What lessons do Jem and Scout learn from Tom Robinson's trial in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Before the trial the children discover that many of the townspeople are not happy that Atticus has decided to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. They learn that Atticus was appointed to defend Tom, and that he had "hoped to get through life without a case of this kind." Inside the courtroom, the children see segregation in action: The Negroes in attendance must wait until all white people have entered before they can be seated--in the balcony. The children learn that what Atticus had said about the jury was true: That

"The jury couldn't possibly be expected to take Tom Robinson's word against the Ewells'."  (Chapter 9)

Jem and Scout see what the jury is apparently blind to: That Tom's crippled left arm prevented him from committing the crimes of which he is accused. They also witness that Mayella Ewell contradicts much of her own testimony; that Bob and Mayella have no respect for the truth or for the respect of the court; that Tom is apparently a respectable and truthful man; and that the prosecutor shows no respect for Tom. Afterward, Jem is disillusioned with juries, believing that

"... can't any Chrisitan judges an' lawyers make up for heathen juries."  (Chapter 23)

Both of the children wonder if Atticus has any real friends in Maycomb, but Miss Maudie assures them that Atticus was simply "born to do our unpleasant jobs for us." She also calls the jury's long deliberation "a baby step" toward better race relations.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jem and Scout both lose their childhood innocence after witnessing racial injustice firsthand at the Tom Robinson trial. Both the children learn that their friendly, hospitable neighbors are ugly racists who are willing to convict an innocent man simply because he is black. After witnessing Tom's wrongful conviction, Jem becomes jaded with his prejudiced neighbors. He is filled with an overwhelming sense of anger and complains to Atticus about Maycomb's insincere, prejudiced citizens. In contrast, Scout does not become jaded or upset like her brother. The Tom Robinson trial expands Scout's perspective, and she becomes aware of the overt prejudice throughout her community. Both siblings also learn from their father the importance of protecting innocent beings. Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson reveals his courage and demonstrates his integrity. Jem and Scout learn that in order to do the right thing, one must exercise one's courage and remain poised despite the surrounding adversity.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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