Discuss the trial/ To Kill a Mockingbird

The scene of the trial is centrally related to the novel’s main themes, i.e. prejudice, and a courageous man’s lone battle to ensure justice and establish truth in a hate corrupted community. Here we see Atticus’s professional skill, his humility, decency and compassion. We see the two marginalized groups, the white trash, immoral, abusive and vindictive and the peaceful, patient and respectful colored community. Scout, Dill and Jem are exposed to the issues of injustice, racial prejudice and child abuse and develop a new awareness of moral courage

The trial is one of the most significant episodes of the play, where we witness a metaphorical death of a mockingbird in the hands of a corrupt judicial system.  Tom reflects the attitude of a mockingbird through his innocence in the assault charge against him, where only the colour of his skin was detrimental to his life. Atticus is given to defend Tom in the court, and even though he knew how a black man’s word against a white woman’s was never going to be acknowledged, he still vindicated Tom and let the white community know he was after all innocent, regardless what the law made him to be. Atticus knew if Tom was sent to jail in accusation of rape, the whole African-American community would be tarnished. To preserve their sense of dignity, Atticus presents the reality of the situation. Even though it was against his principle to hurt someone that was already hurting, Atticus resorts to prove that Mayella Ewell was lying about who beat her, indirectly implying Bob’s actual role in this case. He chose to bring out the truth regardless how unpleasant it was to him. Mayella, deprived of friendship, was desperate for human contact and when Tom helps her out of sympathy, she jumps on him for a momentary satisfaction of human touch. Regardless her status as ‘white trash’, she knew it was below her to seduce a black man. Upon being caught, her father takes it to his advantage and beats her up, inflicting severe bruises and using them against Tom. Atticus verifies this with concrete evidence by showing that Mayella was bruised on the right side of her face where someone with a dominant left hand was responsible. Tom was crippled on his left, which furthermore leads to Atticus proving that Bob was the culprit, “Atticus was trying to show, it seemed to me, that Mr. Ewell could have beaten up Mayella.” Atticus knew if Mayella faltered and gave out the truth she would be beaten by her father again, and thus is sensitive towards her which stuns her as she’s never been behaved well with, “Long’s he keeps on callin’ me ma’am an sayin’ Miss Mayella. I don’t hafta take his sass, I ain’t called upon to take it.” Through his calm behaviour, Atticus reverses the suspects and presents how Tom was after all innocent. In his final testimony, Atticus tries to connect the jury as a human being rather than a lawyer, stating the the court was the only place without judgement of black and white; of rich and poor, “But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentleman, is a court.” Atticus’s expertise in his position was clear. He showcases his passion as a human being, where the only thing he wants is to rise above the prejudice and evoke the sense of empathy within the prejudicial minds of the white community.

The children grow a new sense of respect for their father through this. When dozing off, Scout merges the picture of her father in front of the court to that of the summer day when Atticus had to kill a rabid dog, “…it was like watching Atticus walk into the street, raise a rifle to his shoulder and pull the trigger, but watching all the time knowing that the gun was empty.” The children customise Atticus as a lone fighter, fighting a battle without bullets, knowing he will lose, but fighting nonetheless. The scene of the court enhances the children’s maturity process as the direct confrontation of injustice makes them recognise the violent side of life. Aunt Alexandra opposes to this exposure and tries to protect the children from not letting them go to court, but Atticus allows them to go, not wishing to shield his children from the evils of social injustice, and teaching them, through this, how to behave otherwise. The children have different responses to this sudden revealing of injustice, where Dill completely breaks down, unable to have his innocence tarnished in such a manner, and Scout couldn’t bear to see the jury’s final decision, “The foreman handed a piece of paper to Mr. Tate who handed it to the clerk who handed it to the judge… I shut my eyes.” After the final decision was made, Jem, with his sense of maturity, knows what was done wasn’t right, and repeatedly mentions it while crying, ‘It was Jem’s turn to cry. His face was streaked with angry tears as we made our way through the cheerful crowd. “It ain’t right,” he muttered…”

The black community allows Atticus a sense of nobility after the case, and the next day, brings whatever they could for Atticus as a sign of gratitude for at least vindicating Tom. The black community’s gratefulness stands in stark contrast with the ignorance of the whites. When Scout and Jem goes to the black church, they find a complete harmony in the lives of the black people, seeing how clean and absolutely harmless they are. They all stand in a unified position and when one black woman argues over the presence of Jem and Scout in their church, everyone else gathers to defend them. The children also find the kindness of the black community when they see them collecting money for Helen, Tom’s wife, to help her through her time of distress. This aspect of politeness is also seen in Tom, when Mr. Gilmer cross-examines Tom in a harsh manner and Tom accepts it, ‘“Are you being impudent to me, boy?” “No suh, I didn’t go to be.”’ Mr. Gilmer produces the meekness of Tom’s behaviour without meaning to, and Scout realises Tom was as kind as Atticus, “It occurred to me that in their own way, Tom Robinson’s manners were as good as Atticus’s.”

However, the white community had hateful reactions afterwards. Being angry at Atticus for revealing the truth about him, Bob curses and threatens to kill him and later spits on his face. In Aunt Alexandra’s missionary group, Mrs. Merriweather criticizes Atticus for defending Tom without directly referring to him, by calling him ‘good, but misguided’. This is later refuted by Miss Maudie, who mentions the hypocrisy in her statement as she judges Atticus while eating his food, “His food doesn’t stick going down, does it?”

The scene of the court allows the children to mature and even develops a sense of understanding within some characters. The jury does falter in their decision as they couldn’t be unanimous after Atticus’s testimony. The jury’s final decision along with the reality of the situation directly makes the white community realise their skin deep prejudice. The scene of court also highlights the worst kinds of injustice in the society, i.e racism, violence, child abuse, shameful conduct and condescension. The scene of court is not only the most significant part of the novel for it’s involvement in the death of a mockingbird, but also for the message that it sends of how injustice can take innocent lives and how, even if you are being ‘licked’ and know how the real outcome would come to, you still need ‘raise a rifle to (your) shoulder, and pull the trigger’ for at least knowing that you fought for the truth.

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