In chapter 23 of To Kill a Mockingbird, what interferes with the idea of judgment by a jury of one's peers?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's in chapter 21 of To Kill a Mockingbirdthat the jury finds Tom Robinson guilty, despite convincing evidence presented by Atticus. In fact, it is likely that some members of the jury (or all) believed Tom was innocent but feared retribution from other jurors and from others in Maycomb, a town with an understood, at least residual, history of racism. 

It is this tradition of racist attitudes which interferes with a fair judgment of Tom by his peers. In Chapter 23, Atticus says, "The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box." Shortly before Atticus says this, he notes that if the jury had been filled with Jem and eleven other boys like him, Tom would be a free man. Jem is open minded on account of teachings from Atticus. But the other implication is that Jem is young enough not to be bogged down and brainwashed in the racist traditions of the town. 

Even the sole holdout on the jury, one of the Cunninghams, eventually succumbed to peer pressure from other members of the jury. Tom did not get a fair trial by a jury of his peers because they relied on social tradition (which includes racist tendencies) rather than reason when determining the verdict. Not to mention, it might be wrong to label the jurists Tom's peers because a peer implies someone who is your equal. Clearly, Tom was not treated as an equal; another example of the impossibility of a fair trial. 

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 23, Atticus discusses the Tom Robinson trial with his children and Jem comments that they should do away with juries. Atticus then proceeds to explain to his son that something happened to those twelve jurors, who are reasonable men any other day of the week. Atticus indirectly explains mob mentality to Jem by telling him that the same thing that made the men attempt to lynch Tom Robinson before the trial influenced the jurors' decision to vote him guilty. Atticus then says,

"There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads—they couldn’t be fair if they tried." (224)

Atticus is commenting on the inherent racist ideologies of Maycomb's citizens, which influenced each juror to vote Tom Robinson guilty. Each juror did not want to challenge Maycomb's prejudiced tradition or upset the community, which is why they convicted an innocent man.

A jury of one's peers must answer to its community after the case. In Maycomb, the jurors who judged Tom Robinson came from the same county and expected retribution from the racist community members if they acquitted Tom. Overall, a jury of one's peers is subjected to the influence of the other jurors and the community at large. In Tom's case, each juror was influenced by the racist ideologies of their fellow jurors and Maycomb's community. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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