgment

    1. If an action is considered wrong in some ways but right in others, can the action still be considered just? For example, Ben, L.J., and Moody fight the White Raiders and kill people as a result. Is this just? Why or why not? How about when Moody lies in court?
    2. Judge Corbett claims he wants justice in Eudora. Is this true? Why or why not? How do his actions with the jury reveal his relationship to justice?
    3. Can justice mean different things to different people? President Roosevelt thinks justice is served in the long run, whereas Moody feels it is taking too long. What affects their opinions about justice? Is one a better authority than the other on justice?

    Chew on This

    It is impossible to be racist and have an accurate sense of justice.

    It's impossible to come up with a definition of justice everyone will agree on. What justice means to individual people is always going to be different.

  • Betrayal

    While he's lucky not to literally get stabbed in the back, Ben gets double-crossed many times in Alex Cross's Trial, and he's more hurt by these betrayals than anything else. Jacob turns out to be a full-fledged KKK member; Elizabeth tells Ben's plan to her hubby and his White Raider friends. The betrayals Ben experiences lead him to question everyone and everything, and as he does, the book forces us to think about the nature of betrayal and why people are disloyal to those who need them the most.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. In what ways can Meg's letters to Ben be seen as betrayal? Does he betray her with Elizabeth or Moody? Why or why not?
    2. Whose betrayal hurts Ben the most? Why is he shocked at the betrayals from his old friends?
    3. Why do you think the characters betray one another? Do you think Elizabeth and Jacob purposely betray Ben, or are they just more loyal to other people or ideals?

    Chew on This

    Betraying friends is an acceptable and necessary part of survival. Even though Jacob betrays Ben, he would be betraying his own ideals if he supported the guy.

    Ben might be upset about the duplicities of his friends and family, but he betrays just as many people in the book as deceive him.

  • Religion

    Religion is a tricky subject in Alex Cross's Trial (and at the dinner table). At first glance it seems the Eudora community fervently believes in the Bible since they quote it left and right and hang out at church. Upon closer inspection, though, many of the white people who claim to be Bible supporters actively hunt down Black people and kill them, which seems to go against a bunch of laws in the Bible, like, say, "thou shalt not murder." Ben is left scratching his head about whether his old neighbors really care about their religious beliefs or not. A lot of them can quote the Bible, but that doesn't mean they practice what it says.

    Questions About Religion

    1. What is Ben's religious belief? We see him pray and quote the Bible, but does he do that because he's supposed to or because he believes it?
    2. Why is religion a big deal in Eudora? What would change about the KKK or White Raiders if we didn't know their Bible-quoting ways?
    3. How does religion differ in the Quarter from the rest of Eudora? What do people believe there? How do their actions differ from other people in the town?

    Chew on This

    Alex Cross's Trial does not take issue with religion as a belief system, but with using religion to create an institution that rules over people's liberty.

    While many treat religion hypocritically in the novel, the Black members of the community show the importance of genuine religious beliefs.

  • Passivity

    We bet you've heard this one before: ff you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. See, sometimes being passive about a situation only allows injustice to continue. Just take Eudora in Alex Cross's Trial for example. Many citizens aren't directly involved in lynching people, but they also do nothing to stop it. And President Roosevelt does the same—he knows there's trouble in the South, but instead of dealing with it, he lets it run its course. Sure he sends Ben down there to investigate, but he doesn't get out of the oval office and actually do anything to stop the violence. In these ways, the book asks us to think about whether inaction is just as bad as action.

    Questions About Passivity

    1. How does Ben view President Roosevelt's silence on the lynching in Eudora? Do you think his characterization of passivity is fair? Give evidence from the text to back your answer up.
    2. What would change in the town if the court system found the White Raiders guilty? How does the citizens' passive response affect the KKK or White Raiders? How does it impact the lives of Black people?
    3. Who is responsible for the lynchings in Eudora? Is everyone involved in some way? Are their tiers of responsibility? Is anyone not responsible at all?
    4. Is inaction as bad as action? Why or why not? Use examples from the text to support your claim.

    Chew on This

    Passivity is presented as a negative character trait in Alex Cross's Trial—the passive characters are just as much to blame for the lynchings in Eudora as those who kill people.

    Even though Ben would rather everyone join the fight against lynching, the truth is that passivity is not as bad as he imagines it to be.