What were the effects of Tom Robinson's trial on the characters of "To Kill a Mockingbird"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps Mr. Dolphus Raymond sums up the results of Tom Robinson's trial when, in Chapter 20 of To Kill a Mockingbird, he comforts the crying Dill after Mr. Gilmer cross-examines Tom Robinson:

'You aren't thin-hided, it just makes you sick, doesn't it?'

'Things haven't caught up with that one's instinct yet.  Let him get a little older and he won't get sick and cry.  Maybe things'll strike him as being--not quite right, say, but he won't cry, not when he gets a few years on him....'

'Cry about the simple hell people give other people--without even thinking.  Cry about the hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they're people, too.'

  • Scout, Dill, and Jem are very moved (Jem also cries); they do not understand how the jury could have found Tom guilty.  His face streaked with "angry tears," Jem says to his father, "I ain't right....How could they do it, how could they?"  Jem is disillusioned.
  • Atticus is not surprised at the verdict.  He says they will do it again, and "seems like only children weep" as he echoes what Mr. Raymond has said.  When he sees what the black community has brought him the next day, Atticus's eyes fill with tears.  But, he is encouraged that the verdict did not come in right away.  There was someone who would not go along with the others, and this fact is encouraging, he says. 
  • Dill reports that Miss Rachel's reaction was if a man like Atticus Finch want to butt his head against a stone wall, it's his head.
  • Miss Maudie brings the Finches a cake and tells Jem not to fret; things are not as bad as they seem.  She says,

I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us.  Your father's one of them. 

She is impressed with how Atticus handled Tom's case.  Because Atticus kept the jury out so long, Miss Maudie remarks that "we're making a step--it' just a baby-step, but it's a step."

  • Mr. Bob Ewell is filled with hate.  At the post office, he spits in the face of Atticus and threatens him.
  • Aunt Alexandra worries that Atticus has become bitter.
  • Sheriff Heck Tate seems fairly disgusted by the proceedings and the results of the trial; when Bob Ewell is killed, he feels no remorse, and does not think his killer, Boo Radley, should be punished.
  • Mr. Cunningham, who has been on the jury, and is probably the man who has kept the jury from reaching a verdict for some time, is obviously disturbed by the outcome of the trial.







gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During the Tom Robinson trial, Jem, Scout, and Dill witnessed racial injustice firsthand and lost their childhood innocence, which significantly impacted their perspective on the world around them.

Jem becomes jaded after listening to the verdict and develops contempt for his prejudiced neighbors. Jem's ideas concerning justice and the court system drastically change as he begins questioning his father about the flawed institutions. Despite becoming more jaded towards the citizens of Maycomb and its justice system, Jem develops empathy for others and understands the importance of protecting innocent beings.

Dill expresses his displeasure with the outcome of the Tom Robinson trial by wishing that he was a clown. After listening to how Mr. Gilmer treated Tom and witnessing the jury's unjust decision, Dill attempts to repress his negative emotions and begins thinking of ways to protect his feelings.

Unlike Jem and Dill, Scout gains increased perspective on her prejudiced community and does not become jaded or overwhelmed with emotion. Scout gradually discovers the hypocrisy throughout her Christian community and notices the blatant racism in Maycomb. Scout also gains empathy and sympathy for others and begins to understand how racism negatively affects her community.

Atticus is absolutely exhausted after the Tom Robinson and his sister sympathizes with his situation. She comes to understand that Atticus is doing what he feels is right and does not enjoy seeing him struggle.

Bob Ewell is filled with hate following the trial and attempts to get revenge on Atticus by murdering his children. Fortunately, Boo Radley intervenes and stops Bob from seriously harming Jem and Scout.

Miss Maudie feels like it is her job to encourage Atticus's children following the trial and bakes the children some of her famous cakes. She also tries to explain to the children that there were plenty of people rooting for Atticus and she considers the trial a small step in the right direction.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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