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What are the primary arguments Atticus Finch makes in his closing argument when...

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alek1994 | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 13, 2010 at 12:54 PM via web

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What are the primary arguments Atticus Finch makes in his closing argument when defending Tom Robinson?

I need to rewrite this speech for a play we're writing and performing for class as a group project.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 13, 2010 at 2:14 PM (Answer #1)

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Atticus Finch's closing argument in To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most moving, patriotic, and reasonable speeches in all of American literature--and since you're going to present it in play form (i.e., aloud), you have an opportunity to bring his arguments to life for your audience in a way they may never forget.

A quick reminder that this story is set in a time and place where only men were allowed to be jurors, and any black man who was on trial was virtually assured a guilty verdict.  Atticus was given the case, remember, because the Judge thought he would at least be able to make the jury do more than vote guilty without even deliberating.  He succeeds at that, anyway, as the jury is out for several hours--a small victory for justice, but a victory nonetheless.

The case he makes is a simple one, consisting of the following four logical arguments:

1.  There is no evidence to connect Tom to this supposed crime.

2.  There is evidence that a crime has been committed; and it is clear that someone in the courtroom could have done it--but it is not Tom Robinson.

3.  Even if you want to believe he did it, Tom is physically incapable of doing what he was accused of doing.

4.  The only reason Tom is on trial is because we live in a world in which small-minded people assume a black man must be guilty...and a black man who showed pity for a white woman must certainly be punished.

Atticus closes with his emotional argument, an impassioned reminder that this a country where justice must prevail:  "In this country, our courts are the great levelers. In our courts, all men are created equal. I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system - that's no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality!"

His final plea is that they "will review, without passion," all that they have seen and heard and "come to a decision and restore this man to his family. In the name of GOD, do your duty. In the name of God, believe...Tom Robinson. "

This speech is a perfect blend of reasoning and emotion, two things I hope you'll be able to capture in your rewrite and presentation.  Enjoy!

Lori Steinbach

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kolen7 | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 13, 2010 at 10:25 PM (Answer #2)

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The most important theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is the book’s exploration of the moral nature of human beings—that is, whether people are essentially good or essentially evil. The novel approaches this question by dramatizing Scout and Jem’s transition from a perspective of childhood innocence, in which they assume that people are good because they have never seen evil, to a more adult perspective, in which they have confronted evil and must incorporate it into their understanding of the world. As a result of this portrayal of the transition from innocence to experience, one of the book’s important subthemes involves the threat that hatred, prejudice, and ignorance pose to the innocent: people such as Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are not prepared for the evil that they encounter, and, as a result, they are destroyed. Even Jem is victimized to an extent by his discovery of the evil of racism during and after the trial. Whereas Scout is able to maintain her basic faith in human nature despite Tom’s conviction, Jem’s faith in justice and in humanity is badly damaged, and he retreats into a state of disillusionment.


The moral voice of To Kill a Mockingbird is embodied by Atticus Finch, who is virtually unique in the novel in that he has experienced and understood evil without losing his faith in the human capacity for goodness. Atticus understands that, rather than being simply creatures of good or creatures of evil, most people have both good and bad qualities. The important thing is to appreciate the good qualities and understand the bad qualities by treating others with sympathy and trying to see life from their perspective. He tries to teach this ultimate moral lesson to Jem and Scout to show them that it is possible to live with conscience without losing hope or becoming cynical. In this way, Atticus is able to admire Mrs. Dubose’s courage even while deploring her racism.

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