To Kill A Mockingbird – Chapters 18-19
Mayella testifies next, a reasonably clean nineteen-year- old girl who is obviously terrified. She says that she called Tom Robinson inside the fence that evening and offered him a nickel to break up a dresser for her, and that once he got inside the house he grabbed her and took advantage of her. In Atticus’ cross-examination, Mayella reveals that she has seven siblings to care for, a drunken father, and no friends.
Then Atticus examines her testimony and asks why she didn’t put up a better fight, why her screams didn’t bring the other children running, and–most importantly–how Tom Robinson managed the crime with a useless left hand, torn apart by a cotton gin when he was a boy. Atticus begs her to admit that there was no rape, that her father beat her. She shouts at him and calls the courtroom cowards if they don’t convict Tom Robinson, and then bursts into tears refusing to answer any more questions. In the recess that follows, Mr. Underwood notices the children up in the balcony, but Jem tells Scout that the newspaper editor won’t tell Atticus– although he might include it in the social section of the newspaper.
The prosecution rests, and Atticus calls only one witness–Tom Robinson. Tom testifies that he always passed the Ewell house on the way to work, and that Mayella often asked him to do chores for her. On the evening in question, she asked him to come inside the house and fix a door. When he got inside, however, there was nothing wrong with the door, and he noticed that the other children were gone. Mayella told him that she had saved her money and sent them all to buy ice cream, and then she asked him to lift a box down from a dresser. When he climbed up on a chair, she grabbed his legs, scaring him so much that he jumped down. Then she hugged him around the waist, and asked him to kiss her. As she struggled, her father appeared at the window, calling Mayella a whore and threatening to kill her, and then Tom fled.
Link Deas, Tom’s white employer, stands up and tells everyone that in eight years of work, he has never had any trouble from Tom. Judge Taylorexpels him furiously from the courtroom for interrupting; then Mr. Gilmer gets up and cross-examines Tom. The prosecutor points out that the defendant was once arrested for disorderly conduct, and gets Tom to admit that he has the strength, even with one hand, to hold a woman down and rape her. Then he begins to badger the witness, asking about his motives for always helping Mayella with her chores, and getting him to admit that “I felt right sorry for her.” That doesn’t go over well in the courtroom– black people are not supposed to feel sorry for a white person. Mr. Gilmer goes over Mayella’s testimony, accusing Tom of lying about everything. Dill begins to cry and Scout takes him out of the courtroom.
If Bob Ewell is villainous, his daughter is pitiable, and their miserable existence almost allows her to join the novel’s parade of innocent victims–she, too, is (up to a point) a kind of mockingbird. Lee’s presentation of Mayella emphasizes her role as victim–her father beats her and possibly molests her, while she takes care of the children and so lacks kind treatment that when Atticus calls her Miss Mayella,she accuses him of making fun of her. She has no friends, and Scout seems justified in thinking that she “must have been the loneliest person in the world.” Even Atticus pities her. Mayella’s victimization is marred by her attempt to become a victimizer, to destroy Tom Robinson in order to cover her shame. We can have no real sympathy for Mayella Ewell–whatever her sufferings, she inflicts worse cruelty on others.
Pity must be reserved for Tom Robinson, whose honesty and goodness render him supremely moral. Unlike the Ewells, he is hardworking, honest, and has enough compassion to make the fatal mistake of feeling sorry for Mayella Ewell, a white girl. His story is clearly the true version of events: the story leaves no room for doubt, a detail that a number of critics find unconvincing. But equally clearly he will be a martyr. We are spared much of Mr. Gilmer’s cross-examination when Dill’s crying takes Scout out of the courtroom (he is still a child, who responds to wickedness with tears), but the small sample that Scout hears is enough. To the racist mind, Tom (called “boy” by the prosecutor) must be lying, must be violent, must lust after white women–because he is black.
To Kill A Mockingbird – Chapters 20-22
Outside the courtroom, Dill complains to Scout about how Mr. Gilmer treats Tom Robinson. As they walk, they encounter Mr. Dolphus Raymond, the rich white man with the colored children, drinking from a paper sack. He commiserates with Dill, and offers him a drink, which turns out to be Coca-Cola. Mr. Raymond tells the children that he pretends to be a drunk to provide the other white people with an explanation for his lifestyle when in fact, he simply prefers black people to whites.
When Dill and Scout return to the courtroom, Atticus is making his closing remarks. He has finished going over the evidence, and now makes a personal appeal to the jury. He points out that the prosecution has produced no medical evidence of the crime and instead is relying on the shaky testimony of two unreliable witnesses; moreover the physical evidence suggests that Bob Ewell, not Tom Robinson, beat Mayella. Then he offers his own version of events, describing how Mayella, lonely and unhappy, committed the crime of lusting after a black man, and then concealed her shame by accusing him of rape after being caught. Atticus begs the jury to avoid the state’s assumption that all black people are criminals, and to deliver justice by freeing Tom Robinson.
As soon as Atticus finishes, Calpurnia comes into the courtroom and hands him a note telling him that his children have not been home since noon. Mr. Underwood says that Jem and Scout are in the colored balcony, and have been since just after one in the afternoon. Atticus meets them outside, and tells them to go home and have supper. They beg to be allowed to hear the verdict, and their father says that they can return after dinner, but the jury will probably return by then. They eat quickly and return to find the jury still out, the courtroom still full. Evening comes, night falls, and the jury continues to deliberate; Jem is confident of victory, and Dill has fallen asleep. Finally, after eleven that night, the jury enters. Scout remembers that a jury never looks at a man it has convicted, and the twelve men do not look at Tom Robinson as they file in and deliver a guilty verdict. The courtroom begins to empty, and as Atticus goes out, everyone in the colored balcony rises in a gesture of respect.
Jem spends the rest of the night in tears, railing against the injustice of the verdict. The next day, Maycomb’s black population delivers an avalanche of food to the Finch household. Outside, Miss Stephanie Crawford is gossiping with Mr. Avery and Miss Maudie, and she tries to question Jem and Scout about the trial. Miss Maudie rescues the children by inviting them in for some cake. Jem complains that his illusions about Maycomb have been shattered: he thought the people were the best in the world, but having seen the trial, he doesn’t think so. Miss Maudie points out that there were people who tried to help, like Judge Taylor, who appointed Atticus instead of the regular public defender; and that Atticus’ keeping the jury out so long was actually a sign of progress. As the children leave her house, Miss Stephanie runs over to tell them that Bob Ewell accosted their father that morning, spat on him, and swore revenge.
Mr. Dolphus Raymond’s presence outside the courtroom is appropriate: like Miss Maudie, he does not belong inside with the rest of the town, because he does not share their guilt. Mr. Raymond is a harsh realist, and while he shares Dill’s outrage, he is too old to cry. In a way, Mr. Raymond is describing himself: he is an unhappy figure, a good man who has turned cynical and lost hope. “You haven’t seen enough of the world yet,” he tells Scout. “You haven’t even seen this town, but all you gotta do is step back inside the courthouse.”
To Mr. Raymond, Maycomb’s racist side is the real Maycomb. Atticus, less embittered, seems to hold out hope for the town–his eloquent closing argument is devoid of despair. Rather, he speaks to the jury with confidence and dignity. Even after the verdict has been handed down, there is a sense that progress has been made, in some small way–as Miss Maudie puts it, “I thought to myself, well, we’re making a step–it’s just a baby-step, but it’s a step.”
Jem, however, doesn’t see things that way. Scout is bewildered by the verdict, but is resilient and retains her positive view of the world. Her brother is crushed: his illusions about justice and the law have been shattered. In a way, he is as much a mockingbird, an innocent victim, as Tom Robinson, but the Ewells do not take his life: they take his childhood and his youthful idealism.
To Kill A Mockingbird – Chapters 23-25
Bob Ewell’s threats are worrisome to everyone except Atticus. He tells his children that because he made Mr. Ewell look like a fool, the other man needed to get revenge, and now that Ewell has that vengefulness out of his system, he expects no more trouble. Aunt Alexandra and the children remain worried. Meanwhile, Tom Robinson has been sent to another prison seventy miles away while his appeal winds through the court system. Atticus feels his client has a good chance at being pardoned, but if no, he will go to the electric chair, as rape is a capital offense in Alabama.
Jem and Atticus discuss the justice of executing men for rape, and then the subject turns to jury trials, and how twelve men could have convicted Tom. Atticus tells his son that in an Alabama court of law, a white man’s word always beats a black man’s, and that they were lucky to have the jury out so long. In fact, one man on the jury wanted to acquit– amazingly, it was one of the Cunninghams. This makes Scout want to invite young Walter Cunningham to dinner, but Aunt Alexandra expressly forbids it, telling her niece that the Finches do not associate with trash.
Scout is furious, and Jem hastily takes her out of the room. In his bedroom, Jem reveals his (minimal) growth of chest hair, and tells Scout that he is going to try out for the football team in the fall. Then they discuss the class system, and why their aunt despises the Cunninghams, and why the Cunninghams look down on the Ewells, who hate black people, and so on; they fail to come up with an explanation for the absurdity of it all.
One day in August Aunt Alexandra invites her missionary circle to tea. Scout, wearing a dress, helps Calpurnia bring in the tea, and her aunt invites her to stay with the ladies. Scout listens to the missionary circle discuss the plight of the poor Mrunas, a benighted African tribe being converted to Christianity, and then talk about how their own black servants have been badly behaved ever since the trial. Miss Maudie shuts them up, and suddenly Atticus appears, calls his sister, Scout, and Miss Maudie out of the meeting with the news that Tom Robinson has been shot attempting to escape. He goes to tell the Robinson family, and Alexandra asks Miss Maudie how the town can allow her brother to do this to himself. Maudie says that the town trusts him to do right, and then they return to the missionary circle, managing to act as if nothing is wrong.
A few days later, Jem tells his sister how Atticus pulled him and Dill away from fishing to accompany him to Helen Robinson’s house, and how Helen collapsed at the news. Meanwhile, the news occupies Maycomb’s attention for about two days, and everyone agrees that it is typical for a black man to do something irrational like trying to escape. Mr. Underwood writes a long editorial condemning Tom’s death as the murder of an innocent man, and the only other important reaction comes when Bob Ewell is overheard saying that the death makes “one down and about two more to go.”
Atticus advises Jem to stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes, echoing to advice he gave Scout earlier in the novel. Here, however, Atticus’ attempt to understand another human being fails: he makes an honest mistake in his analysis by failing to understand the depth of Ewell’s anger toward him. Aunt Alexandra is more insightful; she says a man like Ewell will do “anything” to get revenge. Her comments seem typical of her tendency to stereotype “those people” who are different from the Finches, but her analysis is correct. For all her faults, Aunt Alexandra’s stereotypes give her a good understanding of Maycomb County’s people.
Both Jem and Scout are forced to face the adult world in these chapters. Jem and Atticus discuss the judicial system in Maycomb County for much of Chapter 23; the conversation is an education for Jem in the realities of the jury system. Atticus describes the difficulty of changing laws, getting anyone but country people to sit on a jury, ensuring the secrecy of a jury vote, and allowing women to sit on Alabama juries. Finally, he reveals that one of the Cunninghams on the jury wanted to acquit Tom–a further indication that the world is not black and white.
Scout, meanwhile, draws closer to her Aunt. The older woman’s refusal to have Walter Cunningham to dinner pulls them apart, but the missionary tea party reveals the better side of Aunt Alexandra. The scene brilliantly portrays the hypocrisy of the Maycomb ladies: “Mrs. Merriweather’s large brown eyes always filled up with tears when she considered the oppressed (in Africa),” Scout notes, yet the same woman can complain that “there’s nothing more distracting than a sulky darky.” In the wake of the tragedy of Tom Robinson’s death (which Mr. Underwood’s editorial compares to “the senseless slaughter of songbirds,” an obvious reference to the novel’s title), however, the tea party becomes an opportunity for the Finch women to display moral courage by maintaining a public facade of composure.
To Kill A Mockingbird – Chapters 26-27
Dill leaves, school starts, and the children pass the Radley Place every day. They are too old to be frightened by the house, but Scout still wishes wistfully to see Boo Radley just once. Meanwhile, the shadow of the trial still hangs over her. One day in school, her third-grade teacher, Miss Gates, lectures the class on the wickedness of Hitler’s persecution of the Jews, and on the virtues of equality and democracy. Scout listens, and later she asks Jem how Miss Gates can preach equality when she came out of the courthouse after the trial and told Miss Stephanie Crawford that it was about time someone taught the blacks in town a lesson. Jem becomes furious, and tells her to never mention the trial to him again; Scout, upset, runs to Atticus for comfort.
In the first two months of fall, Bob Ewell gets a job with the WPA, one of the Depression job programs, and loses it a few days later. He blames Atticus for getting “his” job. A few weeks later, Judge Taylor is home alone and hears someone prowling around; when he goes to investigate, he finds his screen door open and sees a shadow creeping away. Then Bob Ewell begins to follow Helen Robinson to work in Mr. Link Deas’ fields, keeping his distance but whispering obscenities at her. Link Deas finds Ewell and threatens to have him arrested if he doesn’t let Helen alone, and she has no further trouble. But these events worry Aunt Alexandra, who points out that Ewell seems to have a grudge against everyone connected with the case.
That Halloween, the town sponsors a party and play at the school to avoid the unsupervised mischief of the previous Halloween, when two old sisters had their house burglarized and all their furniture hidden in their basement. The play is an “agricultural pageant” in which every child portrays a food: Scout wears a wire mesh shaped to look like ham. Both Atticus and Aunt Alexandra are too tired to attend, so Jem takes Scout over to the school.
These chapters are marked by a mood of mounting mischief. They begin with a reference to the Radley Place, the source of childhood terrors that no longer terrify–“Boo Radley was the least of our fears,” Scout comments, in the wake of the trial and Bob Ewell’s threats. The Radley Place is part of the past, now, although the narrator still expresses a fond wish to see him someday, and remembers their near-encounters with Boo during summers past. These memories restore Boo Radley to the reader’s consciousness, which has been occupied with the trial for most of Book Two, and the restoration provides foreshadowing for Boo’s appearance a few chapters later.
Meanwhile, the after effects of the trial continue to loom. Bob Ewell’s various attempts at revenge–stalking Helen Robinson, breaking and entering–are sinister, and the fact that he has not yet attempted anything against the Finches only increases the sense of foreboding. Atticus remains confident in his own safety, but this confidence begins to seem like wishful thinking more than anything else.
Meanwhile, the incident involving Miss Gates reveals the extent to which Jem remains affected by the trial. Scout retains her faith in the basic goodness of others, and so her teacher’s obvious hypocrisy confuses her. Jem, meanwhile, has become disillusioned, and when Scout tries to talk to him about Miss Gates, he says he never wants to discuss the trial or courthouse again. Bob Ewell’s threats are not the only dark cloud hanging over the Finch household: the injustice of the trial has changed Jem irrevocably for the worse.
It is very dark on the way to the school, and Cecil Jacobs jumps out and frightens them. Scout and Cecil go together around the crowded school, visiting the “haunted house” (in a 7th grade classroom) and buying homemade candy. The pageant looms, and all the children go backstage. Unfortunately, Scout falls asleep, misses her entrance, and runs onstage at the end, prompting Judge Taylor and many others to burst out laughing. The lady in charge of the pageant accuses Scout of ruining it, and Scout is so ashamed that she and Jem wait backstage until the crowd is gone before they make their way home.
On their walk back, Jem hears noises behind them. They think it must be Cecil Jacobs, trying to frighten them again, but when they call out to him, they hear no reply. They walk faster, and have almost reached the road when their pursuer begins running after them. Jem screams for Scout to run, but in the dark, hampered by her costume, she loses her balance and falls. Something tears at the metal mesh, and she hears struggling behind her. Then Jem breaks free and drags her to the road before their assailant pulls him back. Scout hears a crunching sound and Jem screams; she runs toward him and is grabbed and slowly squeezed. Suddenly her attacker is pulled away, and then she realizes that there are four people under the tree. Once the noise of struggling has ceased, Scout feels on the ground for Jem, finding only the prone figure of an unshaven man who smells of whiskey. She stumbles toward home, and in the light of the streetlight she sees a man carrying Jem toward her house.
When she reaches home, Aunt Alexandra is already calling Dr. Reynolds. Atticus calls Heck Tate, telling him that someone has attacked his children. Aunt Alexandra removes Scout’s costume, and Atticus tells her that Jem is only unconscious, not dead. Then Dr. Reynolds arrives and goes into Jem’s room; when the doctor emerges he says that Jem’s arm is broken, and he has a bump on his head, but will be all right. Scout goes in to see her brother; the man who carried him home is in the room, but she does not recognize him. Then Heck Tate appears and tells Atticus that Bob Ewell is lying down in the street, dead, with a knife in his chest.
Scout tells them what she heard and saw, and Heck Tate shows her costume with a mark on it where a knife slashed and was stopped by the wire. When she gets to the point in the story where Jem was picked up and carried home, she turns to the man in the corner and really looks at him for the first time. He is pale, with torn clothes and a thin, pinched face and colorless eyes, and Scout realizes that it is Boo Radley.
She takes Boo–“Mr. Arthur”–down to the porch, and they sit on the swing and listen to Atticus and Heck Tate argue. Heck insists on calling the death an accident, and Atticus, thinking that Jem killed Bob Ewell, does not want his son protected. The sheriff corrects him–Boo killed Ewell, not Jem, and Boo does not need the attention of the neighborhood brought to his door. Tom Robinson died for no reason, Heck says, and now the man responsible is dead: “let the dead bury the dead.”
Scout takes Boo up to say goodnight to Jem, and then she walks him home. He goes inside his house, and she never sees him again, but for a moment she imagines the world from his perspective. Then she goes home, and finds Atticus sitting in Jem’s room, and he reads one of Jem’s books to her until she falls asleep.
The night of the pageant is laden with foreshadowing, from the pitch darkness, to Cecil Jacobs’ attempt to scare them, to the sense of foreboding that grips Aunt Alexandra just before they leave. The pageant itself is an amusing depiction of small- town pride, as the lady in charge spends thirty-nine minutes describing the exploits of Colonel Maycomb, the town’s founder, and the reader can visualize the parade of meats and vegetables crossing the stage, with Scout, just awake, hurrying after them as the audience roars with laughter.
After this scene, the children’s walk home is taken in a mood of mounting suspense, as the noise of their pursuer is first heard and assumed to be Cecil Jacobs, only to have it rapidly become clear that they lie in mortal danger. The attack is all the more terrifying because it takes place so close to their home, in a place assumed to be safe, and because Scout (in her costume) has no idea what is happening.
Boo Radley’s entrance takes place in the thick of the scuffle, and Scout does not realize that her reclusive neighbor has saved them until she has reached home; even then she assumes him to be “some countryman.” When she finally realizes who has saved her, the childhood phantom has become a human being: “His lips parted into a timid smile, and out neighbor’s image blurred with my sudden tears. ‘Hey, Boo,’ I said.”
After Boo’s unveiling, all that remains of the story is Heck Tate’s decision to say that Bob Ewell fell on his knife, sparing Boo the horror of publicity. The title of the book and its central theme are invoked, as Scout says that exposing Boo to the public eye would “sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird.” Then she takes him home, and Atticus’ admonition to step into someone else’s shoes is also invoked, as Scout suddenly sees the world through Boo’s eyes. The novel ends here, and the reader is offered no details of Scout’s future, except that Boo is never seen again. We have a sense, however, that the story has embraced her entire childhood, and Scout thinks that they have not much more to learn, “except possibly algebra.”