In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Harper Lee use the trial of Tom Robinson to show some of the attitudes of Maycomb society  

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, the most obvious attitude of Maycomb society that author Harper Lee reveals through Tom Robinson's trial is one of racism. However, beyond racism, Lee uses certain characters and their reflection on Robinson's trial to show that Maycomb is taking baby steps towards creating a more just society.

Other than Atticus, who is very determined to give Robinson the best defense he can, despite the inevitability of losing the case before an all-white jury, Lee uses characters like Miss Maudie, Judge Taylor, and later Sheriff Heck Tate to depict that certain citizens in Maycomb are willing to acknowledge the unfair treatment of African-American citizens and to move towards establishing a more just society.

Through a speech of Miss Maudie's the day after the trial, we learn that some of Maycomb's citizens are willing to embrace justice. The day after the trial, Miss Maudie invites the children into her home to serve them cake to try to cheer them up, especially Jem. As they converse about the trial, Miss Maudie makes Jem and the other two children think deeply about why Atticus was called on to defend Robinson by asking the two following questions:

Did it ever strike you that Judge Taylor naming Atticus to defend that boy was no accident? That Judge Taylor might have had his reasons for naming him? (Ch. 22)

After being asked these questions, Scout reflects in her narrative that Miss Maudie has a substantial point: Normally, Maycomb's youngest lawyer, Maxwell Green, would have been called upon to take on a hopeless case defending an African American because, as Scout says, he "needed the experience" (Ch. 22). Miss Maudie further explains that Judge Taylor purposefully called on Atticus because he knew Atticus was the only lawyer who was good enough to "keep a jury out so long in a case like that"; in other words, calling on Atticus was Judge Taylor's best means of attempting to give Robinson as much of a fair trial as segregated Southern society would allow, especially before an all-white jury. In Miss Maudie's mind, this shows that some of Maycomb's citizens are willing to make small steps towards equality, or, as she notes to the children, "[W]e're making a step--it's just a baby-step, but it's a step" (Ch. 22).

Aside from Miss Maudie and Judge Taylor, Sheriff Tate makes a comment by the end of the book that portrays his guilty feelings for having given into Bob Ewell's command to have Robinson arrested, which, of course, inevitably led to Robinson's unfair trial and subsequent death. During the trial, Atticus undeniably proves through his cross-examination that only a left-handed person would have been able to hurt Mayella, and Robinson has been crippled in his left arm and hand since childhood. Though Sheriff Tate may have been too dense and distracted by racist beliefs to have been able to notice that at the time of Robinson's arrest, by the end of the book, Sheriff Tate shows he regrets his responsibility in Robinson's arrest and subsequent death. Sheriff Tate indirectly confesses his feelings of guilt concerning Robinson's death the night he strives to convince Atticus not to push for the prosecution of Bob Ewell's death since Sheriff Tate knows Arthur Radley killed Ewell to protect the Finch children:

I'm not a very good man, sir, but I am sheriff of Maycomb County. Lived in this town all my life an' I'm goin' on forty-three years old. Know everything that's happened here since before I was born. There's a black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for it's dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch. Let the dead bury the dead. (Ch. 30)

In saying he's "not a very goody man," Sheriff Tate is indirectly confessing to his errors in judgement, possibly due to racist prejudices. Furthermore, in his line, "There's a black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for it's dead," Sheriff Tate is referring to the fact that Robinson has been killed regardless of perfect innocence and pointing out that Bob Ewell was primarily responsible for Robinson's death, who is now dead also. Sheriff Tate's indirect confession that Robinson was wrongly killed serves as further evidence that some people in Maycomb, like Sheriff Tate, are willing to start moving towards creating a more just society.

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