What is an analysis of the trial scenes of the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird?Chapters 16-21

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is in the trial scenes of Chapters 16 through 21 of To Kill a Mockingbird that there is a convergence of Harper Lee's themes of moral education and "social inequity" and motifs of good versus evil and life in a small town.

Moral Education - During the trial, Jem and Scout move from child-like innocence to adult knowledge.

  • Shortly before the trial begins, Scout has made Mr. Cunningham "stand in someone else's shoes" by singling him out of the mob and getting him to view Tom Robinson's situation from the point of view of her father.
  • The children also witness the injurious character of racial prejudice as Mr. Raymond Dolphus is made into the town pariah, and his children are viewed askance.  Moreover, they witness the cruel treatment of Mr. Gilmer towards Tom Robinson as he questions Tom. And, when Tom genuinely expresses pity for Mayella, he turns this statement around to accuse Tom with it, "You felt sorry for her?"
  • Scout and her brother Jem witness the integrity of Atticus as he works to defend Tom Robinson as well as he can rather than merely go through the motions as the community expects him.  Consequently, he is villified as a "n-----lover" and a traitor to Southern Whites. 
  • And, they witness the seething racial hatred of Mr. Robert Lee Ewell, who villifies the character of Tom Robinson and perjures himself in order to accuse Tom.
  • Jem and Scout perceive the bias toward Mr. Dolphus and his mixed children, as he lives away from other whites and is considered  as an alchoholic so that no one has to admit to their prejudices against him because he lives with a black woman and has black children.
  • Scout's and Jem's learning experiences about people are certainly furthered.  As she listens to the testimony of the witnesses, for instance, Scout realizes from Mayella's words just how terribly lonely this girl is; Scout remarks, "She was even lonelier than Boo Radley."

Social Inequities - Social and racial bias in Maycomb is clarified.

  • Prejudice is generated, not ingrained. The Finch children innocently sit with Rev. Sykes. And, in the course of the testimonies, it becomes apparent that Mayella is coerced by her father into racial bias against Tom Robinson.  Without her father's influence after he catches her with Tom, she has had no negative feelings toward him.  Realizing this is what brings Scout to remark upon Mayella's loneliness. In addition, Dill, learns of racial bias as he witnesses Mr. Gilmer's cruel cross-examination of Tom; he leaves the courtroom in tears and it is Mr. Raymond who consoles him for weeping about the cruelty of one man for another.
  • The extent of prejudice in the social stratum of Maycomb is clarified as Scout learns of Aunt Alexandra's superior attitude regarding Atticus's defense of Tom, the racial bias against mixed children, the need of the Ewells to feel superior to someone by villifying Tom, and the religious bias against Miss Maudie by the sanctimonious fundamentalists.
  • The existence of unwritten rules regarding certain people.  With whites of any kind possessing a higher social position than blacks, Tom Robinson challenges this convention by his feeling sorry for Mayella. And, it is because of this social faux pas that Tom is convicted, and the mendacious Ewells are allowed to go free even though they have perjured themselves.
  • Scout and Jem become even more aware of the divisions in the town among the various socio-economic groups as they watch and listen to people from the lower class of their town who express attitudes that seem incomprehensible, such as Ewell's intention to belittle Atticus.




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To Kill a Mockingbird

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