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To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 16-20

Chapter external image 16.jpg (155-166) began after Scout dissuaded the angry mob from assaulting Atticus and Tom Robinson. During breakfast the next day, they ate very little and touched upon the events of the prior night. Scout proceeded to ask Atticus why the mob came. "Mr. Cunningham's basically a good man, he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us," was the response Scout received from her father. He explained that the men were being irrational and unethical. Later that day, as people began to arrive for the trial of Tom Robinson, the children devised a plan to see the trial. They snuck into town after Atticus left, and as they wait to enter the courthouse, they overheard a group of men saying that the court had appointed Atticus to defend Robinson. They followed Reverend Sykes to the balcony, where all of the black people were sitting. It was from here that they watched the trial.

Alabama Courtroom
Alabama Courtroom

Quotes: "So it took an eight-year-old child to bring 'em to their senses, didn't it?" said Atticus. "That proves something-- that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they're still human." (p. 157)
This quote is important for several reasons. By calling the mob a "gang of wild animals," Atticus is referencing the courage it took for Scout to stand up to the men. It also seems to reference Atticus' belief that racism will eventually disappear. Here a "gang of wild animals" is referring to racists, so Atticus is saying that racism can be defeated by striking at the one point where we all are the same, our humanity.

"One or two of the jury looked vaguely like dressed-up Cunninghams." (p. 164)
This foreshadowing will be important in later chapters, when it turns out that the Cunningham cousin on the jury had fought courageously for Tom Robinson to be proven innocent.

Chapter 17 (166-178) begins with the children, sitting in the balcony, watching the trial unfold.

The first witness is Heck Tate, the sheriff. As the prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer, questions him, Mr. Tate's story becomes clear: On the night of the alleged rape, Mr. Ewell had rushed in to Mr. Tate's office to tell him that his daughter had been raped by a black man. Mr. Tate had rushed to the Ewell's home to find Mayella Ewell lying on the floor with her face showing signs of having been "beat up." Mayella had told Mr. Tate that Tom Robinson had beat her, and she agreed with Mr. Tate when he asked if Tom Robinson had also raped her. Mr. Tate had then arrested Tom Robinson without calling a doctor.

When Atticus questioned Mr. Tate, he stressed the fact that Mr. Tate had not called a doctor to examine Mayella. As Atticus questioned him, Mr. Tate swore that Mayella had been injured on the right side of her face.

The next witness was Robert E. Lee "Bob" Ewell. Mr. Gilmer questioned him, and Bob Ewell told his side of the story. He said, in obscene and uneducated language, that he had been out chopping wood when he heard Mayella screaming. He had run to the window of his house to see Tom Robinson raping Mayella. Bob Ewell says that, looking into the window, he could see that it was in disarray, as if there had been a fight, and that he had "run around the house to get in, but he run out the front door just ahead of me." He says that he was too worried about Mayella to chase Tom, and that he immediately went to get Heck Tate.

When Atticus questioned Bob Ewell, he asked whether Bob Ewell had thought about getting a doctor. Bob Ewell said that there was no need and that it would have been a waste of money anyway. Atticus then confirms that Bob Ewell agrees with Mr. Tate's statement that Mayella had been beat up on the right side of her face. Atticus then has Bob Ewell write his name, and shows that Bob Ewell is left-handed.

Scout understands that, since the right side of Mayella's face had been injured, a left-handed person had probably attacked her. However, she thinks that Tom Robinson could just as easily have hit Mayella with his left hand, so she does not think that Atticus has proved anything.

A Witness
A Witness

Quotes: "From that moment he ceased to terrify me."
The narrator says this upon seeing Mr. Tate in a normal suit instead of his sheriff's uniform. This is significant because Mr. Tate represented one of the only people in Maycomb who agreed with Atticus, but he was a figure of authority, and seeing him in normal clothes made Scout realize that he was just another person. This may be significant in that it foreshadows that Mr. Tate will either become a close friend and ally or become an unimportant figure who will not be able to help Atticus' case.

Heck Tate was being courageous by telling the whole truth and revealing the gaps in the evidence for Mayella's accusations. Some people might have expected him to be biased towards the white accuser, but Mr. Tate tried his best to be fair and honest, an act of courage in such a racist society.

Quotes: "...Robert E. Lee Ewell!" (p. 169)

By naming one of the main accusers after a major southern Civil War general, Harper Lee was alluding to the racial tensions of the Civil War. This seems to make it clear that Ewell's racism was the reason he was after Tom Robinson.
Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee

Quotes: "All the little man on the witness stand had that made him any better than his nearest neighbors was, that if scrubbed with lye soap in very hot water, his skin was white."
By describing Bob Ewell this way, the narrator makes several points. First of all, the reference to hot water and soap implies that the Ewells were dirty. This is also a metaphor for their impure morals, and the way that they live a bad, unclean and immoral life, both physically and in the way they treat other people. Secondly, the narrator says that the only thing making Bob Ewell better than his black neighbors was the fact that he was white. The narrator has already established that Bob Ewell was a bad, dirty man, so by pointing out that his skin color somehow qualified him as better than his hardworking, clean neighbors, the narrator implies that the racist society of Maycomb was a huge mistake.

Quotes: "I was sure he (Bob Ewell) had never heard the worlds Judge Taylor directed at him-- his mouth struggled silently with them-- but their import registered on his face. Smugness faded from it, replaced by a dogged earnestness that fooled Judge Taylor not at all..."
In this quote, the narrator characterizes Bob Ewell as uneducated, ignorant and stupid by his inability to understand what the people in the courtroom were saying. Also, Bob Ewell puts on a fake earnest face; this implies that he is a liar and cannot be trusted. By casting Bob Ewell as a liar and a disingenuous person, the narrator casts him as the bad guy and his racist actions as bad. Judge Taylor's distrust of him may be one of the reasons Bob Ewell later picks Judge Taylor to get revenge upon.

Chapter 18 (178-189) begins with Mayella Ewell being called up to the witness stand. As Mr. Gilmer questions her, she bursts into tears. Judge Taylor tries to calm her down. Mayella says that she had been on the porch with an old dresser that she was supposed to cut up for firewood. Because she was feeling weak, she asked Tom Robinson, who was passing by, to come in the fence and chop up the dresser for a nickel. Then, as she turned to go into the house, he grabbed her from behind, cursing her and grabbing her neck as she fought. then, she screamed and kicked until Bob Ewell showed up and she fainted. She recovered when Mr. Tate showed up.

When it was Atticus' turn to question Mayella, he first asks her some personal questions to calm her down. Then he inquires about her personal life, and the jury learns about the Ewells' abysmal living conditions, their father's drinking problems, and how she has seven siblings. Mayella claims that Bob Ewell never beats her. Then Atticus asks her about what happened between her and Tom Robinson. Mayella claims that she had never asked Tom to perform an odd job before. Mayella seems confused about the details, but she claims that Tom Robinson raped her. Atticus asks Tom Robinson to stand up, and the whole courtroom sees that Tom Robinson's left arm is stunded and crippled, and completely useless.

Atticus then questions Mayella relentlessly as to how Tom could have beaten her, why her siblings had not heard her screaming, and why she had not escaped. Satisfied by Mayella's confusion, Atticus accuses Bob Ewell of beating Mayella. Mayella refuses to answer questions clearly, and Atticus sits down. The court takes a ten-minute break.

Quotes: "Mayella looked as if she tried to keep clean, and I was reminded of the row of red geraniums in the Ewell yard."
By setting Mayella apart from the other Ewells, the narrator shows that Mayella was not a simple "bad guy." Unlike the other Ewells, Mayella tries to keep clean, and plants flowers in the yard. The narrator previously used cleanliness as a metaphor for how morally wrong Bob Ewell was. Thus, the narrator is saying that Mayella is something of a round character with positive but suppressed traits.

Quotes: ""Then why didn't the other children hear you? Where were they? At the dump? Where were they?" No answer. "Why didn't your screams make them come running? The dump's closer than the woods, isn't it?" No answer. "Or didn't you scream until you saw your father in the window? You didn't think to scream until then, did you?" No answer. "Did you scream first at you father instead of at Tom Robinson? Was that is?" No answer. "Who beat you up? Tom Robinson or your father?" No answer. "What did you father see in the window, the crime of rape or the best defense to it? Why don't you tell the truth, child, didn't Bob Ewell beat you up?"" (p. 187)
This is important because this is where the Ewell's argument falls apart. These are not complicated questions, and if Mayella had been telling the truth, she would have had no trouble answering them. To quote Mark Twain, "If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything." This would have been very helpful to Mayella because, as she proved in prior questioning, she could not remember much and her answers contradicted. Also, after this intense questioning, Mayella clams up and refuses to say anything else. She may have been dumbstruck that Atticus had seen through her lie so easily, that he had actually tried to defeat her, or that he dared question her so.

Atticus Interrogating Mayella
Atticus Interrogating Mayella

The way that Mayella continued to stick to her story could be considered an act of courage, but it seems less so when you realize that Mayella was lying to protect herself and that her continuing to lie only served to harm Tom Robinson.

The way that Atticus continued to question Mayella could also be considered an act of courage. This is because many white people, including the Ewells, seemed to expect Atticus to simply believe the white girl accusing the black man. It took courage for Atticus to accuse Mayella of lying, because he was siding with a black man and that was against the racist standards of the time. Atticus knew this was dangerous, because he had had to stand up to the angry mob the night before and he knew that Bob Ewell would be angry if Atticus humiliated the Ewells in court.

Chapter 19 (190-199) begins with Tom Robinson attempting to take the oath with his useless arm, but he has difficulty. The whole courtroom can clearly see that Tom Robinson is incapable of having hit Mayella in the right side of her face.

Atticus questions him about his personal life. He asks Tom to tell everyone about a previous conviction he had for getting into a fight. Jem says that Atticus is just showing that Tom has nothing to hide.

Atticus then questions Tom about his relationship with Mayella. He says that he passed by the Ewell's home every day on his way to work for Link Deas doing farm work. He says that a year ago, Mayella had asked him to chop up a dresser, and since then he had done many odd jobs for her for free. He says that he would never go into the Ewell's yard without permission. He says that Mayella had asked him to come into the house to fix the door. He saw that the door was in good condition, but then Mayella closed the door and shut him inside the house with her. Mayella had sent the children away to buy a treat for themselves. Mayella then embraced Tom and tried to get him to kiss her. Tom pushed her away and tried to get away from her, when Bob Ewell showed up at the window and yelled a curse at Mayella. Tom ran before he saw what Bob Ewell did to her.

Mr. Gilmer then questions Tom. He brings up Tom's conviction again. He then establishes that Tom was strong enough to overpower a woman. He tricks Tom into saying that he felt sorry for Mayella. This makes Tom seem rebellious and out of his place. Mr. Gilmer has Tom repeat his version of events. He accuses Tom of calling Mayella a liar; Tom insists that she is merely "mistaken in her mind." Mr. Gilmer aggressively questions Tom until Dill starts crying and Scout has to leave the courtroom with him.

Quotes: ""That's just Mr. Gilmer's way, Dill, he does 'em all that way. You've never seen him get good'n down on one yet. Why , when -- well, today Mr. Gilmer seemed to me like he wasn't half trying. They do 'em all that way, most lawyers, I mean." "Mr. Finch doesn't." "He's not an example, Dill, he's--" I was trying to grope in my memory for a sharp phrase of Miss Maudie Atkinson's. I had it: "He's the same in the courtroom as he is on the public streets."" (p. 199)
This is important because it shows that Atticus has the rare quality of being able to view all people as equals, not only in court, but everywhere. Mr. Gilmer is trying to force his racist views onto the jury and the crowd by questioning Tom Robinson in a condescending manner.

The fact that Tom Robinson was able to stand up to the questioning and honestly tell a coherent account of the happenings on November 21st is an example of courage. This is because it was dangerous for him to contradict a white person's statements, especially when a white person was accusing him directly and he had to prove that she was lying in order to prove himself innocent.
"...why did you run so fast? ...were you scared that she'd hurt you?"
"No suh, I's scared I'd be in court, just like I am now."
"Scared of arrest, scared you'd have to face up to what you did?"
"No suh, scared I'd hafta face up to what I didn't do."
"Are you being impudent to me, boy?"
"No suh, I didn't go to be."

This sequence between Mr. Gilmer and Tom Robinson illustrates the blatant racism of the trial. It is this line of questioning that makes Dill cry. The narrator shows how Tom Robinson, while trying to be courageous and tell the truth, is cast as being impudent. It is impossible for Tom to contradict Mayella without overstepping the boundaries of proper behavior for a black man. Thus, the whole trial is clearly unfair, and it is up to Atticus to try to somehow create justice in this environment.

Chapter 20 (199-206) begins with Scout and Dill outside the courthouse. There, they met Mr. Dolphus Raymond, a man who is infamous around Maycomb for living with his black wife and having "mixed" children. The children learned that Mr. Raymond is not actually a drunk. He would prefer to be written off as a drunkard than as a member of a mixed race marriage. His beverage of choice is merely Coca-Cola. "Things haven't caught up with that one's instinct. Let
him get a little older and he won't get sick and cry. Maybe things'll strike him as being --Not quite right, say, but he won't cry, not when he gets a few years on him," was Mr. Raymond's lesson to the children. "Cry about what, Mr. Raymond?" Dill asked. Mr. Raymond responded, "Cry about the simple hell people give other people-- without even thinking. Cry about the hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they're people, too." The author presents a powerful lesson through Mr. Raymond; he represents a voice of reason and justice, but he has been shunned by the community for associating with people who are not given the same rights as others.

Once they had thanked Mr. Raymond, the children rushed back into the courthouse. They arrived in the middle of Atticus' speech to the jury.
Atticus ended his speech with this powerful closing:

Atticus delivering his closing

"But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal-- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal."
"I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system-- that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality, Gentlemen, a court is no better than each of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty."
(p. 205)

Here, Atticus is clearly being courageous, because he is going directly against the racism of the time and pointing out the basic errors the people of Maycomb are committing by convicting Tom Robinson.

Atticus' speech appeals to the jury's belief in justice, and begs them to forget the racism of Maycomb and do the right thing. While it has already been shown how unfair the process has been, Atticus is making a final plea to the humanity of the jurors in the hopes that they will overcome their racist attitudes and recognize the obvious truth: that Tom Robinson could not have committed any of the things he is accused of doing; that Mayella was beaten up by Bob Ewell and had accused Tom to save herself; and that the whole trial had been a mockery of justice and should be corrected by ruling "not guilty."