Reread the Trial Chapters, 16 – 21
Read the chapter commentaries below and answer the questions. Answer in as much detail as you can
The Trial begins
Chapter 16 begins with Scout in bed, trying to get to sleep. She has just walked home from the jail with Dill, Atticus and Jem, having dispersed
the angry mob by inadvertently appealing to their humanity.
“the memory of Atticus calmly folding his newspaper and pushing back his hat became Atticus standing in the middle
an empty, waiting street, pushing back his glasses. The full meaning of the nights events hit me and I began crying”.
Scout‟s memories refer back to the moment described on p.165 in the previous chapter (15) when Scout observed her father rising from his post
outside the jail to meet the mob, and further back to Chapter 10, p.104 when Atticus prepared to shoot the mad dog.
Why are these two moments significant? Why do you think Scout sees these the two images of her father merging as she falls asleep?
The next morning at breakfast Scout asks why Mr. Cunningham, who she thought was a friend, wanted to hurt Atticus. He tries to explain how
someone who is “basically a good man” can get drawn into mob behaviour.
“A mob‟s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a
man. Every mob in every little Southern town is always made up of people you know…so it took an eight-year-old child
to bring ‟em to their senses … that proves something – that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because
they‟re still human … You children made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough.”
What are the other significant examples of standing in other people‟s shoes, or getting in their skin, in the novel? (include chapter and page
Atticus leaves to go to the courthouse and Dill comes bounding in. They watch people from all over Maycomb county troop by on the way to the
courthouse. Jem gives Dill “the histories and general attitudes of the more prominent figures”. When Jem asks Miss Maudie Atkinson if she will
be going to watch she replies, “I am not…Look at all those folks, it‟s like a Roman carnival.”
What do you think she means by this?
Atticus comes home to dinner and reports that the morning has been spent choosing a jury. After dinner Jem and Scout call for Dill then make
their way into town. The courthouse square is full of picnic parties and in the far corner of the square Dolphus Raymond sits amongst members of
the black community. Jem outlines all he knows about Dolphus Raymond for Dill: that he is always drinking whisky out of a Coca-Cola bottle in a
paper bag and that he comes from a “real old family” but lives “down near the county line” with a black woman and their mixed-race children.
Their discussion reveals that, whilst not blatantly racist, they have still picked up some of the white community‟s prejudices, stereoptypes and
assumptions about black people. Suddenly everyone rises and heads for the court-house. The Maycomb County court-house is described in detail.
Reread the two paragraphs describing the court-house on p.177. How do details of the description convey Harper Lee‟s views about the justice
system? Support your answer with 4 or 5 short quotations.
Scout finds herself amongst a group of old men who are regular spectators at the court-house. She overhears them talking about Atticus, one says,
“the court appointed him to defend this nigger”, another adds, “Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him. That‟s what I don‟t like about it.” Scout,
Jem and Dill can‟t find anywhere to sit so Reverend Sykes accompanies them up to the “coloured balcony” where they are given front-row seats.
That four black adults give up their seats for three white children implies that white children took precedence over black adults at this time.
However their position also means that they will share the same viewpoint as the black spectators, and will be “in their shoes” or their “skin” as
they observe the trial. Scout looks down on the assembled jury, Atticus and Tom, the witnesses and the Judge Taylor.
The trial begins with the sheriff Heck Tate‟s testimony. He tells the court how one night he was called to the Ewell home, where Mayella Ewell
claimed to have been raped by Tom Robinson. In his questioning Atticus establishes that Mayella‟s injuries were mainly on the right side of her
face and all around her throat and that no doctor was called..
Look again at the section starting at the top of page183 and ending at the top of page 185 (up to “…made me sure he was showing off.”).
Compare Jem and Scout‟s responses to the way Atticus questions Heck Tate and the testimony given. Select 2 or 3 short quotations to show Jem‟s
response and 2 or 3 to show Scout‟s response. What is revealed by the difference in their reactions to the trial so far?
The next witness is Bob Ewell, Mayella‟s father. Bob, his family and their home are described in detail (pages 185 – 186).
Look at the following quotations and answer the questions, exploring the effects of language to show your understanding of the novel‟s themes:
“a little bantam cock of a man” What does this metaphor imply about Bob Ewell?
“Maycomb‟s Ewells lived behind the town garbage dump in what was once a Negro cabin.” How is this location
significant to the ideas of the novel?
“Its windows were merely open spaces in the walls, which in summertime were covered with greasy strips of cheesecloth
to keep out the varmints that feasted on Maycomb‟s refuse. The varmints had a lean tme of it, for the Ewells gave the
dump a thorough gleaning every day”. What is the purpose of Lee‟s portrayal of the Ewells and the varmints as competitors
at the dump? How do other details here contribute to our impression of the Ewells?
“One corner of the yard, though, bewildered Maycomb. Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars
holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson…People said they
were Mayella Ewell‟s.” Why do you think this reference to Mayella Ewell has been included before Bob Ewell takes the
witness stand, and before we meet Mayella? Look carefully at the language used in the underlined sections and comment on the
significance of these words.
“Some people said six, others said nine; there were always several dirty-faced ones at the windows when anyone passed
by.” What is significant about the way the Ewell children are presented here?
“their cabins looked neat and snug with pale smoke rising from the chimneys and the doorways glowing amber from the
fires inside.” The details of this description of the “small Negro settlement some five hundred yards beyond the Ewells”creates
a sense of contrast between the Ewells and the neighbouring black community. Which words and phrases are particularly
significant for the comparison and what is their effect? Why is this comparison important as a prelude to trial and its outcome?
Bob Ewell begins his testimony. His coarse language disrupts the court and the usually serene Judge Taylor “hammered fully five minutes” with
his gavel to restore order. Atticus‟s questions suggest that Bob Ewell has no real concern for his daughter and he also establishes that Ewell is left-
handed (the position of Mayella‟s injuries suggests they were caused by someone left-handed).
What does bob Ewell say which shows he has little concern for Mayella?
How does Atticus show that Bob Ewell is left handed?
Mayella versus Tom
Mayella is called to the stand
How does the description of Mayella on P195 suggest that she is different to her father? Support your answer with two or three short
Mr Gilmer asks Mayella to describe what happened. She gives her account: she asked Tom to break up a chiffarobe for a nickel, she turned to go
into the house to get the nickel but Tom ran up and grabbed her round the neck and began hitting her, he threw her on the floor, choked her and
raped her, she screamed and kicked, her father arrived then she fainted and came to when Mr. Tate was pulling her up from the floor. This account
is followed by:
“Apparently Mayella‟s recital had given her confidence, but it was not her father‟s brash kind; there was something
stealthy about hers, like a steady-eyed cat with a twitchy tail.”
In what ways does Harper Lee‟s language in the quotation above imply that Mayella is not being honest?
Atticus begins his questioning of Mayella. He starts by asking her questions about herself and he addresses her as „Miss Mayella” and “Ma‟am”.
Mayella is furious and says, “I don‟t hafta take his sass”.
Why does Atticus‟s politeness upset her so much and what does her response reveal about her life?
Atticus continues with his questioning and the realities of Ewell family life emerge: a drunk and useless father, poverty, hardship, sickness and
social exclusion. Mayella‟s struggle and suffering as the eldest of eight motherless children is clear. Mayella feels mocked by another of Atticus‟s
questions and responds, “You makin‟ fun o‟me again, Mr.Finch?” (page200)
What was the question which upset her so much and what is revealed by her response?
Through Atticus‟s questioning the court gleans that Bob Ewell is a drunken bully and it is implied, although Mayella denies it, that he has beaten
his daughter when drunk. The questioning then focuses on Tom Robinson and whether she had previously asked him to do odd jobs. She concedes
that she might have. Atticus turns to the events of the alleged rape and leads Mayella back over the testimony she made to Mr.Gilmer. Atticus asks
her if she could she remember Tom Robinson beating her about the face. She becomes hesitant, “No ….I mean yes… I just don‟t remember”. She
is then asked to indicate the man who raped her. She gestures towards Tom Robinson. Atticus asks him to stand, purportedly so that Mayella can
verify her identifiction, but really so that everyone can clearly see Tom‟s crippled arm.
Look again at the description of Tom standing on page 202. Comment the impact of the language Harper Lee has used. What impression of
Tom is given by this description? Why did Atticus want the court to see Tom at this moment in his questioning?
Atticus‟s questions return to the details of the attack,
Atticus said, „is this the man who raped you?‟
„It most certainly is.‟
Atticus‟s next question was one word long. „How?‟
He continues to undermine her testimony, questioning how much she struggled, whether she screamed, why the children didn‟t come running …
as his questioning continues she falls silent,
„Or didn‟t you scream until you saw your father in the window? You didn‟t think to scream until then, did you?‟
„Did you scream first at your father instead of at Tom Robinson?‟
„Who beat you up? Tom Robinson or your father?‟
„What did your father see in the window, the crime of rape or the best defence to it? Why don‟t you tell the truth, child?
Didn‟t Bob Ewell beat you up?‟
Mayella is furious but after angrily accusing “you fine fancy gentlemen” of being, “ yellow stinkin‟ cowards”, she bursts into tears. She is
particularly angry at Atticus, although he is described as having “compassion” for Mayella and seems pained, “he looked like his stomach hurt”,
he “sat down wearily” and “with his head down”.
“Atticus had hit her hard in a way that was not clear to me, but it gave him no pleasure to do so. He sat with his head down,
and I never saw anybody glare at anyone with the hatred Mayella showed when she left the stand and walked by Atticus‟s
Why do you Atticus‟s questioning had “hit her hard”? Why do you think Atticus has taken “no pleasure” in his skilful questioning of Mayella?
The court takes a ten minute break and then the final witness is called.
The chapter begins with Tom struggling to keep his crippled arm on the Bible as he swears the oath. It emerges that Tom frequently stopped to
“Seemed like every time I passed by yonder, she‟d have some little somethin‟ for me to do- choppin kindling, totin‟
water for her. She watered them red flowers every day.”
Tom explains that he wasn‟t paid but it seemed like Mayella had no one to help her and he knew she didn‟t have spare nickels. The account of
Tom‟s testimony is interrupted by Scout‟s reflections,
“It came to me that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world. She was even lonelier than Boo
Radley …white people wouldn‟t have anything to do with her because she lived among pigs; Negroes wouldn‟t have
anything to do with her because she was white; She couldn‟t live like Mr. Dolphus Raymond because she didn‟t own a
river bank, and she wasn‟t from a fine old family … Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent
In what ways does watching the trial seems to be affecting Scout? Comment on the significance of the understanding and empathy shown in the
quotation above. How does the style and content of Scout‟s narrative compare to the style and content of her observations of the initial court
proceedings (chapter 17)
Atticus continues with his questioning and asks Tom to describe the events of the day the alleged rape took place. He recalls Mayella asking him
to come into the house to fix a door back onto its hinges. He went in and looked at the door but could find nothing wrong with it. He asked why it
was so quiet and she told him that she‟d saved for a year so she had enough nickels for all the children to go into town for icecream. He made a
move to leave but she asked him to step up onto a chair to get a box down from on top of a chiffarobe. Just as he was reaching up she grabbed hi
round the legs and he fell from the chair and knocked it over. Tom is nervous at this point in his testimony but continues to describe how she
hugged him round the waist and kissed the side of his face,
“She says she never kissed a grown man before an‟s she might as well kiss a nigger. She says what her papa do to her
don‟t count; She says: “Kiss me back, nigger.” I say, “Miss Mayella, lemme outa here” an tried to run but she got her
back to the door an‟ I‟da had to push her. I didn‟t wanta harm her, Mr. Finch, an‟ I say “lemme pass,” but just when I
say it Mr. Ewell yonder hollered through th‟ window.”
What do Tom‟s words reveal about Mayella and her relationship with her father?
Tom then describes running away as Bob Ewell angrily turned on his daughter. As Mr. Gilmer rises to begin his questioning Mr Link Deas shouts
out support for Tom and is asked to leave the court by Judge Taylor. Mr. Gilmer presses Tom on what motivated him to do so many chores for
Mayella without being paid and he pounces on Tom‟s admission, “I felt right sorry for her”, restating his words with emphasis.
“ You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?” Mr. Gilmer seemed ready to rise to the ceiling.
The witness realized his mistake and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. But the damage was done.”
Why do you think Mr. Gilmer is described as “ready to rise to the ceiling” here? What is so significant about Tom‟s admission?
Mr. Gilmer continues questioning Tom and asks why he ran away if he had a clear conscience. Tom replies that he was, “ scared I‟d be in court,
just like I am now… scared I‟d hafta face up to what I didn‟t do.” Gilmer demands, “Are you being impudent to me, boy?”. At this point in the
proceedings Dill is crying uncontrollably so Scout has to accompany him out. Dill tries to explain why he is so upset,
„It was just him I couldn‟t stand…doin him thataway, talking so hateful to him…it was the way he said it made me sick,
plain sick…the way that man called him „boy‟ all the time and sneered at him‟
When scout says, “Well, Dill, after all he‟s just a negro” Dill responds,
“‟I don‟t care one speck. It ain‟t right, somehow it ain‟t right to do „em that way. Hasn‟t anybody got any business talking
like that – it just makes me sick.‟”
Scout continues to argue that it‟s just the way of lawyers, Dill points out that Atticus is not like that. A voice from behind a tree interrupts
them, the voice of Dolphus Raymond. Dolphus Raymond understands Dill‟s feelings.
Explain in your own words what you think has sickened Dill? What aspects of Dill‟s character and experience make him so sensitive?
(include one or two quotations from elsewhere in the novel)
Mr. Raymond comforts Dill and offers him a drink from his brown paper bag. Dill discovers that the notorious town drunk drinks just Coca-Cola.
Dolphus Raymond explains that he has to give people a reason what to them is inexplicably strange and immoral behaviour (living with the Black
community and having a family with a Black woman). He says that Dill and Scout are children so he can tell them his secret because they
understand; they haven‟t yet lost their “instinct”,
…Things haven‟t caught up with that one‟s instinct yet. Let him get a little older and he won‟t get sick and cry. Maybe
things‟ll strike him as being - not quite right, say, but he won‟t cry, not when he gets a few years on him.‟
„Cry about what Mr. Raymond?‟ Dill‟s maleness was beginning to assert itself.
„Cry about the simple hell people give other people – without even thinking. Cry about the hell white people give
coloured folks, without even stopping to think that they‟re people, too.‟
Comment in detail on the extract above. To what extent is the message of the novel contained in these words?
Scout and Dill return to the courtroom. Atticus is beginning his speech to the jury. He states that there is no medical evidence and only
questionable testimony to suggest Tom‟s guilt, but that Mayella has, “broken a time-honoured code of our society” by attempting to seduce a
Read Atticus‟s speech again, beginning, “Gentleman…” on page 221, to “do your duty” on page 224. First summarise in the form of a
numbered list the important elements of his speech. Then list persuasive language features (consider your English Language work on persuasive
speeches) used by Atticus, support each identified feature with a quotations and comment on the effects of language (for this you could use a three
Calpurnia arrives in court with a note for Atticus from Aunt Alexandra; the children are pointed out to Atticus and he sends them home. He tells
them they can come back after they‟ve eaten. Jem is feeling confident. They return to the courthouse; Reverend Sykes has saved their seats. The
jury is still deliberating and the packed court is silent and still. Scout notices that when the jury returns none of them look directly at Tom and she
takes this as a bad sign.
“I shut my eyes; judge Taylor was polling the jury: „Guilty…guilty…guilty…guilty...‟ I peeked at Jem: his hands were white
from gripping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each „guilty‟ was a separate stab between them.”
The chapter ends with Reverend Sykes asking scout to get to her feet to join all the black people in the balcony who rise to their feet to honour
Atticus as he passes in front of them, “ „Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father‟s passin‟.”
Imagine you are Jem. Write your thoughts about all the events of the trial (an exam style empathy question – aim for between 600 and 800
16 The Trial begins The morning of the trial. The mob outside the jail the night before is You children made Walter 16
discussed. Atticus leaves for court and the children join the crowds Cunningham stand in my shoes for
heading for the courthouse. Jem outlines the lifestyle of Dolphus a minute. That was enough.”
Raymond for Dill. They enter the court and go upstairs to the
“coloured balcony” with Reverend Sykes.
17 Heck Tate and Bob Ewell take the witness stand. Heck Tate‟s “chipped-enamel slop jars holding 17
testimony establishes that Mayella‟s injuries are mainly on the right brilliant red geraniums, cared for
side of her face. The Ewells are described then Bob Ewell is … tenderly”
questioned. His language disrupts the court. He is shown to be left-
18 Mayella vs Tom Mayella takes the stand. Mayella gives Mr. Gilmer her account but “Atticus had hit her hard in a way 18
is upset by Atticus‟s style of questioning. The terrible conditions of that was not clear to me, but it
her life are made evident, including the drunken brutality of her father gave him no pleasure to do so.”
and her loneliness. The court sees Tom‟s crippled arm and this
discredits her claims about the attack.
19 Tom takes the stand. Tom describes how he had been in the habit of “ You felt sorry for her, you felt 19
doing odd jobs for Mayella. Tom gives his account: Mayella made a sorry for her?” Mr. Gilmer seemed
move on him, Ewell saw them through the window and he ran away. ready to rise to the ceiling.
Tom blunders in admitting that he felt sorry for Mayella. Dill is upset The witness realized his mistake
by Gilmer‟s racism, he leaves the court building in tears, with Scout, and shifted uncomfortably in his
and meets Dolphus Raymond. chair. But the damage was done.”
20 The verdict Atticus‟s speech to the jury. After their talk with Mr. Raymond and “she struck out at her victim – of 20
his revelation of his secret, Dill and Scout go back into the court and necessity she must put him away
hear Atticus‟s speech. Atticus appeals to the jury‟s sense of dignity from her – he must be removed from
and gives an eloquent and emotive plea for justice. He emphasises her presence, from this world. She
that Mayella attempted to protect herself by blaming Tom, even must destroy the evidence of her
though she was the one who broke time-honoured code, knowing that offence.”
her action would bring about Tom‟s death because the jury will
believe her as a white woman, not Tom, a black man.
21 The Verdict: Guilty “his shoulders jerked as if each
„guilty‟ was a separate stab between 21