Tom Robinsons Trial And To Kill A

Tom Robinson?s Trial And To Kill A Mocking Bird Essay, Research Paper

Harper Lee?s novel ?To kill a Mocking bird? revolves around Maycomb a

typical rural town of the American South. The story is set in the 1930s a period

when racism and prejudice are commonly encountered in everyday life. The novel

follows the conviction of an apparently innocent Black man sentenced almost

entirely due to his race. It is through this man?s trail we see how harsh

Maycomb society is on minorities. During the trial scenes we learn a lot about

people?s views and beliefs on other people and the strict codes by which

people have to live. We learn the most about Maycomb Society through the trial.

Town trials were big social events in the 1930s. The trial is described as a

?Gala occasion? and many people acted as if they were attending a

?Carnival?, rather than to see a man on trial for his life. The town?s

reaction to what is happening tells us a lot about people?s ideology and the

general time frame. We learn more about the mutual hatred between African

Americans and ?whites? in a legal sense. Groups like the ?Idler?s

club? and the Mennonites enjoyed seeing a Black man?s freedom taken away

from him. Tom Robinson was found guilty of raping Mayella Ewell, in the face of

very strong evidence that his accusers were lying. One reason why he was

convicted was because it was a white man?s word against a black man?s one.

Tom, who is black, would be denied justice because of this. Atticus reinforces

this idea when he tells Jem ?in our courts, when it?s a white man?s word

against a black man?s, the white man always wins.? Generally this was the

mentality of most Americans at the time. In Maycomb a white man?s word was

always taken without any regard as to how trustworthy he was. Another reason why

he was convicted was because Tom Robinson went against the accepted position of

a Negro by daring to feel sorry for a White person. All these prejudices are a

result of people holding onto performed ideas of a certain set of people. It is

not just racial prejudice, which is present in Maycomb but the narrow, rigid,

intolerant codes of behaviour, which the townspeople wish to impose on others.

These prejudice all show the inability of the people to, as Atticus puts it

?consider things from his point of view? and the lack of understanding

between them. The courthouse reflects the social division seen in Maycomb. The

courthouse itself is very old fashioned in the way that it is built and its

laws. The segregation between Blacks and Whites is emphasised by the way the

Blacks file in last and are seated in the balcony. Their kindly politeness to

Jem, Dill and Scout is again shown when the children come to sit in the

?coloured balcony?. Four Blacks give up their seats for them. This also

implies that White children have precedence over Black adults. We also can see

that the children?s admission to the balcony underlies their lack of

prejudice. A prime example of prejudice within the book is shown when the

Idler?s club find out that Atticus will defend Tom ?properly?. They are

disgraced at this. Atticus is an example of someone who is an anchor of reason

within Maycomb. He is chosen to defend Tom at trial because Judge Taylor knows

that Atticus would give a fair defence. Atticus would fight his hardest to win

the case even though he is bound to lose, because this is what Atticus views as

the meaning of true courage ? ?Simply because we are licked a hundred years

before we started is no reason for us to try to win?. By saying this Atticus

believes that even if this is the hardest case he will use his courage to try

his best, since it is morally wrong not to take the case just because there is

no chance of winning. Atticus chooses to defend Tom Robinson when no other

lawyer would. He was one of the few respectable people not blinded by the racial

injustice Tom Robinson faced. Not only did Atticus defend Tom in the courthouse,

but he defended him at jail on one occasion too. Atticus? beliefs are spoken

in his speech on the code of the society. In this speech he spoke of the strict

laws, old traditions and ways of thinking that are still prevalent in Maycomb.

Whites were not to communicate or get involved with Blacks. This was a code

Mayella Ewell broke by tempting a black man ? ?She was white and she tempted

a Negro she did something that in our society is unspeakable.? The Jury

hearing the case is all white this is because of their superiority in society.

Atticus hopes that by this justice will not be mocked as it has in the past.

Mayella is viewed as an outsider. Although she is the prosecution in the case,

Mayella never set out to intentionally hurt Tom. She was lonely and only wanted

affection from Tom, this being thought of as a crime at the time. Mayella did

not commit a crime, but in fact broke a moral code of society. Mayella

considering tempting a Black man showed that her view on the Negroes was not

entirely the same as the rest of Maycomb. However Mayella had been convinced one

way or the other that by convicting Tom was the only way to restore the

family?s lost pride after she broke the moral codes of society. Dolphus

Raymond is also viewed, as an outsider who is rejected by Maycomb society;

because he is a White man yet prefers to live with Negroes. He has a reputation

of being a drunkard, but this is just a pretence. Mr. Raymond is actually a very

sensitive man who loathes society and hates the ?hell white people give

coloured folks, without even stopping to thing that they?re people to?.

Dolphus, unlike Atticus does not have the courage to admit his preference of

Negroes. So, he presents himself as a drinker so people might think he is drunk

and excuse him from his action. In Atticus? basic summing up he talks about

how for once people should look at Tom Robinson as a human rather than as a

?Negro? or a ?coloured man?. They would say that a man was immoral only

because the colour of his skin happened to be a little darker than their own.

Atticus openly defies traditional thinking even while under scrutiny of the

entire town, particularly in his final courtroom speech. Maycomb citizens

believe that Tom Robinson is not, and should not be part of their lives or of

their community Atticus, on the other hand finds faults with the towns?

traditional views. Thinking reasonably and intelligently, he knows he does not

want his children to grow up with similar views. He attacks old southern

tradition by using the law. He lives by a traditional code in which justice is

highly valued. Atticus strongly believes that ?in our courts all men are

created equal?. Atticus knows that if there is one place in which the time-honoured

codes of southern society can be broken, it is in a court of law. He discovers,

however, that tradition is not easily broken and laws are not easily changed.

Nearly everyone in the town has a basic trust for Atticus that he will do what

is right, despite the fact they despise his independent thinking. Although the

verdict is inevitable it has taken the jury time to reach. By the trial the

jury?s ways of doing things have been changed. Miss. Maudie Atkinson points

out that usually with this kind of case the verdict would be reached in a

minute. But this time it took a long time. As well as this he points out that

Judge Taylor appointed Tom the best possible lawyer ? instead of using an

un-experienced Maxwell Green. Miss. Maudie uses these two things to defend the

town and its people in showing a sign of change. She feels that they have made a

?baby step? in the right direction. Maycomb has changed a little bit, but

there is still a long way to go before black and white can be equal. Although

disappointed and frustrated by the verdict, Jem and Scout both learn valuable

lessons. Atticus succeeds in conveying his simple message that when a white man

cheats a black man, ?no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family

he comes from, that white man is trash.? After the trial, Jem and Scout

don?t care what people say about their ?nigger-loving? father. It does not

matter because he has bestowed upon them a new tradition of thinking. Jem and

Scout do not think in terms of class and race. Scout does not have to think hard

to know that she would ?let Tom Robinson go so quick the Missionary Society

wouldn?t have time to catch its breath? if it was up to her and if Jem had

been on the jury ?Tom would be a free man?. Atticus is pleased by his

children?s views. Atticus has one wish entering into the trial and that is

that Jem and Scout get through it ‘without catching Maycomb?s usual

disease?. One of the major themes that this novel presents is the loss of

innocence that children were beginning to encounter at a younger age. During Tom

Robinson?s trial, Reverend Sykes says ?this ain?t fit for Miss. Jean

Louise or you boys either?, thinking that the description of sexual harassment

was a subject too mature for their age. The children?s innocence allows them

to see through the artificial barrier of colour and to accept and individual for

what they are. Harper Lee uses Atticus and his relationship with his children to

integrate the themes of growing up and the law. Atticus raises his children

according to his principles. His teachings to his children come back to reward

him. For example he explains to his daughter Scout how the Cunningham family is

poor but proud enough that they do not accept charity. This stimulates enough

questions in her young mind that when the she is at the jail when the Lynch Mob

arrives she effectively saves Tom Robinson?s life by unnerving the mob with

innocent questions about Walter Cunningham. In her innocent gesture, Scout makes

Mr. Cunningham realise that he is a father, not just part of a mob, and, in a

sense, he ?walks around in Atticus? skin? for a moment. Atticus

demonstrates great bravery in defending Tom Robinson. Much of the White

community turns against him and even take out their rage on his children.

Children like Cecil Jacobs and Francis both tease Scout about her father being a

?nigger lover?. Aunt Alexandra feels that Atticus was bringing the family

name down. Despite this Atticus does not compromise his morals or allow his

children to do so. The children in Maycomb are influenced very much by their

relations. This leads to many children picking up what comes from their parents

?? My folks said your daddy was a disgrace an? that Nigger oughta hang

from the watertank!? Absurd actions often interfere with young ones making

them act in the same manner. Bob and Mayella Ewell portray the ?white trash?

of Maycomb. Knowing the low esteem associated with the name ?Ewell? they

strive to control people and maintain the status of untouchables. The Ewell?s

do not go to school, do not accept charity, and do not recognise

African-Americans as real human beings. To accentuate his status Bob Ewell

dehumanises the African-American, calling them ?niggers? and treating them

like animals. The trial becomes a stage for another one of the Ewell?s games,

a game for the whole town to witness. The actions of this lead to dyer

consequences. The Ewells answer to no one and remain immune to the results of

such actions. A different type of prejudice shown in the novel is class

prejudice. It is unconsciously shown by Scout as well as a few of her

compatriots on her first day at school. They attributed certain qualities to

each family in Maycomb and expected these traits to be hereditary. For example

the reason which Scout gave as to why Walter refused the quarter which Miss.

Fisher offered was because ?he is a Cunningham? and the reason why Burris

was so dirty and impudent was, as far as the children were concerned, was

because ?he is one of the Ewell?s?. This shows the complacent way in which

class prejudice is treated within Maycomb, in Maycomb it is just taken for

granted, no questions asked. In fact the children, in stating these

characteristics of the Cunninghams and the Ewells did not even realise that they

were being prejudiced, they had just been brought up that way. Later, when Jem

invited Walter to teal Scout criticised his table manners. Calpurnia and Atticus

were angry with Scout by saying that Walter was ?company? and could eat

whatever he wanted. When Scout retaliated by saying that Walter wad not

?company? that he was just a ?Cunningham?, Calpurnia did not let that

serve as an excuse for humiliating him. In this way Calpurnia tried to stop

Scout gaining the class prejudice of Maycomb and to treat all people equally.

When Scout innocently wanted to befriend Walter Cunningham, a farmer?s boy,

Aunt Alexandra responded saying ?Finch women aren?t interested in that sort

of people?. Scout vainly protested this bias and could not understand why two

people could not be friends, regardless of monetary or scholarly status. Aunt

Alexandra is part of the Ladies Missionary Circle, which is a group, which

spreads the Christian faith in the community, but in this case they turn out to

be the small town gossips. The ladies of the missionary circle speak with

compassion for the neglected tribes of Africa while insulting and demeaning the

Negroes who work in their homes. The Missionary tea ladies? comments about the

Blacks is more than evident within the trial, they were part of a large group of

people who overlooked all the evidence in favour of Tom Robinson at the trial,

just because he was Black. This is very typical of such a group as it is all a

group of white people. Another aspect of Maycomb society is shown through they

hypocritical prejudice shown at school. During school, where the teacher is

explaining the difference between democracy and dictatorship, the teacher uses

the United States as an example, Scout wonders how they can call themselves a

democracy when they are still prejudice against Negroes. The irony of Miss.

Gate?s lecture on democracy compared to her comments at the trial is evident.

The irony is that US will be changing to make it fair between Black and White in

order to become a true democracy. Scout?s teacher plays a game of being a

sympathetic southern school teacher. She appears to be the perfect gentle woman,

set in tradition and very sympathetic to the less fortunate, such as the Jews in

Germany who suffer persecution. She says ?Persecution comes from those who are

prejudiced?. Miss. Gates? part also includes the confidence in her higher

stature, though she sensibly plays the part down. Many other towns-women also

model themselves after; they become role models. They set distinctions that

result in the traditions of the town. The Black church in Maycomb, which was a

place of worship on Sunday, is described as a gambling house for white men on

week days. This again highlights that segregation was not only evident in public

buildings but places of worship too. When Calpurnia takes Jem and Scout to her

church the Black members of the congregation take their hats of to them in

respect. However Lula has great antagonism towards them. Lula felt that because

all the white churches in town were segregated, why should white people be

allowed in Black churches. This shows that the hatred between the two races

works both ways. Scout finds the church service to be similar to her own except

fro a few differences. One of them which shock Jem and Scout greatly is the fact

that Helen Robinson, Tom?s wife is collecting money, and not letting anyone go

until enough money has been collected The reason why she is collecting money

when she has the ability to work and earn her own money is because as her

husband was being charged for a crime like that, no one would employ Helen. Even

Atticus the character intended to have exceptional principles and morals

reflects the influences of being raised in the midst of southern traditions.

When Calpurnia rides with him to tell of Tom Robinson?s death, she rides in

the back seat. This she probably does by choice, as she is well aware of the

controversy she may create if she was to ride in the front seat with Atticus.

Few whites in Maycomb were actually willing to suffer the shame and

discrimination by other whites bought by treating a black as an equal. The first

sign of prejudice in the novel is shown by the Finch children regarding Boo

Radley. They see him as a type of monster or a ?malevolent phantom? as Scout

so aptly put it. People were misunderstood because they were never really given

a chance to become known. Boo Radley is a perfect example of one who was

misunderstood, as shown by how Jem, Scout and Dill thought ?he?ll kill us

each and everyone?. Boo too, was an outsider he was a man who kept away from

society, as he seemed to fear it. Boo was a man who was misunderstood and

because of this he suffered injustice. Boo did not handle the injustice because

he did not know about it. Harper Lees novel portrays themes which are as

relevant today as they were at the time of its setting. Some children are

influenced by society, but the innocence of some children prove vital in areas

of the novel. An awful lot about Maycomb Society is learnt through the trial,

and experience, which the whole community seems to share. The traits, which the

trial reveals about Maycomb Society, are generally evident elsewhere in the

book. For example these include racism, prejudice, gender bias, class system,

narrow and strict codes of behaviour and gossip. Throughout the story ?To kill

a Mockingbird, people were placed in symbolic and actual prisons. The important

thing is that these people conquered and broke-free from their own imprisonment.

The same challenges and follies that were present in the novel are also present

in our communities; by reading ?To kill a mocking bird? we can learn from

the characters lives and possibly gain insight to our own.



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