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The Trial for Murder: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will summarize and analyze Charles Dickens' short story 'The Trial for Murder.' This is a ghost story about a murdered man who returns to the trial of the man who murdered him.

'The Trial for Murder'

Do you like horror stories? While Charles Dickens' 'The Trial for Murder' may not contain modern day gore and jump scares, it was considered pretty creepy in 1865 as one of the first ghost stories to be widely published. This is the story of a juror who sees the Appearance of the murder victim throughout the murderer's trial. Let's summarize and analyze this story.

The First Sighting

This story is told by a first-person narrator who recalls his experience with a heinous murderer. The narrator is a banker and a bachelor in good health, although slightly depressed. This description is meant to establish the narrator as mostly reliable. The narrator foreshadows that the murderer has been convicted and is now dead by stating that 'his body was buried, in Newgate Jail.'

At the time of the trial, the narrator does not remember hearing anything about the accused in the newspaper that would influence him. However, he does remember reading about the murder, and the picture that forms in his mind afterwards seems so real that it feels as if the narrator was there. One day, the narrator looks outside his window and sees two men across the street. The one in the back 'was the colour of impure wax' and appears to be following the other.

The narrator becomes obsessed with the case and begins to follow news of the murderer's indictment. One night while speaking to his servant, the narrator sees the man 'whose face was the colour of impure wax' come through his dressing room door. The narrator begins to refer to this man as the Appearance. Although the servant is there, his back is to the figure and doesn't see it. When the narrator touches his servant, the servant can suddenly see the 'dead man beckoning.'

Jury Duty

The next morning, the narrator receives a summons for jury duty. He could easily have gotten out of it, as 'that class of Jurors were customarily chosen on a lower qualification than mine,' but the banker decides the show up. Immediately, the accused, who is the first of the men that the narrator saw walking across the street, points to the narrator and exclaims, 'At all hazards, challenge that man!' However, the narrator is chosen and named the foreman of the jury.

The narrator keeps seeing 13 jurors, although there are only 12. When he touches another juror, that man also sees 13. As the jury is sequestered, the narrator views the Appearance walk to the right-hand side of each of the jurors' beds that night, but no one seems to notice him unless the narrator is touching them.

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