In chapter 17, Bob Ewell is testifying on behalf of his daughter Mayella. His testimony is filled with derogatory slang due to his uneducated and disrespectful background. Since men, women, and children are permitted into this public hearing, people are shocked when Bob Ewell speaks with indifference. It takes Judge Taylor a few minutes to calm the audience down; whereupon he makes the following comment:
"There has been a request . . . that this courtroom be cleared of spectators, or at least of women and children, a request that will be denied for the time being. People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for, and they have the right to subject their children to it" (174).
This passage shows that Judge Taylor is not in the business of controlling what people choose to listen to or witness. (He didn't invite the whole county to show up to watch the trial that day.) He is in the business of controlling his courtroom; therefore, if people want to allow their children to witness a trial on rape, then that is their prerogative. However, if those who choose to stay can't be quiet, the judge also says that they will be held in contempt of court. This means that a person can be fined or even taken to jail for disrupting the proceedings of the court. People in Maycomb know how low of a character Bob Ewell is. If they thought that a trial involving him testifying would be censored, they were greatly mistaken. Judge Taylor places the responsibility of what women and children hear on the heads of the parents and husbands, not upon himself.
The part of the quote that says "People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for" means that Judge Taylor cannot control what people see, hear, understand, or take away from what they witness that day at the trial. This is an intense and controversial case and people should listen at their own risk because Judge Taylor can't stop and clarify or censor everything that goes on at a moment's notice.