In To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie states, "And I thought to myself, well, we’re making a step – it’s just a baby-step, but it’s a step." Do you agree with Miss Maudie Atkinson that the people of Maycomb have advanced in their attitudes about race as a result of the Tom Robinson case?
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To answer this question, we first might extend our analysis to include the full quote and its context. In Chapter 21, Tom Robinson has just been found guilty of the rape of Mayella Ewell, an injustice in the face of the clear and present evidence that Tom was physically incapable of committing this act due to the maiming of his left arm in a childhood accident. In Chapter 22, the entire Finch family is distraught about the result of the case, and Miss Maudie tries to point something important out, saying:
To Kill A Mockingbird
I was sittin‘ there on the porch last night, waiting. I waited and waited to see you all come down the sidewalk, and as I waited I thought, Atticus Finch won’t win, he can’t win, but he’s the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that. And I thought to myself, well, we’re making a step—it’s just a baby-step, but it’s a step.
Miss Maudie is illustrating the importance of Atticus' actions in defending Tom at the trial and suggesting that he must have made some very convincing arguments in the process. Although Maycomb is not advanced enough yet to make a just decision about a black man's charges, Atticus must have radically shook some of the ingrained racist beliefs of the jury members in order to keep them deliberating for such a long time.
Additionally, Miss Maudie points out that Judge Taylor had appointed Atticus to be Tom's lawyer when the case should normally have gone to Maxwell Green, a new lawyer. This suggests that Judge Taylor wanted Tom to have a fair shot of proving his innocence with an experienced and thorough lawyer at the helm of his case. Mr. Heck Tate, Tom's white employer, also demonstrated a shift in popular opinion by speaking up about Tom's innocence during the trial.
Despite Tom's conviction, all of this is "winning" work in the "baby-step" sense; although people's minds will not be changed overnight, getting them to critically think about how they approach race is the first important measure in moving toward racial equality and justice.
If you view the town's advancement in the sense of "baby steps" as Miss Maudie describes, I would agree with the quotation. There are still racist attitudes in Maycomb -- we know this by the conversations at the Missionary Circle Meeting. These religious ladies should be the most open-minded, but their conversations reveal some of the most racist sentiments in book. In that way, Maycomb is unchanged. However, Aunt Alexandria has changed the way she views people of another race. Arthur Radley comes outside. Miss Dubose extends a sign of friendship. People reach out to Helen Robinson. These each represent a baby step. Individual people are making changes in their lives in order to be more accepting of others. People are acknowledging that something is off in their society. These small shifts are how change begins. In that way, Maycomb is advancing.
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