What points-of-view do the three children hold of the trial of Tom Robinson in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Jem, Scout and Dill all have differing opinions about the Tom Robinson trial, but they all believe Tom to be innocent. Needless to say, the three of them are pulling for Atticus before the trial begins, but they all come to different conclusions during the trial.

DILL.  Dill, who has never been in a courtroom before, is the least verbal of the three during the testimony. He becomes sick to his stomach during Tom's questioning by the prosecutor, Horace Gilmer, and it takes a swig of Dolphus Raymond's Coca-Cola to calm him. Scout tries to explain that Gilmer is only doing his job, but Dill objects to the tone of Gilmer's questions, who constantly refers to Tom as "boy" and shows him no respect. Dill points out that Atticus questioned Bob and Mayella in a respectful manner and wonders why Gilmer doesn't do the same.

SCOUT.  Much of the testimony is over Scout's head, but she finally understands why Atticus made such a fuss about making Bob Ewell sign his name with his left hand--that a left-handed man must have beaten Mayella. But Scout also realizeS that

... Tom Robinson could easily be left-handed, too.

Scout wonders if Mayella has "good sense," and she sees that the "ignorant" girl haS shown contempt "for everybody in the courtroom." But it is still unclear to Scout what Atticus's angle Is.

Somehow, Atticus had hit her hard in a way that was not clear to me, but it gave him no pleasure to do so.

When Tom took the stand, Scout soon

... found myself believing in him... He seemed to be a respectable Negro...

But she also saw something in the jury that "only a lawyer's child could be expected to see..." She knew that juries never looked a defendant in the eye if they had found them guilty, and

... not one of them looked at Tom Robinson.

JEM.  Being older, Jem understands the testimony and how the trial is unfolding better than Scout or Dill. He sees that Atticus was trying to prove that Tom's "withered" left arm meant that he could not have harmed Mayella, and he seems to be celebrating even before the jury returns.

"... we're gonna win, Scout. I don't see how we can't... He made it as plain and easy as--well, as I'da explained it to you."

Later, Jem tells Reverend Sykes

"... don't fret, we've won it... Don't see how any jury could convict on what we heard--"

But Jem has a shock in store, one that leaves his face "streaked with angry tears."

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Literally and figuratively, the children view the tria of Tom Robinsonl from the balcony.  In fact, Scout acts much like a "color commentator" at a sports event as she reports the occurrences, but at the same time, she gives her explanations of what her father says and does.  In Chapter 17, for instance, she remarks at the beginning of the trial,

So far, things were utterly dull:  nobody had thundered, there were no arguments between opposing counsel, there was no drama; a grave disappointment to all present, it seemed.  Atticus was proceeding amiably, as if he were involved in a title dispute....With his infinite capacity for calming turbulent seas, he could make a rape case as dry as a sermon....Our nightmare had gone with daylight, everything would come out all right.

Scout reacts to what happens.  When Mr. Gilmer's back stiffens as he questions Bob Ewell, she "felt sorry for him."  But, she explains that she and Jem do not feel any of the trauma that other lawyers' children feel as their fathers are engaged in debate.  She observes, "Mr. Gilmer was doing his job, as Atticus was doing his."  And, when the language becomes inappropriate and Reverend Sykes tells Jem to take Scout home, Scout counters that she can understand anything that Jem does.  Of course, she really does not know exactly what rape is, so Jem informs the minister that Scout will be all right there.

An experienced viewer of trials, Scout observes how Judge Taylor gains control of his court as well as how Atticus employs his various techniques for questioning witnesses. She reports how Atticus's calm disarms Bob Ewell and he incriminates himself without realizing it. However, at times, Scout worries that Atticus has "gone frogsticking without a light"  by asking in his cross-examination of Ewell something about which he may not know the answer. Nevertheless, because she does not have as deep an understanding of the proceedings as her brother Jem, Scout is a keen, objective observer who has fewer reactions to the court proceedings. As such, she is, perhaps, the best to be the novel's reporte.  After his questioning of Bob Ewell, for example, Scout explains to the reader,

Slowly but surely I began to see the pattern Atticus's questions...Atticus was quietly building up before the jury a picture of the Ewells' home life.

In contrast to his sister, Jem's reactions to the proceedings of the trial are stronger. He is appalled at the injustice of the outcome; his analytical mind can make no sense of it, and his heart is hurt, as well.  In Chapter 22, after the trial,

It was Jem's turn to cry.  His face was streaked with angry tears as we made our way through the cheerful crowd. "It ain't right," he muttered, all the way to the corner of the square where we found Atticus waiting....

"It ain't right, Atticus," said Jem.....

"How could they do it, how could they?"

Of course, Dill is the most emotional.  When Mr. Gilmer verbally attacks Tom Robinson on the stand, the sensitive Dill begins to cry and has to be led out. Outside, Dill tells Scout,

"That old Mr. Gilmer doin' him thataway, talking so hateful to him--

..."I know all that, Scout.  It was the way he said it made me sick, plain sick."

Interestingly, Harper Lee utilizes the points of view of the three children to capture both the documentation of the proceedings, an explanation of the techniques of the lawyers, and her sentiment of the rank injustice and cruelty of bias. 


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