How would you characterize the crowd that came to the trial? Why do you think the author described them in such detail?

The white crowd that came to the trial expected spectacle and the gratifying conclusion of a guilty verdict that would uphold white supremacy in Maycomb. Black people, sitting in the balcony, took the trial much more seriously. Lee describes the crowd in such detail to emphasize the extent to which the verdict is a foregone conclusion. No matter how brilliant Atticus's defense is, Tom Robinson is going to be condemned.

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On the whole, the white crowd that attended the trial came looking for a spectacle and treated the trial as entertainment. This is shown in the description of the people outside the courtyard eating their picnic lunches as if the trial were nothing more serious than a Fourth of July...

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On the whole, the white crowd that attended the trial came looking for a spectacle and treated the trial as entertainment. This is shown in the description of the people outside the courtyard eating their picnic lunches as if the trial were nothing more serious than a Fourth of July celebration.

Inside the courtroom, it is important to distinguish between white spectators and black supporters of Tom Robinson. The black people, sitting upstairs in the segregated balcony (where Scout, Dill, and Jem also sit,) take the trial very seriously. They are deeply appreciative of Atticus for mounting a fair defense of Tom Robinson and revealing that Robinson couldn't have possibly have raped Mayella. They show their respect by rising as a group as Atticus walks out of the courtroom after the conclusion of the trial.

The white spectators, however, sitting down below, are enjoying the trial in the way one might enjoy a fox hunt: as an exciting ride to a foregone conclusion, that being the destruction of a helpless creature. For them, the trial is another assertion of white supremacy in Maycomb. They only begin to get upset when their understanding of the racial hierarchy is violated, such as when Robinson, a black man, dares to say he feels sorry for Mayella, a white woman.

Lee provides so much detail of the trial to reinforce how strong the racial lines are in Maycomb. No matter how good a defense Atticus mounts, his case is hopeless. The white citizens of Maycomb attend the trial to see a black man condemned, not to see justice done.

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Harper Lee characterizes the crowd of community members who attend the trial as interested, excitable spectators, hoping to witness the drama unfold before their eyes. The white citizens sit on the floor of the courtroom, while the black citizens sit in "the colored balcony." Scout, Jem, and Dill find a seat next to Reverend Sykes in the balcony, because every seat is taken on the courtroom floor. At the beginning of the trial, the crowd is relatively calm and quiet. However, Judge Taylor is forced to hammer his gavel for five minutes straight after Bob Ewell says he saw Tom Robinson "ruttin’ on my Mayella." The crowd's reaction reveals their interest and excitable nature. As the trial progresses, Scout notices the look of contempt on several citizen's faces as Atticus makes Mayella contradict her testimony. The trial is also disrupted by Link Deas during Tom's testimony when he stands up in the crowd to defend Tom's reputation. Following Tom's comment about feeling sorry for Mayella, Scout notices the crowd's bitter reaction and resentment towards Tom, which emphasizes their prejudiced nature. Overall, Harper Lee describes the crowd in detail to illustrate the community's involvement and fascination with the trial. The crowd's reactions and focus emphasize the importance of the trial and how the jury's decision dramatically impacts the community's culture, tradition, and way of life.

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In the old South, "lynch mobs" whose intent was to hang "negroes" were prevalent. This crowd is much the same, longing for a guilty verdict like wolves to the kill. The author describes them in an anxious and eager way because that is exactly what they are. Their descriptors also include factors such as their lifestyles and appearances: agrarian and rural.

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The crowd is obviously on pins and needles.  Everyone knows that Tom is innocent and it shows with their body language (one reason why there is such attention given to detail) and the gasps they let escape at certain times.  One of those times is when Atticus brings attention to the fact that the marks left on Mayella's body had to have been left by a left-handed attacker and then he asks Tom to show the jury and everyone in the courtroom his left arm.  It is obvious to everyone that he couldn't have been the attacker based on the evidence since his left arm is badly mangled as a result of a farming accident in his youth.

Tom also remarks at one time in the testimony that he felt sorry for Mayella.  The affronts the white men in the audience as they feel Tom, a black man, has overreached his social station.  It is not his place to feel sorry for a white woman regardless of her sitauation...in their opinion.

The white people sit downstairs and are looking for a guilty verdict simply because of Tom Robinson's color.

The black people sit upstairs and are hoping but are not expecting the truth to be seen and for Tom to go free.  Even though the Ewells are "trash," they are still white, and the black community realizes that their word is still considered more credible than a black man's word...even from such a respected and well-liked black man as Tom.

The trial is an important stepping stone in the coming of age of Jem.

 

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The crowd that attends the trial in Chapter 16 of To Kill A Mockingbird represent all the types found in Maycomb County.  

There are the Mennonites (rarely seen in town); the foot washers ("a wagonload of unusually stern-faced citizens"); the high-class ladies (represented by Miss Stephanie Crawford, wearing her hat and gloves, but denying that she is going to town to see the trial); the poor whites; the "Negroes"; suspected drunk Mr. Dolphus Raymond with his black wife and his mixed children; and "the Idlers' Club ... a group of white-shirted, khaki-trousered ... old men ... attentive critics of courthouse business."

As can be seen from this list, the author, Harper Lee, accomplishes many things by including all these people.

First of all, she gives us a richer picture of Maycomb County.  This is the only time, for example, that the Mennonites appear at all.  The parade of people gives Jem an opportunity to give commentary on their colorful histories to Scout, by which we readers learn about them too.

Secondly, the presence of some of these people allows the author to explore in more detail the dynamics of race in Maycomb County, and Jem and Scout's growing struggle to understand the social "rules" surrounding race.  This happens, for example, when Jem points out Mr. Dolphus Raymond's children to Scout.  She asks, "How can you tell [they're mixed]?" and Jem replies, "You can't sometimes ... but around here once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black."   Later, Scout overhears the Idlers' Club's commentary on Atticus and the trial, and is once again confused by their racist attitudes.  Later still, we see the Idlers' Club try to prevent the black people from entering the courthouse.  Scout and Jem ultimately end up sitting with the blacks in the balcony. 

Finally, the presence of every group shows what a big deal this trial is to all the citizens of Maycomb.  It is rare that such a sensational event comes along.  So a few people are there just for the spectacle.  But most people are there because the results of the trial are important to them.  A black man has been accused of raping a lower-class white woman, and a highly respected white lawyer is going to do his utmost to defend him.  In this trial, the blacks, the poor whites, and the upper-class whites all feel that they have something to lose.  To say nothing of the families of the accused, of the alleged victim, and of the lawyer. 

The fact that all these people from different walks of life, all of whom have competing stakes in the trial, are brought together in one place, makes the tension very high in Chapter 16.

It is only natural that all of Maycomb would turn out to see this trial, because it is a defining moment for Maycomb.  If Tom Robinson is acquitted, it will forever change the status quo in Maycomb, and change it very dramatically.  But even if Robinson is not acquitted, the status quo will still be shaken because Atticus will have shown that Robinson patently did not do it.  The Cunningham family will lose face, and the upper-class white citizens will have to grapple with the fact that their system is unjust, and to face their fear that one day the status quo will change forever.

In short, no matter what the outcome of the trial, everything changes, and everyone loses something.  It is appropriate that all the citizens of Maycomb should be there to see their world change.

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The trial of Tom Robinson must have been the biggest event to hit Maycomb in many years. People came from all over the county to see what Miss Maudie described as a "Roman carnival." To Scout, "It was like a Saturday...a gala occasion." There were wagonloads of people, including Mennonites and "foot-washing" Baptists who came to view the trial. People rode mules and came by foot. People picnicked on the square, and "There was no room at the public hitching rail for another, animal, mules and wagons were parked under every available tree." After all, it was no ordinary trial: A black man was accused of raping a white woman, and people of all kinds--black and white--wanted to hear all the gory details. White folks wanted Tom to get what was coming to him, and black folks came in the hope of seeing the miracle of him receiving justice and a fair trial. There may have been little sympathy for what had actually happened to Mayella Ewell, but the charges she and her father made created an atmosphere that made it nearly irrestible to miss. Since there was little else to do in Maycomb--

... nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.  (Chapter 1)

--the trial became the event of the year. Only a very few people, like the sympathetic and more humane Miss Maudie and Dolphus Raymond, didn't want to witness it personally, and there must have been hundreds who were unable to get inside. The author's detail to the many different people was simply her way of stating that this event was one that was bound to appeal to all kinds of people.

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