To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

Harper Lee

Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

Dill, still upset about the trial, accepts a drink from Dolphus Raymond, who, it turns out, hasn't been drinking whiskey at all but rather Coca-Cola. He explains that he does this to make it easier for the people of Maycomb, who can write off his behavior (like having children with an African American woman) to the fact that he's a drunk. In reality, he doesn't like to drink much, but it just makes things easier if people think he does. He tells Scout and Dill this because he saw how Dill got upset at the trial and knows they'll understand, because they're not racist. They do, however, want to see the rest of the trial, so they leave Dolphus Raymond behind and head back inside.

When they sit down again, Atticus is giving his closing argument. He argues that there is no real case against Tom, that there's no medical evidence to suggest that a rape actually happened, and that Mayella has accused Tom of rape simply because she's afraid of what will happen if people think that she came onto him and not the other way around. It's taboo for a white woman to be at all attracted to a black person, so to save herself any embarrassment, she covers up what she did with a lie. Tom, on the other hand, hasn't lied to the court once, and as Link Deas said, he is and always has been a good, hard-working, and respectable person. He wouldn't hurt Mayella, and he didn't. She lied.

Atticus concludes by quoting the old phrase "all men are created equal," which was first used by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. If all men are created equal, he says, then surely Tom deserves better than he has gotten in court. The chapter ends with Calpurnia walking into the courtroom, looking for Atticus.


Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955). A Nobel Prize winning physicist famous for developing the Theory of Relativity and creating the formula E=mc2. He's generally considered to have been one of the most intelligent people to ever live, and Atticus alludes to him here as a paragon of intelligence, saying that the courtroom is the one place where a stupid man can be the equal of someone as smart as Einstein.

John D. Rockefeller (1839 - 1937). An American industrialist well-known for both his wealth and philanthropy. His namesake plaza in New York City (home of the building colloquially known as “30 Rock”) is a good example of his status within the New York City financial industry in early 20th Century America. His name quickly became synonymous with wealth and prestige. Atticus alludes to him to suggest that the courtroom can make a poor man the equivalent of a rich man like Rockefeller.

Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826). One of the original Founding Fathers and the Third President of the United States. He famously wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal," though he himself had slaves and is widely believed to have fathered children with one of them, Sally Hemings. Atticus alludes to Jefferson not because he was a slaveowner (or a hypocrite) but because he was a major proponent of democracy.

Uncle Tom. The titular character of Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1952, just two years after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. Stowe, a staunch abolitionist, wrote the book to expose the horrors and injustices of slavery, which had by then been banned in Northern states for almost fifty years. Following its publication, the abolitionist movement saw a strong resurgence, which led to the Civil War. However, in recent years, the character Uncle Tom has been criticized as meek and appeasing, and the phrase "Uncle Tom" is used to describe black people who are eager to please white people and, often, quick to betray other black people.


One example of this would be when Scout says that she couldn't decide "which fire [she] wanted to jump into" (the fire of getting too close to Dolphus Raymond, a known sinner, or of the court). In this context, the fire is a dangerous situation she's willing jumping into despite knowing that it could lead to trouble.


One example of this would be Atticus's pen "winking" in the light.


One example of this would be when Atticus says Mayella's lies are "as black as Tom Robinson's skin," where "black" means dark or evil when it refers to the lies.


Atticus's Clothes. According to Scout, Atticus never loosens or takes off any of his clothing until before bed, which makes the fact that he takes off his jacket in court somewhat alarming for her. His clothes have in many ways become a symbol of his propriety and moral fortitude, so any loosening of his clothes appears, at first, like a loss in stature. This doesn't, however, affect his skill as a lawyer and in the end does nothing but emphasize the fact that this is a difficult case, even for Atticus.

Colors. Black and white are traditional symbols of good and evil, and Lee uses them here to suggest that Mayella's lies are evil. However, Lee doesn't associate black people or dark skin colors with evil, and this is important to keep in mind when Atticus says the lies are "as black as Tom Robinson's skin." He's merely playing on traditional color symbolism to make a point, as when he says that his case is "as simple as black and white," meaning that it's obvious Tom is innocent.


Light vs. Dark. Previously, Lee associated Atticus with light and goodness when he sat under the little light bulb in Chapter 15. Here, she makes the connection between "black" and "evil" when she says the lies that Mayella and her father tell are "as black as Tom Robinson's skin." This is a simile that serves to establish the color black as a symbol of evil and darkness. It's important to note, however, that Atticus doesn't associate Tom himself with evil, and that this is merely a rhetorical device that he uses to prove a point: Mayella is the guilty one, not Tom.