How does Harper Lee develop and use contrast in characterization and voice in the trial scene of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By the use of the various witnesses who give testimony at the trial, and from the narrative of Scout and the opinions expressed by others--such as Jem, Dill and Dolphus Raymond--Harper Lee manages to express a wide range of emotions during the trial of Tom Robinson. Scout's narrative ranges from matter-of-fact commentary to moments of self-discovery, particularly when she recognizes that the crippled Robinson could not have committed the crime of which he is accused; and the realization that the jurors, who refuse to look Tom in the face, have decided on a guilty verdict.

Lee takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotions. The trial starts innocently enough with the factual testimony of Sheriff Heck Tate. It explodes when Bob Ewell takes the stand, bringing the courtroom into chaos when he accuses Tom of "ruttin' on my Mayella." Mayella's appearance brings an even greater emotional escalation, completing her testimony by cursing Atticus and storming from the witness stand. Tom Robinson's turn on the stand evokes pity, but when the prosecutor disrespectfully taunts Tom, it sends Dill crying from the courtroom. During the needed lull, Dill and Scout enjoy a few humorous moments with the mysterious Dolphus Raymond, who reminds them that there will always be white people to make life "hell" for the black man.

The trial ends with Atticus' pleading voice of reason, asking the jurors to disregard Tom's skin color and to

"In the name of God, do your duty... In the name of God, believe him."

The author extends the trial somewhat, giving the reader time for reflection during the surprising hours that it takes the jury to make its decision. As Atticus had earlier predicted, and as Scout sees from the absent eyes of the jurors, Tom is found guilty--a surprise to Jem, but probably not to many others, including most readers.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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