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

Expert Answers
amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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 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.


gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question