It’s safe to say that everyone has their favorite scene in a book. Whether it’s evocative, intense, or rings the bell of the story loud and clear, for me, it gives the reader a jolt as it defines the true message of the story. My favorite scene in Clemency occurs at the end of chapter 14 when the Captain declares, “every man is a man in trouble.”
The Captain brought me out of a deep sleep early one morning to say that to me, and I realized that in a greater context he was right. In the end, whether you live in a mansion or a cardboard box, we are all in trouble. The difference is only a matter of scale. Where you might be behind on car payments, someone else might have watched their net worth melt away on the stock market. Sure, they may have a car to drive, but they’ve lost it a hundred times on bad investments. Illness, job loss, foreclosure, the list goes on and on.
So when Ben turns to the Captain and makes him that fateful offer, what is he really doing? Has his moral fiber abandoned him? Yes. But wouldn’t it? After all, his relationship with the other two men was tenuous at best, and he had his own problems to deal with. In that instant, Ben forgets all other commitments, and ignores all other responsibilities. He is focussed only on his own ends, and it costs him dearly.
We see this kind of action – these kinds of decisions – daily. We watch financial institutions crumble under the pressure of self-service. We watch money disappear and millions of people thrown into financial ruin every year. Why? Is it because nobody is listening to the Captain? Is it because nobody is willing to admit that they are in trouble? We all smile and mow the lawn of the house we’re about to lose. It’s not just the little man who is in trouble, since we’ve watched the big men fall. No, as the Captain said so pointedly as he bore down on Ben with his revolver… “Every man, is a man in trouble.”