To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Discuss character development in Chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird. Discuss the characters who are developed in ch 17, explain how they change, and explain why Harper Lee has changed them.

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Harper Lee develops the characters of Judge Taylor, Sheriff Tate, Bob Ewell, Atticus, and Scout in chapter 17. Judge Taylor, Sheriff Tate, and Bob Ewell are flat characters, and their behaviors are relatively predictable to the reader. Judge Taylor is depicted as an austere, fair judge who does his best to maintain an orderly court. Sheriff Tate does not stray from his character's description when he is portrayed as an honest, honorable man on the witness stand. Bob Ewell's character does not change either, and he is depicted as an ignorant, hostile man. Atticus is a round character, and Harper Lee highlights his intelligence and patience during his cross-examinations.

The only character who seems to change in chapter 17 is Scout. Scout's comments throughout the initial testimonies of Sheriff Tate and Bob Ewell illustrate her maturation and developed perspective. Scout demonstrates her moral development and increased sympathy when Bob Ewell initially addresses the court. Scout immediately recognizes Bob Ewell's ignorant personality and shows sympathy for the prosecuting attorney by saying,

Mr. Gilmer’s back stiffened a little, and I felt sorry for him (Lee 173).

Scout continues to illustrate her developed perspective by saying,

Mr. Ewell reminded me of a deaf-mute. I was sure he had never heard the words Judge Taylor directed at him—his mouth struggled silently with them—but their import registered on his face (Lee 176).

Overall, Harper Lee develops each flat character by depicting their predictable personalities during the trial and shows Scout's maturation through her insightful comments during the proceedings.

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Jason Lulos eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think Chapter 17 confirms readers’ interpretations of Atticus, Bob Ewell and Heck Tate. Heck comes across as simple and honest. Atticus remains calm and logical and this is illustrated in his questioning of Tate and Ewell. Bob Ewell is a contemptuous, angry man. He thinks he can match wits with Atticus, but his ignorance is revealed when Scout notes that Atticus is showing that it is more likely that Mr. Ewell could have beaten up Mayella. Mr. Ewell also reveals his ignorance when he says that he is not ambidextrous and that he can use either hand as well as the other.

The only character that I might say changes is Scout and I only say that because the entire novel is from her perspective as she evolves throughout these situations. Jem tells Reverend Sykes that Scout doesn’t understand so that he agrees to let her stay. In fact, she does understand what’s going on.

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