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

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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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.