Early in Chapter 16, Atticus asks Scout, "Why don't you drink your coffee?" This query by her father indicates that his perspective has changed because in an earlier chapter she was not allowed coffee. Clearly the events of Chapter 15 with the confrontation at the jail during which Scout displayed her loyalty and good sense have impressed upon Atticus the fact that his child is growing up. And, after Atticus leaves the house, Dill, Jem, and Scout head for the courthouse themselves where they sit in the balcony with the blacks next to Reverend Sykes.
Three main events that occur in Chapters 16-20 are the following:
- The trial of Tom Robinson begins. Scout acts as a reporter of the parade of people arriving at the trial; also she describes the courtroom and Judge Taylor's little quirks.
- Bob and Mayella Ewell take the witness stand. When the testimony of Bob becomes rather crude and explicit, Reverend Sykes tells Jem to take Scout home as it is not appropriate for her to hear such things. But, Jem convinces him that Scout is too naive to understand; so, the minister allows her to remain next to him and Scout says she "was mortally offended" that Rev. Sykes thinks her too young to understand Bob Ewell's use of "ruttin'." And she is; however, she does comprehend Atticus's intentions of proving that Ewell is lef-handed, although she does not know where this proof will lead.
- Tom Robinson takes the stand. Scout displays her maturity in her keen observations about Mayella as Tom describes how things occurred to have brought him into the court. Scout observes, "She was as sad ...as what Jem called a mixed child," meaning that she belonged nowhere. "Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her," Scout remarks. Dill is so affected by Mr. Gilmer's demeanor to Tom, calling him "boy" and being sarcastic to him when Tom says he just tried to help Mayella that he must leave the courtroom. Outside Mr. Raymond consoles Dill, telling him,
"Cry about the simple hell people give other people--without ever thinking."
The trial in Maycomb of Tom Robinson is at the center of the narrative of Lee's novel. Jem and Scout and Dill encounter the realities of Maycomb in the courtroom and learn of the cruelty of people toward one another. Scout observes her father in action, remembering much of what he has taught and exemplified. She is able to deduce much of the effects of the testimony and her father's reasons for asking the questions he does.