Chapter 19 of To Kill a Mockingbird: "Mr. Gilmer seemed ready to rise to the ceiling." What emotion is conveyed in these words?My (adult) students wanted details of whether this sentence connotes...

Chapter 19 of To Kill a Mockingbird: "Mr. Gilmer seemed ready to rise to the ceiling." What emotion is conveyed in these words?

My (adult) students wanted details of whether this sentence connotes elation, amazement, anger, or something else.

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During his questioning of Tom Robinson as a witness in his trial, Atticus works at establishing the character of Tom as an honest and forthright man who practices charity to his neighbor. For,Tom admits to having served jail time for getting into a fight; he admits that he has helped Mayella with things in the yard many times.  Atticus also has Tom describe what happened on the day of the alleged rape of Mayella Ewell.  In his testimony, Tom even admits to being frightened and running from the scene when Bob Ewell yelled into the room through a window.

Then, Mr. Gilmer takes over as the prosecutor and cross-examines the witness.  First, he asks Tom about his incarceration, trying to intimate that anyone who has been in fights and served time in jail is capable of rape.  Then, Mr. Gilmer asks Tom if he is strong enough to have choked the breath out of a woman, and Tom replies that he is.  Next, Mr. Gilmer inquires why Tom repeatedly helps Mayella with seven children on the place and Bob Ewell, their father, and Tom says that by appearances, no one ever helps her. So, Mr. Gilmer asks suspiciously why Tom does all this work without pay, "from sheer goodness," and Tom reiterates that he was merely trying to help her.  In his effort to destroy Tom's credibility, Mr. Gilmer smiles "grimly" at the jury as he says,

"You're a mighty good fellow, it seems--did all this for not one penny?"

"Yes suh.  I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more'n the rest of 'em--" [Tom replies]

"You felt sorry for her, you felt sorryfor her?"  Mr. Gilmer seemed ready to rise to the ceiling.

The emotion that Mr. Gilmer feels is analogous to the emotion of the fisherman who has caught the biggest fish of his lifetime.  For, Mr. Gilmer knows that Tom Robinson has just "hanged himself" with his own testimony.  You, a Negro, has felt sorry for her, a white woman--this remark cannot be overlooked by the jury. For, with this statement, Tom Robinson has stepped over the racial lines; no Negro in the South has the right to feel pity for a white woman, even though he may be superior to the white woman.  Mr. Gilmer is so thrilled by Tom's damaging testimony that he feels ecstatic.

Therefore, when Tom utters these fateful words, Mr. Gilmer is, indeed, elated and feels as though he is floating in air because he knows now that he can get Tom convicted.  After all, the jury will feel compelled to uphold social mores. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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