When the jury returns in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Scout notice about them?  

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Finch children, Jem and Scout, are both young, but look at the criminal justice system from vastly different perspectives. Jem, the older of the two, retains a degree of optimism about the possible outcome of the trial of Tom Robinson in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird. While their lawyer father Atticus is under absolutely no illusions about the outcome--in effect, that the all-white jury would find the poor, indigent African American defendant guilty of raping a white woman irrespective of the facts of the case--Jem in particular remains optimistic, declaring “We’ve won, haven’t we?” The novel's young narrator, however, is not so sure, and it is Scout's observations of the jury when it returns from its deliberations that set the tone for the sad inevitability of Tom Robinson's fate. When Jem and Scout return to the courtroom to continue awaiting the jury's return, he continues to exhibit the youthful naiveté that his father has long since outgrown, commenting to Reverend Sykes, “Don’t see how any jury could convict on what we heard—” 

If Jem is optimistic, Scout is anything but. Despite being several years younger than her brother, she is, in a sense, more realistic and more sensitive to the atmosphere in the courtroom. After long hours of waiting for the jury to return its verdict, she observes:

"...I must have been reasonably awake, or I would not have received the impression that was creeping into me. It was not unlike one I had last winter, and I shivered, though the night was hot. The feeling grew until the atmosphere in the courtroom was exactly the same as a cold February morning, when the mockingbirds..."

That impression or feeling was one of pessimism, or gloom.  And that pessimism is born out by the appearance of the jurors as they file back into the courtroom and take their seats in the jury box. Sensing the worst, Scout observes the developments in almost trance-like state, describing the sensation as follows:

"What happened after that had a dreamlike quality: in a dream I saw the jury return, moving like underwater swimmers, and Judge Taylor’s voice came from far away and was tiny. I saw something only a lawyer’s child could be expected to see, could be expected to watch for, and it was like watching Atticus walk into the street, raise a rifle to his shoulder and pull the trigger, but watching all the time knowing that the gun was empty.

A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted, and when this jury came in, not one of them looked at Tom Robinson."

Scout knows in her heart and in her head that the jury is about to announce its guilty verdict in the trial of Tom Robinson, a poor African American man physically incapable of carrying out the act of which he was accused. Most significantly, Scout has the wisdom to analyze the jury's demeanor and accurately assesses the situation on the basis of the jurors' failure to look in the direction of the defendant. Something her father once taught her about juries has enabled her to predict the trial's outcome more accurately than her older brother.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is not Scout's first visit to a courtroom; she and Jem have watched Atticus in action many times before. But this time what she witnessed

... had a dreamlike quality: in a dream I saw the jury return, moving like underwater swimmers, and Judge Taylor's voice came from far away...  (Chapter 21)

Scout "shivered, though the night was hot," and the atmosphere inside reminded her of the winter day when Atticus was forced to shoot the mad dog. Scout still expected to hear the judge to say the words that would release Tom, just as Heck Tate had told Atticus to "Take him" when it came time to kill the rabid dog. But Scout soon saw that this was not to be.

I saw something only a lawyer's child could be expected to see, could be expected to watch for... (Chapter 21)

She saw that when the jury reentered the courtroom, not one of them looked at Tom Robinson, and Scout knew that

     A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted...  (Chapter 21)

Although it seemed obvious that Atticus had proved his case--that Tom was innocent--each of the jurors answered "guilty" when they were polled by Judge Taylor, and Scout noticed that Jem's "shoulders jerked as if each 'guilty' was a separate stab between them."

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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