Why is this passage important in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird? "It was just him I couldn't stand," Dill said. […] "That old Mr. Gilmer doin' him that way, talking so hateful to him—[…]...

Why is this passage important in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird?

"It was just him I couldn't stand," Dill said. […] "That old Mr. Gilmer doin' him that way, talking so hateful to him—[…] It was the way he said it made me sick, plain sick. […] The way that man called him 'boy' all the time an' sneered at him, an' looked around at the jury every time he answered-[…] it ain't right, somehow it ain't right to do 'em that way. Hasn't anybody got any business talkin' like that—it just makes me sick." (chapter 19)

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 19 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson takes the stand in order to provide his testimony. He explains that Mayella had requested that he step onto the Ewell's property in order to help her with something in the house--a door that had fallen off its hinges. Tom discovers that the door is just fine and that Mayella has sent the younger children into town to get ice cream.

When Mayella asks Tom to pull a box off of the chifforobe, she throws herself at him, hugs him around the waist, and attempts to kiss him. Tom claims that Bob Ewell returned home at that time and called Mayella a "goddamn whore" and threatened to kill her. Tom denies ever raping or hurting Mayella in any way (aside from pushing her off of him).

Mr. Gilmer then cross-examines Tom, bringing up his previous sentence of thirty days for disorderly conduct (a misdemeanor) and questioning his willingness to help Mayella with the housework. Mr. Gilmer continues to terrorize and manipulate Tom, attempting to trick him into suggesting that Mayella is lying--a fatal "error" for a black man at the time to make--and suggesting that Tom is merely being imprudent. 

At this point, Jem asks Scout to remove Dill from the courtroom because he has begun to cry hysterically. Dill then makes the aforementioned speech, which is critical in that it shows us a glimpse into Dill's profoundly vulnerable and sensitive soul. It seems that only Dill is having this emotional reaction because the rest of the court sees the treatment of Tom as standard for a black man being scrutinized by the judicial system. Only Dill feels the great injustice at hand--that the inequity and racism present in this town and in the system used to evaluate him have rendered the possibility of a fair trial impossible.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This passage is significant as it draws attention to the thematic concerns of Harper Lee's novel; namely, the social inequities of Maycomb, Alabama, in 1935.

The sensitive Dill, who identifies with Tom as an underdog also, begins to cry sympathetically when he witnesses the cruel and demeaning manner of the prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer, who harshly interrogates Tom Robinson. Consequently, Scout escorts Dill outside, where Scout explains Mr Gilmer's words and tone are as consistent with any prosecutor's. Besides, she adds, Tom is "just a Negro."

Scout's words typify those of many who listen to the trial, and Dill is not satisfied with them. Before he can attempt to articulate his feelings, however, Mr. Dolphus Raymond answers for him, saying, "...it just makes you sick, doesn't it?" He means that things do not seem fair to Tom Robinson, who has done nothing but try to help a girl who is on her own most of the time.

Mr. Raymond tries to cheer up Dill by saying of Tom that "Things haven't caught up with that ones' s instinct now." But, in actuality, Dill sees Tom's situation realistically and knows that the boy is in serious trouble.

 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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