In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, why does Mr. Gilmer argue that Tom Robinson is guilty?

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It is Mr. Gilmer’s job to argue that Tom Robinson is guilty because he is the prosecutor.  His case is based on the fact that Tom Robinson is black and was in the house.

In a trial, there is a prosecution and a defense.  The prosecutor’s job is to try...

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It is Mr. Gilmer’s job to argue that Tom Robinson is guilty because he is the prosecutor.  His case is based on the fact that Tom Robinson is black and was in the house.

In a trial, there is a prosecution and a defense.  The prosecutor’s job is to try to prove to the jury that the defendant is guilty.  The defense attorney’s job is to try to prove the opposite, that his client is innocent.  The judge is like a referee, making sure that the defendant is getting a fair trial.  In this case, Mr. Gilmer is the prosecutor and Atticus is the defense attorney.

Scout explains that she did not consider Mr. Gilmer a personal enemy, unlike some other lawyers’ children.

I’ve heard that lawyers’ children, on seeing their parents in court in the heat of argument, get the wrong idea: they think opposing counsel to be the personal enemies of their parents, they suffer agonies, and are surprised to see them often go out arm-in-arm with their tormenters during the first recess. (Ch. 17) 

Mr. Gilmer does traumatize Dill however, in his cross-examination of Tom Robinson when he testifies in his own defense.  This is because his entire case basically rests upon the jury's prejudice against the defendant.  He knows that they will find Tom Robinson guilty because he is black, and he constantly belittles Tom Robinson, treating him as if he were inferior simply because he happens to be black.  The racism was too much for Dill.  He pointed out that Atticus didn’t treat anyone that way. 

“… The way that man called him ‘boy’ all the time an‘ sneered at him, an’ looked around at the jury every time he answered—”

“Well, Dill, after all he’s just a Negro.”

“I don’t care one speck. It ain’t right, somehow it ain’t right to do ‘em that way. Hasn’t anybody got any business talkin’ like that—it just makes me sick.” (Ch. 19) 

Scout clearly believed that Mr. Gilmer’s treatment of Tom was justified because he was “just a Negro,” but Dill believed it was wrong.  Before the verdict was even returned, he felt that Tom Robinson was being treated unfairly because of his race and it made him sick.  Dolphus Raymond explained to Dill that it wasn’t right, “the simple hell people give other people” (Ch. 20).  Dolphus Raymond, who had a black wife and mixed-race children, was one of the few non-racists in Maycomb.

Mr. Gilmer's case is based on the fact that Tom Robinson was seen in the house, and he is a black man.  Surely a black man would not actually help a white woman without getting something in return.  He tricks Robinson into saying that he feels sorry for Mayella, and that dooms him.  The jury could never accept the fact that a black man would feel sorry for a white woman.  They want to feel that whites are superior to blacks and that blacks know their place.

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