In Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, why is Dill so upset during Tom's cross examination? How does this show his true character?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dill Harris is an innocent child who shows his true sweetness of character by being overwhelmed to the point of tears by the way Mr. Gilmer treats Tom Robinson in court. Mr. Gilmer talks down to Tom in such an evil and mean way that Dill picks up on it internally. The tension increases for Dill as Mr. Gilmer continues to speak disrespectfully to Tom; yet, Tom continues to speak calmly and respectfully to Mr. Gilmer. This goes on for some time, at which point Dill's emotions pour out of his eyes. Jem tells Scout to take Dill outside for a break from the trial, at which point Scout tries to calm her friend by telling him that's just how court proceedings go. Dill's response is as follows:

"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" (199).

This comment shows that Dill is able to empathize with the way Tom might feel when being spoken to with such rudeness. This is a characteristic that Scout is not exhibiting at the moment. Dill shows that he is sensitive to the plight of others' negative circumstances no matter if they are white or black. Dill isn't prejudiced, he just knows what feels right and what feels wrong; and, he identifies correctly that the way Tom is being treated is completely wrong.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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