Chapters 16 and 17
The next day the trial begins and everybody who is anybody attends the
Court. People flock in from the surrounding area only Miss Maudie refuses to go saying it is like a Roman Circus. They camp out on the Maycomb Green to have their lunch, many of them treating it as a day out.
Jem, Scout and Dill walk over to the Court, but wait until most have entered
as they intend to sneak in without Atticus noticing them. However, all the ‘white’ seats have been taken and they fear that they will miss the proceedings, but Rev. Sykes takes them into the ‘colored’ gallery
where they have a perfect view of the whole courtroom.
On the day of the trial, people have crawled out of the woodwork to attend,
some are merely curious, but most are there to make sure that justice is done and that means the conviction of Tom Robinson.
The next five chapters cover the testimony given in the trial and is the most absorbing section of To Kill a Mockingbird. The slow disintegration of Bob Ewell’s testimony by Atticus is the centerpiece of this courtroom drama.
The white community is so certain of Tom Robinson’s guilt that when Ewell is
unraveled, so are they. The only reason they have left to find Tom Robinson guilty is the color of his skin.
Not only is there prejudice between the races, but there is also
In the American south during the 1930’s it was not only normal for the races to be segregated, but also it was the law. Blacks were given special places to sit. They often used separate entrances and they used separate rest rooms and drinking fountains. When Rev. Sykes offers the children a seat in the colored balcony, they innocently accept. They have no idea that they are breaking a cultural taboo. Many of the whites in the community would of course rather miss the trial than sit amongst people of another race. Ironically Scout is quite happy at the situation because she is getting a good view of the whole of the courtroom.
When the Rev. Sykes enters the colored balcony he moves to the front row
where four black people immediately rise to give the minister and the three white children their front row seats. Was this done firstly out of respect for Rev. Sykes; secondly in respect of Atticus and,
therefore, his children, or thirdly, was it because the children were white?
The reader can draw his own conclusions. While on the subject of segregation, Lee introduces another character called Dolphus Raymond who lives in the community, but has a black mistress and, of course, their offspring are bi-racial. As a result the children do not belong anywhere. The colored community will not have them because they are half white, and the white community because they are half colored, so they don’t belong anywhere. His behavior is tolerated by the white community who believe him to be a drunkard, and not responsible for his actions.
Jem wonders how you can tell whether someone is mixed and has discussed the
topic with Uncle Jack.
He revealed that they might have had some black ancestors several generations back. Scout determines that after so many generations race doesn’t count, but Jem says ‘around here once you have one drop of Negro blood that makes you all black’. This conversation is important because Jem and Scout accept the idea that they could have a drop of Negro blood. This is perhaps why they are less prejudiced than the vast majority of the community in Maycomb.
It should also be noted that the reader is introduced to Judge Taylor who
will be presiding over the case and runs a relaxed court. It was he who appointed Atticus to defend Tom Robinson.
The full extent of Harper Lee’s writing skills are apparent in the trial
scene, which is brought to life for the reader with descriptive flair and atmosphere-creating prose.
The reader is drawn into the courtroom and is sitting beside Scout and Rev. Sykes feeling the tension and suspense even though we can guess the outcome. Despite Atticus’ brilliant cross-examination, which unravels Ewell giving hope to Tom Robinson and comfort to the black community, it will all be in vain.
We should at this stage examine Bob Ewell whose full name is Robert E. Lee
Ewell, whose only link with the legend is the name. While Robert E. Lee represents the idealized South, Bob Ewell represents all the badness, bigotry, prejudice and sloth and he is an abuser of those weaker
than himself. This is not a character to try and understand and certainly one shouldn’t want to wear his skin and walk around in it.
Atticus underestimates the depth of the little man’s wickedness, which is to
have serious repercussions towards the end of the story.
His fellow townsfolk ridicule Bob Ewell, yet sadly; because he
is white he still has the power with the support of the white community to destroy an innocent black man.