How does Dill react to this part of the trial in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? Why is this, in your opinion?  

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Chapter 19 of Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird begins, Atticus Finch, the lawyer representing a physically-disabled African American man accused of raping a white woman in 1930s Alabama, has summoned the defendant, Tom Robinson, to the witness stand. Atticus' children, Scout and Jem, and their friend Dill, are positioned in the upper balcony along with the town's blacks, who are relegated to the back of the courtroom in the segregated Deep South. Scout and Jem are regular visitors to the courtroom, although they are not customarily seated among the disenfranchised of Maycomb. As their eminently decent father proceeds with his questioning of witnesses in the rape trial, however, they are introduced to the full extent to which the racism endemic to their little part of the world extends into the court of law that is supposed to represent the balanced scales of justice. So far, the children, and the jury, have observed the prosecutor, Mr. Horace Gilmer's, questioning of the Ewells and the town's sheriff, Heck Tate. Now, however, they will be witness to the testimony of a man indisputably being subjected to a horrendous case of injustice solely on the basis of his skin color.

While Jem and Scout are accustomed to the mechanisms of a trial, Dill is a newcomer, and is dismayed by the miscarriage of justice he is witnessing. Atticus, first to question Tom, is respectful and deliberate in establishing that his client was physically incapable of performing the act of which he was accused and that the victim's father, Bob Ewell, was the more likely individual responsible for his daughter, Mayella's, injuries. When Atticus completes his questioning of Tom, the solicitor, or prosecutor, Mr. Gilmore, begins his cross-examination of the defendant, adopting a noticeably disrespectful and thoroughly racist tone, such as when he accusingly asks of the accused, “Had your eye on her a long time, hadn’t you, boy?” Gilmer is doing what lawyers do in confrontational situations: He is seeking to discredit the testimony of the defendant while eliminating in the eyes of an already biased jury the notion of "reasonable doubt" regarding Tom's alleged guilt. Dill's reaction to the tone of Gilmer's questioning is one of misbelief and horror. Scout, the novel's young narrator, describes her friend's reaction to what he is witnessing:

"This was as much as I heard of Mr. Gilmer’s cross-examination, because Jem made me take Dill out. For some reason Dill had started crying and couldn’t stop; quietly at first, then his sobs were heard by several people in the balcony."

Dill's reaction to the injustices he is witnessing is a testament to his youth and naiveté, to which Jem, in particular, has grown less susceptible. At first, Jem and Scout believe their friend to have merely gotten sick. Dill, however, isn't ill; he is disgusted and saddened by the persecution of people because of their ethnicity. As he cries to Scout, who has tried to explain that Gilmer is only doing his job, “I don’t care one speck. It ain’t right, somehow it ain’t right to do ‘em that way. Hasn’t anybody got any business talkin’ like that—it just makes me sick.” Dill's exposure to the racism endemic to society has been more limited than has been the case with Scout and Jem. Viewing the scale of this racism in an environment that is supposed to be insulated from such prejudices has deeply upset Dill to the point that he has to be lead from the courthouse.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dill becomes very upset at the prosecutor's treatment of Tom Robinson during his cross-examination in Chapter 19 of To Kill a Mockingbird. Horace Gilmer repeatedly refers to Tom as "boy" and speaks disrespectfully to him.

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

Unlike Jem and Scout, Dill has never been in a courtroom or seen a trial before, and he doesn't understand that part of Gilmer's job is to discredit the witness. But Dill objects to Gilmer's style, and he tells Scout that Atticus had not treated Mayella or her father in the same manner. Dolphus Raymond later explains that Dill's crying was because of the

"... hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they're people, too.


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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