Explain the contrast Scout draws between the court where Tom was tried and "the secret courts of men's hearts." In what way are hearts like courts?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The passage implied in the question is found in Chapter 25:

Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.

The contrast here is the one that exists between the legal principles upon which the system of justice is based and the human weaknesses and prejudices that can corrupt the dispensing of justice in court. In court during Tom's trial, Atticus defended Tom within the legal system and, in fact, proved beyond any doubt Tom did not commit the crime he was accused of committing. However, because of the racist culture of Maycomb, the presumption of innocence was never extended to Tom. He was "convicted" in people's hearts before he ever came to trial. Because he was a black man in Maycomb, he was presumed guilty as soon as he was accused by a white woman. In the "secret courts of men's hearts," no evidence was necessary beyond the color of Tom's skin. Minds were closed, and this public opinion was instantaneous.

poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter Twenty-Five of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee states:

Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.

Examining this context, we can see that hearts are like courts because they hold a private place of judgment within us. This is sometimes more colloquially and modernly referred to as "the court of public opinion." In Tom's case, the hearts of the people of Maycomb were already deeply poisoned against him by their racist beliefs; in their estimation, Tom's skin color was enough to condemn him for a crime he did not commit. No matter how well Atticus defended Tom in the literal courtroom, there was no escaping the ugly evaluation that lay deep within those who bore witness to the trial. This "verdict" is what placed tremendous social pressure on the actual court system, resulting in the tragic decision to find Tom guilty.

elihelmy | Student

It was clear to everyone in the court room that Tom was innocent, and no one liked the Ewells, but because Tom was black, and the Ewells were white, he was found guilty. In the "Secret courts" of their hearts, he was guilty because he was black.


 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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