How does Underwood feel about Tom's death in To Kill a Mockingbird, and why did Lee choose to include Underwood's opinions about Tom's death?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Earlier in the story, Braxton Bragg Underwood, editor of the local paper, silently stood watch over Atticus while he was accosted by the group of Cunninghams bent on lynching Tom Robinson. He later called down to Atticus from his second floor perch that he "had you covered all the time, Atticus." When Atticus looked up, he saw Underwood with a double-barreled shotgun leaning out his window. Atticus later told his sister,

"You know, it's funny about Braxton," said Atticus. "He despises Negroes, won't have one near him."

Racist though he may be, Underwood nevertheless found the trial and later death of Tom Robinson to be a miscarriage of justice. In his editorial following Tom's death, "Underwood was at his most bitter." He declared that it was "a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting or escaping."

He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children.

Scout didn't understand this at first, but then she realized that Atticus had no real defense for Tom because the social structure had him convicted before the trial:

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 author used Underwood's opinions to emphasize the meaning of the title. The author also probably used Underwood's opinion to illustrate the example that most men with even a speck of intelligent thought--even racists such as Underwood--would have recognized that Tom was innocent of the charges against him, and that the verdict went against all principles of lawful justice.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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