What are some contrasts between Atticus Finch and Mr. Gilmer in To Kill A Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are some very sharp contrasts between the two attorneys, Mr. Gilmer and Mr. Atticus Finch, contrasts involving the ethics and the comportment of the two men.

  • While both men do their jobs, Mr. Gilmer is not as professional as is Mr. Finch. For instance, after Mr. Gilmer finishes his questioning of Mayella, he says,

"That's all...but you stay there. I expect big bad Mr. Finch has some questions to ask you."

Judge Taylor has to correct Mr. Gilmer to not try to prejudice the witness against counsel for the defense. There is never such a correction made toward Atticus.

  • Atticus is more clever than Mr. Gilmer. He asks Mayella questions, but they are not sufficiently irrelevant or immaterial for Mr. Gilmer to object to them. But, subtly Atticus constructs a picture for the jury of the home life of the Ewells in order that they will understand what type of people are accusing the defendant.
  • Atticus is always polite to the witnesses, despite how he may be treated by the witnesses, but Mr. Gilmer does not treat Tom Robinson with courtesy when he testifies truthfully. When, for instance, Tom testifies, Mr. Gilmer tries to twist Tom's meanings. For example, when Tom testifies that he "[T]ried to help her...." Mr. Gilmer faces the jury and "smiled grimly" as he says "You're a mighty good fellow, it seems--did all this for not one penny?" Then, when Tom replies ingenuously that he felt sorry for Mayella, Mr. Gilmer exploits this moment by acting as though Tom has felt himself superior to the white Mayella Ewell:"You felt sorry for her?" Further, he taunts Tom who says he ran from the Ewell house after Bob arrived, "Were you so scared that she'd hurt you, you ran, a big buck like you?" Often he call Tom "boy," as well.  


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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