Significance of the Dumb Scene (Act III Sc. III) in John Galsworthy’s "Justice"

In John Galsworthy’s play Justice the exercise of social injustice in the name of legal justice has been criticized. And in the dramatic action of the Dumb Scene (Act III Sc. III)  of his play, Galsworthy has portrayed the deep agency of a sensitive prisoner kept in a solitary confinement. With a cudgel in hand here Galsworthy is merciless in his criticism of prison administration that treats prisoners not as humans but as dumb inhabitants of dungeon.

Here is the description of the small cell that brings out the indifference of the prison authority to the emotional needs of a prisoner. The scene shows Falder, the convict, hasten to catch a sound from the world outside. But nothing except the sound of a lid of tin falling from his hand or that of an occasional banging travelling from cell to cell is heard. He has no companion but his image reflected on the tin lid. The only activity in which he may engage himself is the stitching of a shirt in which he sometimes seen to fancy something else or somebody. In a fit of depression he prowls about, listens eagerly to sounds incoming. The solitariness crushes him beyond reorganization. The simile of a caged animal has been appropriately used to describe the impact of a terrible confinement on Falder’s psyche. No wonder he would gasp for breath or engage himself in meaningless activities like the beating of the door.

Thus the Dumb Scene intensifies the tragedy of Falder arousing pity and fear in the audience. It is a faithful depiction of the terrible or hell experienced by Falder as well as by prisoners of that time during the period of solitary confinement in yearly 20th century. Galsworthy has made the scene eloquent without using dialogues or lengthy speeches. In it, he has effectively attacked the system of solitary confinement prevailing in his time. The scene could well be the catastrophe of Falder’s tragedy.

The catastrophic scene should have aroused pity and fear in the audience. But Falder fails to arouse their admiration, which is characteristic of a tragic hero. Replacing the blind, relentless fate of the Greek tragedy, social determinism crushes him under its chariot wheels. In stead of struggling stoically with the hostile society, like a classical tragic hero, he is subsumed to its forces. His end is rather pathetic than tragic. So, he cannot be called a tragic hero in the Aristotelian sense of the term. But his unequal struggle with the social forces and his ultimate end represent the tragedy of modern man struggling against an antagonistic society which holds an individual in its power yet perishes him. That is why, Falder should be regarded as a tragic hero in the modern sense of the terms and the Dumb Scene the height of his tragic plight.

Ardhendu De


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