In To Kill a Mockingbird, how well does Atticus feel he should defend Tom Robinson?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There is little doubt at any time during the novel that Atticus does not plan to defend Tom Robinson as fervently as possible. He tells his brother, Jack, that he "hoped to get through life without a case of this kind," but Judge Taylor's request made it virtually impossible for Atticus to turn it down. He also tells Jack that he plans to "jar the jury a bit" even though he knows there is no chance that a white jury will take the word of a black man over a white man. However, Atticus doesn't believe he can face his children if he doesn't defend Tom. "You know what's going to happen as well as I do," he continues.

The townspeople also know Atticus means business. "Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him," one man tells another on the day of the trial. After the trial, Miss Maudie tells Jem that Atticus is "the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like this." Atticus knew a win was out of the question, but his true hope rested with a successful appeal. Tom's death prevented that possibility from happening.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Atticus is completely confident that he should defend Tom Robinson, but he is very aware of the social controversy that surrounds the trial.

I know he is confident based on these evidences:

  • Atticus relies on only one witness. He knew the testimony of Tom would put holes through the testimonies of Bob and Mayella. Rarely will a lawyer defending someone only use this one approach. They bring in experts, witnesses, and an alibi or two.
  • Prior to the trial, Atticus was asked not to do this by a mob of friends at his house, the same mob of friends at church, and a mob of potential enemies (only over this issue) at the jail that night.
  • Atticus talked about the appeals process with Tom and then the children after the trial further demonstrating his confidence.

Therefore, I would say Atticus very well intended to defend Tom Robinson. He believed in the purpose of the trial, but knew he was "licked" before they began.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial