Having spent a tense night before the trial by standing up to the angry mob, Atticus makes his way to the courthouse. Outside this courthouse, Scout overhears the old men in khaki pants and white shirts with suspenders talking,"resentful of the interruption of their comfortable routine."
Scout overhears one say that the court appointed Atticus Finch to defend Tom Robinson.
'Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him. That's what I don't like about it.'
Scout reacts to this news by saying that it puts a different light on things. Atticus could have used this as an excuse. But, she is baffleded by the town's being upset with him and having come as a mob last evening:
He had to, that's why he was doing it, equaled fewer fights and less fussing. But did that explain the town's attitude? The court appointed Atticus to defend him. Atticus aimed to defend him. That's what they didn't like about it. It was confusing.
While this news is confusing to Scout, it is not to the reader. For the conventional wisdom is that Tom Robinson should be convicted because he is a black man who interfered in the lives of white people. He simply had no business on the Ewell property. Period.
Although Atticus had warned his children that "I don't want to see you... downtown today, please," Scout and Jem couldn't resist the temptation to join the crowd that was heading to the courthouse. They overheard plenty of gossip that morning, but the most informative came when Scout "found myself in the middle of the Idler's Club."
This was a group of white-shirted, khaki-trousered, suspendered old men who had spent their lives doing nothing and passed their twilight days doing same on pine benches under the live oaks on the square.
They knew all of the politics of the town, but Atticus's name specifically caught her attention.
"... you know the court appointed him to defend this nigger."
"Yeah, but Atticus plans to defend him. That's what I don't like about it."
This was the first that Jem or Scout had heard about Atticus being appointed to defend Tom Robinson. They had assumed that Atticus had voluntarily taken the job. It explained exactly why Atticus was doing it: "Atticus had to, whether he wanted to or not." Scout lamented that she and Jem could have used this excuse because it "equaled fewer fights and less fussing" along the way.