Chapters 17-20, in To Kill a Mockingbird, allows us a chance to see Atticus in action in the courtroom. How has your perception of him as a lawyer changed?

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mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of To Kill a Mockingbird, we see Atticus through the eyes of Scout. She is a young girl, who sees her father as dull and boring. We get glimpses of the kind of man Atticus is, but when the trial starts, we really get to see what Atticus is really made of. Atticus, against the advice of just about everyone, takes the case of Tom Robinson, who is a black man accused of raping a white woman. In a town like Maycomb, and many others like it, this is a no win situation, but Atticus takes the case nonetheless.

Atticus takes the case because he believes everyone has the right to a fair trial, no matter what their color is. Jem and Scout have never seen their father in action in court before, so this is a chance for them to see what their father is really like. Atticus has the chance to cross-examine Mayella Ewell, the woman who has accused Tom Robinson. Atticus shows us that he has the ability to look at the crime and evidence, then he can make a clear judgement. While he is questioning Mayella, he realizes that her statements are not adding up. 

"It's not an easy question Miss Mayella, so I'll try again. Do you remember him beating you about the face?" Atticus's voice had lost it's comfortableness; he was speaking in his arid, detached professional voice. "Do you remember him beating you about the face?"

Here we see that Atticus is realizing that Mayella's story is not adding up. He is beginning to realize that Mayella and her father Bob Ewell, are fabricating their story. Throughout the story, we get an idea of what Atticus is like, but when we see him in court, we realize that Atticus doesn't mess around. He knows that Tom is innocent and that Mayella is not telling the truth. He goes to many lengths to show this. It is a nice and surprising thing to see Atticus be the kind of man we knew he was. In his closing statement, Atticus doesn't mince words about what he thinks is going on. He is not afraid to say the truth.

"The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place. It has relied instead upon the testimony of two witnesses whose evidence has not only been called into serious question on cross-examination, but has been flatly contradicted by the defendant. The defendant is not guilty, but somebody in this courtroom is."

Atticus has just spoken what we all knew. He has proven that Tom is innocent, but the real culprit of the crime is sitting in the courtroom. We realize that the guilty party is bent on revenge, and Atticus will be put to his ultimate test yet. Atticus as proven that he is not only a great lawyer, but one of the finest men in the county.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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