Justice by John Galsworthy Summary (Act Wise)

Justice by John Galsworthy Summary

John Galsworthy’s Justice


Galsworthy’s Justice published in 1910 is a problem play. A.C. Ward says, “Justice is a commentary upon the prison administration of that period.” No doubt, much of the strength of the popular appeal of the drama lies in the awfully realistic picture that if presents of the prison administration, no doubt, Galsworthy himself very keenly felt the need of reformation in jail administration. But taking the drama as a whole, it cannot be said that its central problem is the administration of the prison. As it is, the central problem of the drama is the one concerned with the administration of the criminal law in England and, for the matter of that in all modern civilized societies. The problem is – even if the law is justly administered, does it do full real justice to the criminal?

This is the central topic of the play-the failure of true justice in the name of doing justice according to law. This central theme of the failure of true justice is brought out by some inevitable concomitants of the administration of the law as it is.

Justice Plot Summary

Act 1

On a July morning Cokeson, the old managing clerk of the solicitors’ firm named James and Walter How,’ is adding up and checking the entries in a bank pass-book. He is interrupted by a young girl named Ruth who wants to see Falder, a junior clerk of the office. Falder is not in the office just then. She insists on seeing Falder on a matter of life and death. Cokeson sends the bank pass-book to James, the senior partner. He then hears from Ruth that she is no relative to Falder but a friend: her children are with her. Reluctantly, and rather suspiciously, the old moral-minded clerk allows her to see Falder as soon as Falder returns, he leaves them together for a moment. She informs Falder that her husband tried to cut her throat the previous night and she has left home with the children. Falder asks her to be ready to start that very night with him to run away from England and gives her seven pounds. Old Cokeson comes in just when they are kissing to part, Ruth goes away and Cokeson wars Falder.

Then Walter, the junior partner, comes in and talks about business with Cokeson, James, father of Walter and senior partner, comes in with the bank pass book He asks Walter if the latter drew £ 90 from the bank. Being informed that Walter drew only 9 and not 90, the shrewd lawyer James smells a rat. Suspicion falls on young Falder. It is found out that the counterfoil too has already been altered along with the cheque itself. The bank cashier is called din and he identifies Falder the person who took the sum of 90 from him by a cheque. Cokeson and Walter plead with James for dealing with Falder a bit leniently and not to hand him over to the police. But James thinks it a serious crime, especially in a lawyers’ firm, sends for detective Wister and asks him to arrest Falder.

Act 2

Falder is put up for trial in the next October. The prosecution lawyer Cleaver states the case from the evidence of James, Walter, Cowley, the cashier and Wister, the detective. The defense lawyer Frome, a young humanitarian novice in the line, sets up a elaborate defense of Falder mainly on the ground that he did the forgery in a moment; of temporary insanity, so very emotionally stirred he was at the moment. In the eye of law, he cannot be held responsible for his action. Frome builds up his defence from the evidence of Cokeson, Ruth, and Falder, trying to prove how Falder’s passionate eagerness to save Ruth from the hands of her brutal husband momentarily put him into great temptation to secure the money in order to fly with her and her children to South America.

The immorality involved in the design is admitted but the situation, Frome pleads, deserves consideration. The prosecution lawyer cross-examines the witnesses and easily makes short work of the plea of insanity. The judge takes a serious view of the immoral relation between Ruth and Falder. Then Frome and Cleaver address the Judge and jury, each according to his own view of the case, and the Judge sums up the case to the jury. The jury returns a verdict of guilty. Falder is sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment.

Act 3

Scene 1

It is Christmas Eve and Falder is serving his one month’s term of solitary imprisonment. Cokeson pays a visit to the Governor of the prison with a view to enquiring after Falder’s well-being and, if possible, to arranging a visit. But the rule does not allow anyone to see a prisoner in separate confinement. He speaks to the Governor and the prison Chaplin about the evil of such heartless confinement. The Governor is sympathetic but helpless: the Chaplain is sarcastic and inconsiderate. Cokeson tells the story of Falder’s love for Ruth and asks if the woman can see him. Nothing comes out of his request.

Scene 2

The Governor of the prison inspects the prisoners in their separate cells. Moaney, an old jail.bird, mas made a saw and tried to cut through the rod of the window. He is given two days’ cell and bread and water Clipton, another prisoner, complains of the noise that is made by his next-door man by banging the door: then the Irishman O’Cleary, who banged the door, complains that he want some noise by way of conversation. Last of all, Falder is seen in his cell; the governor treats him sympathetically and asks the jail doctor to examine him. Falder is reported by the doctor to be physically all right; he cannot be recommended to be taken out and removed to the Workshops.

Scene 3

Falder’s misery in the separate cell is depicted at some length by presenting him as broken. crushed, nervous, and now listening against the door, now started by the slightest noise, now walking the floor like one insane

Act 4

Falder is released after two years, he having won a remission of about a year. He has met Ruth by Hyde Park and told her of his misery, Ruth comes to see Cokeson in his office and requests him to take in Falder once more; she gives her own history and tells him that she had to live as the mistress of her employee; but seeing Falder she is determined not to go back to her employer, but seeing Falder she is determined not to go back to her employer any more. Ruth goes out. Falder, who was waiting below, now comes up and tells Cokeson all his woes in prison and his woes after his release. He got a job in an office but had to give it up when other clerks came to know of his past. He forged some references to secure another job; but being afraid of detection he has left that place too. Cokeson is somewhat moved and promises to do what he can to take him in.

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Now James and Walter come into the office and see Falder talking to Cokeson. Cokeson and Walter plead for Falder, and Falder too describes his misery and his underserved sufferings from the hands of society as an ex-convict, Ruth is called in and James asks her to give up Falder. Walter proposes to seek divorce for her. But James puts it to her that he is not morally chaste. Falder too realises the fact. He is very much mortified. Just at that moment, detective Wister comes in and arrests Falder on a charge of forging references. Falder is made desperate. He goes out with Wister and jumps down from the stairs and thus kills himself by the fall.


Galsworthy through this title, Justice points out the social injustice in the name of justice. To save his lady love Ruth, the protagonist Falder committed his first crime, an act of forgery. After two years of imprisonment he was denied by the society and killed himself. On the other hand judicial system fails to put an end to Ruth’s suffering.

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