How does Scout describe Atticus during the trial?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The trial in To Kill A Mockingbird lasts a long time, and so Scout has multiple opportunities to describe Atticus. However, one of my favorite descriptions comes toward the end of the trial in Chapter 20, when Atticus is preparing to deliver his closing remarks:

...then Atticus did something I never saw him do before or since, in public or in private: he unbuttoned his vest, unbuttoned his collar, loosened his tie, and took off his coat. He never loosened a scrap of his clothing until he undressed at bedtime, and to Jem and me, this was the equivalent of him standing before us stark naked. We exchanged horrified glances. (205)

In this excerpt, Scout describes Atticus doing something he never does: making his normally formal attitude casual. Her (fairly hilarious) surprise indicates that Atticus never allows himself to act so casually at home, let alone in public. 

This passage is important because it not only gives us an insight into Atticus' extremely formal character, but it also show us an important tactic in the trial. Atticus has already faced significant backlash for his decision to defend Tom Robinson, and several members of the community have turned against him. By making himself appear more casual, Atticus reminds everyone in the court room that he is actually just like them. By doing so, Atticus subtly makes his closing statement more sympathetic, as he endears himself to everyone listening. In this way, Scout's description points to one of Atticus' important strategic tactics during the trial. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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