In To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, what are the general thoughts and opinions from the public on the case of Tom Robinson?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"In the private hearts of men" as Atticus Finch noted, there are concerns from the beginning of the case when certain residents of Maycomb learned that Atticus Finch, a liberal-minded, astute attorney, has agreed to defend Tom Robinson. For, they become anxious that this trial will threaten the status quo by setting a precedent against the Jim Crow Laws.

With their caste system threatened, therefore, the "Old Guard" issues invectives against Atticus, hoping to vilify and ostracize him enough to reduce him to simply fulfilling his obligations as court-appointed attorney and not to try to win the case. This is why Mrs. Dubose calls Atticus a n*****lover, and Miss Stephanie Crawford maligns him in her gossip. Sheriff Tate and other men stand in the front yard of the Finch home to convince Atticus to postpone the case or change the venue. When Atticus refuses, they warn him about Tom's being moved to the jail. Other townspeople such as the Idlers' Club sit outside the courthouse and deprecate him, and the lowest man in Maycomb, Bob Ewell, hates him, and the Old Sarum bunch pays Atticus a night visit outside the jail occupied by Robinson in anticipation of taking Tom and hanging him before the trial.

During the trial, Bob Ewell is a hostile witness toward the defense. Personifying the worst racial bias, he accuses Tom of raping his daughter, describing Tom's actions in the crudest of terms. Mayella, too, accuses the gentle Tom, who has never been anything but charitable to her. But, standing up in court, Link Dees speaks out of turn on Tom's behalf, just as Mr. Underwood is prepared to shoot outside the jail if Atticus be threatened.

During the trial, Dill cries about the hate that issues from the Ewells and Mr. Gilmer, the prosecutor who has twisted Tom Robinson's "I felt sorry for her" to imply that the Negroe feels himself superior to the white girl and convict Tom in the hearts of the jury.  As the trial ends Tom is found guilty, however, all the black citizenry in the balcony stand and show their respect for Atticus, who has done his best and, at least, keeping the jury deliberating for some time. Once at home, Jem finds himself crying, "It ain't right.....How could they do it?" 

Miss Maudie consoles the children,

"I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us, Your fathers one of them.....he's the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that. And I though to myself, well, we're making a step--it's just a baby-step, but it's a step."

And, she consoles Aunt Alexandra, who worries for her brother,

Whether Maycomb knows it or not, we're paying the highest tribute we can pay a man. We trust him to do right....the handful of people who say that fair play is not marked White Only; the handful of people who say a fair trial is for everybody...the handful of people with enough humility to think....

Embittered by his humiliation, Bob Ewell spits on Atticus at the square, daring him, "Too proud to fight, you n***-lovin' bastard?" And, the supercilious Mrs. Merriweather remarks in Atticus's sister's presence,

"...there are some good but misguided people in this town. Good, but misguided." 

In the end, though, Heck Tate and Mr. Underwood who writes a moving editorial that equates the killing of Tom Robinson to the senseless shooting of songbirds, certainly change their minds. Bob Ewell, however, accelerates his hatred in an attempt to harm the Finch children.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question