In Ch 20 of To Kill a Mockingbird, how is Atticus' closing statement in defense of Tom Robinson also an attack upon racism?

Asked on by chalmers

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troutmiller's profile pic

troutmiller | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

Atticus tells the men of the jury to do their duty. He knows that they will allow their prejudices speak for them, and they will convict Tom because he is black. His closing paragraph is very powerful. "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 man 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."

That is very powerful.  He is openly explaining what each open-minded man should do without directions.  He shouldn't have to do that.  He is openly attacking racism.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

In his closing statement, Atticus Finch alludes to Maycomb's Jim Crow culture several times.

  • No familiarity between people of opposite sexes and different races is allowed under Jim Crow.

When Mayella Ewell talked with Tom Robinson and when she invited him into her house and kissed him, she broke the code of the segregated South and Jim Crow. When her father sees her engaging with Tom, he beats his daughter. In his closing remarks, Atticus says,

No code mattered to her before she broke it, but it came crashing down on her afterwards.

  • The charges of rape against Tom have been brought falsely by the Ewells in order to disguise Mayella's conduct. Atticus alludes to these false charges that are unsubstantiated when he says,

The witnesses for the state...except for the sheriff...have presented themselves...to this court, in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption...that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women....

  • "All Negroes lie" is also an assumption made in the Jim Crow South to which Atticus alludes in his closing remarks.

Just because Tom Robinson declares himself innocent of the charges brought against him does not mean he has told the truth on the witness stand. Atticus suggests that the jury not believe the Ewells simply because they are white, nor should they assume Tom lied under oath because he is black.

  • American justice should see no color.

Atticus reminds the jury, 

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.

He wants the jury to remember that justice is blind to color, and they also should be in their judgment of the evidence that points to Tom's innocence.

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