What's the meaning of this quote from To Kill a Mockingbird?"As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it --...

What's the meaning of this quote from To Kill a Mockingbird?

"As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it -- whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”

Asked on by vtao

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bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The previous post is a good one. I would just add that Atticus is trying to explain that it is never a proper or moral act to take advantage of someone who is (or is perceived to be) weaker. The same reasoning would apply to someone who cheats or takes advantage of a child or someone with mental deficiencies. Taking advantage of someone from a position of strength or authority without a proper legal foundation is a reprehensible act. At the time of the novel's setting in the 1930s, black citizens often had no choice but to accept a white man's terms; refusing to do so, or publicly objecting to such an agreement, often meant dangerous repercussions for the black man.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

These words of Atticus Finch are said after the trial of Tom Robinson in response to Jem's questioning of the verdict against Tom:

"You just can't convict a man on evidence like that--you just can't"

Atticus explains that the men of Maycomb can and did exactly that because despite what the U.S. Constitution demands, Tom Robinson did not have a "square deal" in the courtroom. For, the jury members carried "their resentments right into a jury box." This egregious act of the jury is what prompts Atticus's words that no matter what family a white man comes from, no matter what accomplishments a man has, if he cheats a black man of his constitutional rights, that man is "trash"; that is, he is unconscionable and lacks any dignity and character. Further, he tells the children that he is sickened by "low-grade white men" who take advantage of a Negro's ignorance.

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