To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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Mr Underwood's Editorial

What is the main point of Mr. Underwood's editorial in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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The point that Mr. Underwood wanted to make is best summed up by Scout's sentiments in this regard. She concludes:

Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.

The point is, therefore, that Tom Robinson was a victim of prejudice. It was the prejudice of a community in which there was no equality for a black man. Tom Robinson was seen as less human than Mayella Ewell, for he was black and she was white. It was, therefore, preferable that he should be punished than to believe that Mayella, being a white woman and, therefore, naturally superior, would have stooped so low as to allow or—perish the thought—entice such a person to have intimate relations with her.

The jury, and many others in the community, were so blinded by their racist beliefs that they would never have decided in Tom's favor and acquitted him, even though the facts emphatically proved that he had not committed any crime.

To add to this, Mr. Underwood's contention that it is a "sin to kill cripples" further underlines the depth of this prejudice. There seemed to be no remorse on the part of any of those involved in the trial or otherwise, who had been against Tom simply on the basis of his race. Their supercilious disregard for the rights of blacks did not even allow them to extend mercy to a disabled man. He was black and, therefore, guilty by default. It was, in their minds, impossible and unfathomable that a black person could be deemed the equal of a white individual.

In this regard, then, Tom was already guilty once Mayella Ewell said so. It did not even become a matter of evidence. They were already convinced. As Atticus said, it was "beyond a shadow of doubt" that Tom was guilty. In their minds, it was just not possible to think otherwise. This fact is pertinently displayed by an incident in court when Tom was interrogated by the prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer. Tom said that he had helped Mayella for no reward because:

 "...I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more’n the rest of ‘em—” 

Mr. Gilmer's outrage at Tom's suggestion that he, a black man, had the audacity to feel sorry for a white woman is clearly accentuated by his response:

“You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?” Mr. Gilmer seemed ready to rise to the ceiling.

In such a society, ruled by such deep prejudice, a remark like that can only be resented and that is precisely what happens, as Scout observes:

Below us, nobody liked Tom Robinson’s answer. Mr. Gilmer paused a long time to let it sink in.

Tom Robinson, right from the beginning, did not stand a chance.

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The point of Mr. Underwood’s editorial is that Tom Robinson was victimized by society and people should be ashamed of themselves.

Tom Robinson was convicted, even though he was crippled and Atticus proved he did not commit the crime he was accused with, and indeed the crime never took place at all.  Robinson went to prison and was shot trying to escape.  If he had full use of both arms, people said he would have made it.

When Mr. Underwood heard this, he wrote an editorial that Maycomb described as “poetical.”

Mr. Underwood didn't talk about miscarriages of justice, he was writing so children could understand. Mr. Underwood simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping. He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children …(Ch 25)

This is a reference to an earlier comment by Atticus that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.  Tom Robinson was one of the two mockingbirds in the story (the other is Boo Radley), because he was an innocent man targeted by society as a scapegoat and a means of entertainment.  He was convicted because of his race, and because the jury refused to take the word of a black man over that of a white woman, even when it was clear that the crime he had been convicted for never actually happened.

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