To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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What does Atticus mean by this case is simple as black and white?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Atticus simply means that the case is pretty straightforward. The prosecution in the trial of Tom Robinson hasn't offered a single shred of credible evidence to prove that the defendant is guilty. In fact, Tom's physically incapable of committing the crimes for which he's been accused, on account of his disabilities. So Atticus wants to keep things as simple for the jury as he possibly can: there's more than just reasonable doubt about the prosecution case, and so Tom Robinson must be acquitted.

The members of the jury do indeed see the case as black and white, but not in the sense that Atticus means it. Their understanding is much more literal; a black man has been accused of raping and beating a white woman, and in this neck of the woods, that's tantamount to a conviction. The problem is not that the jury don't see the case as simple and straightforward; on the contrary, they do. It's just that their idea of simplicity is related, not to the facts of the case, as Atticus would want it to be, but to the respective skin colors of the victim and the defendant.

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mrwickline eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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During Atticus’ closing remarks, he makes the statement, “this case is simple as black and white.” (20.271) There are two sides to this statement which are paradoxically linked. Atticus captures both the simplicity and complexity of this case in his statement. Atticus tells the jury that this case is simple, and does not involve complicated facts; given the lack of medical evidence and the contradicting stories of Bob and Mayella Ewell, it is easy to surmise Tom Robinson is not guilty. It is easy to tell the difference between the colors black and white, just like it is easy to tell that Tom Robinson is not guilty. The connotative meaning of this statement suggests the complexity of race relations in Maycomb, Alabama. In 1930s Alabama, a white person’s word is believed over a black person's, despite overwhelming evidence that suggests otherwise. The prejudiced beliefs of Maycomb’s white residents allow jury members to convict an innocent man on the basis of the color of his skin.

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