People Generally See What They Look For And Hear What They Listen For
What does this quote from To Kill a Mockingbird mean? "People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for, and they have the right to subject their children to it."
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.
When Atticus takes the case of Tom Robinson, he knows that it will be the biggest thing in Maycomb county. He wants to show Jem and Scout, that doing the right thing, isn't always the popular thing. When the case goes the trial, the whole town is there to watch it. Judge Taylor knows that there will be lots of people who will disagree with some of the things being said.
The town is divided. There is going to be tension in the courtroom. Judge Taylor is aware of this and tells the people how they are supposed the act in his courtroom.
"People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for, and they have the right subject their children to it, but I can assure you of one: you will receive what you see and hear in silence or you will leave this courtroom."
What he is saying is that people have the right to think what they want. They have the right to let their children see what is going on, but they don't have to the right to disrupt his courtroom. The quotes itself means if a person is looking for something, they will usually see it and if they listen for something they will usually hear it. Atticus has his children in the courtroom everyday. He wants them to see what is going on and know that Tom is innocent. He has the right to do this. Judge Taylor just wants everyone in the courtroom to be respectable of his rules and allow the case to go on as it should.
Judge Taylor is basically saying that anyone who brought a child to the rape trial knew what they were in for.
Judge Taylor has some unique methods of keeping court, but even though he often seems to be asleep he is keeping track. Tom Robinson’s trial is the event of the year, and is a spectacle. Therefore it has a big audience.
"There has been a request," Judge Taylor said, "that this courtroom be cleared of spectators, or at least of women and children, a request that will be denied for the time being….” (ch 17)
Judge Taylor goes on to say that people have a right to subject their children to whatever they want to, and it seems as if he is saying most children won’t understand the nuances anyway, but the adults will because they are listening for them.