To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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Why is this quote important in the book To Kill a Mockingbird?: "Now don't you be so confident, Mr. Jem, I ain't ever seen any Jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man." (Lee 179)

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These words of Reverend Sykes underpin the lesson that Jem and Scout learn about social and racial inequality from witnessing the trial of Tom Robinson.

Thematically based upon the trial of the Scottsboro boys in Alabama falsely accused of rape by two transient white women in the 1930s--the same era as the setting of Harper Lee's novel--Tom's trial finds a black man falsely accused by a white girl of rape. And, even though Atticus has irrefutably discredited the testimony of  Mayella's father, Bob Ewell, and certainly challenged the truth of Mayella's assertions, Reverend Sykes expresses his doubts about Tom's acquittal. For, the old preacher knows that it has been customary that any black accused by a white is automatically guilty if there is no substantive proof.

As Atticus makes closing remarks in Chapter 20, he points out that the case is really reduced to the words of the Ewells against the word of Tom Robinson, and the strength of the Ewell's case depends upon the jury's assumption that no matter what

...all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women....

While such a false assumption points to the blind prejudice of a jury if the verdict is guilty, Reverend Sykes knows that it is, nevertheless, probable that the jury will vote guilty upon just such an assumption.

Having witnessed the trial and heard the verdict, Jem and Scout then learn a significant lesson about life's unfairness and racial inequalities.


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