Near the very end of Chapter 20 of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch makes his final statement to the jury. The last paragraph of that statement reads as follows:
“I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system – that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.”
This paragraph is relevant to the rest of the novel in a number of different ways, including the following:
- Atticus is indeed in some ways an idealist, but he is also an idealist willing to stand up for his ideals, advocate for them, and try to make them reality.
- By referring to “our courts” (emphasis added), Atticus situates himself as a part of his community and as a citizen of the United States. He presents himself as a man who is merely trying to uphold the best values of his society.
- Firmness is, in almost every respect, a key trait of Atticus’s character.
- Atticus is both an idealist and a realist.
- Atticus treats the members of the jury, as he treats almost everyone, with respect.
- Atticus alludes to the fact that the jury before him is made up entirely of men.
- Atticus attributes to the jurors the same decency and concern with justice that he displays himself.
- Atticus is a man who operates “without passion,” at least if “passion” is defined as uncontrolled, irrational emotion.
- Atticus attributes to the jury the same reasonable motives that he himself constantly follows.
- Atticus thinks of the defendant not simply as an individual person but as a member of a family – a fact that reflects his own strong sense of family.
- Atticus reminds the jurors that they have spiritual, not merely moral or legal obligations. Obviously these kinds of higher obligations motivate Atticus as well.
- Atticus himself abides by the very sense of “duty” he mentions to the jurors.
- Part of the irony of this speech, of course, is that the jurors will essentially ignore Atticus’s eloquent plea.