Last Updated on June 29, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 659
This chapter opens with Jem telling Scout not to kill a roly-poly that had found its way inside the house. Scout is lonely now because Dill has gone back home to Meridian for the school year, and she can't stop thinking about what happened the day before he left: how Tom was killed and how Atticus went to tell his wife the news. Atticus and Calpurnia happened to drive past Jem and Dill while they were swimming, and Atticus allowed them to tag along to the Robinsons' house. They watched from inside the car as Atticus tells Helen what happened to Tom. "She just fell down in the dirt," Dill says. "Just fell down in the dirt."
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The news spreads fast, and for two days nobody in Maycomb can talk of anything else. Then the gossip dies down, and things go back to normal until Mr. Underwood writes a column about it in the paper, decrying Tom's murder and saying that it's a sin to kill a cripple. He even likens this to "the senseless killing of songbirds," unwittingly echoing Atticus's line about it being a sin to kill a mockingbird. No one seems to pay any attention to this. Bob Ewell even makes it plain that he considers Tom's death a success. According to Miss Stephanie, he's supposed to have said, "One down and about two more to go." Those two are Judge Taylor and Atticus.
Scout uses a metaphor when she says that Tom was already guilty in "the secret courts of men's hearts" even before the trial began. This implies that every person has their own idea of justice, and that these courts determine what's right and wrong long before anything goes to trial.
One example of this is when Dill repeats himself, saying, "She just fell down in the dirt. Just fell down in the dirt." This repetition is meant to emphasize the effect Tom's death has on Helen and the trauma Dill experiences in witnessing Helen's grief.
Mockingbirds. In this chapter, the symbolism of mockingbirds expands to include all songbirds, which are here likened to disabled people in that they're supposed to be defenseless (this is an ableist viewpoint, but Mr. Underwood's intentions are honorable: he's arguing that Tom's murder was a sin and that it was unfair to put him on trial, because he never had a chance). This solidifies the idea that Tom is the symbolic mockingbird of the novel.
Innocence. Perhaps the most sudden loss of innocence in the novel is Dill's, because he's absent for most of the year and doesn't experience Maycomb's racism first hand. Instead, he loses his innocence in the span of a few weeks, between when Tom is convicted and when he's killed. His repetition of the phrase "she just fell down in the dirt" when telling Scout how Tom's wife reacted to his death indicates that this has been traumatic for him. Scout and Jem are equally traumatized, but their loss of innocence is gradual, taking place over the course of the novel. Tom's innocence is, to the reader, unquestionable, but, as Scout notes, was lost in Maycomb before his trial even began.
Murder. Noticeably, Lee never uses the word "murder" to refer to Tom's killing. Atticus simply says that Tom was "shot" and killed. Mr. Underwood goes the furthest in comparing Tom's murder to "the senseless slaughter of songbirds," where the word "slaughter" indicates the savage, unnecessary nature of the killing.
Sin. Hand in hand with the theme of murder is sin. This chapter fulfills the title's promise and makes Tom the symbolic mockingbird, killed senselessly as he was trying to escape. Lee has given the reader several different reasons why Tom's murder is a sin (that he's disabled, that he's innocent), but in the end it feels like a sin because it's so egregiously over the top. As Atticus notes, "They didn't have to shoot him that many times."