Brief account of the incident… Tom Robinson is accused of rape by Mayella Ewell, the daughter of ignorant ne’er do well, Bob Ewell. Tom is entirely innocent, as Mayella led him on after he chopped some wood for her and he rejected her advances. It is clear by the end of the trial that Bob Ewell has beaten his own daughter for wanting to be with a black man. Having avoided a lynch mob Atticus Finch proves Tom’s innocence in the court but because of prejudice in the Southern States he is still found guilty. The black community applaud Atticus but tragically Tom is shot trying to escape prison.
What the trial tells us about the theme of prejudice…
Most in Maycomb’s white community do not believe a trial should even be help for an accused black man – they are going to lynch him until Atticus Finch stops them: “You can turn around and go home again Walter.”
A black man cannot get a fair trial in a place like Maycomb: “Guilty, guilty guilty”. The jury condemn him, even though Atticus Finch has clearly proved him innocent: “In the name of God believe him.”
There is segregation in the south because all the black attendees at the trial have to sit at the back and they are not allowed to be jurors: “The coloured balcony ran along three walls”.
Atticus Finch is frowned upon for even daring to represent Tom in the trial. Atticus refuses to accept this and takes on the case: “ If I didn’t, I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again”. He also says: “Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”.
…It is important to the text as a whole because it helps develop the book’s most important theme.
What the trial tells us about the setting of Maycomb…
Maycomb is a town rife with prejudice, despite appearing very moral and upstanding.
Miss Caroline tells her class that in America they, “don’t believe in persecuting anybody”, but after the trial Scout hears her say that the verdict was the right result because it was time somebody “taught ‘em a lesson” (the black townsfolk) and “they were getting’ way above themselves. This is typical of Maycomb’s hypocrisy.
Even someone as powerful and seemingly fair as the judge in the courthouse is terribly prejudiced. When Tom is being questioned and he says he felt sorry for Mayella Ewell the judge is outraged that a black man would dare to act as though he was equal to a white woman: “You felt sorry for her.”
…It is important to the text as a whole because it helps us to see how prejudiced and backward looking places like Maycomb could be.
What the trial tells us about the character of Atticus…
He is a man of principle and good conscience. When he takes on Tom’s case he does it because: “before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”.
He is deeply respected by the black community. We know this because after he has defended Tom Robinson so well during the trial (he proves Tom is innocent but the racist jury still find him guilty) the galleries full of black townsfolk stand up and applaud: “Miss Jean Louise (Scout’s real name), stand up. Your father’s passin’”.
He is non-violent.When Bob Ewell spits on him in the street after the trial, because he has been made to look a fool, instead of reacting he walks away saying: “I wish – Bob Ewell wouldn’t chew tobacco.”
He is courageous. He stands up against the town to do what is right, even when they pick on his children and call him and his family: “Nigger lover.”
It is important to the text as a whole because it shows us how morally upright and brave Atticus is.
What the trial tells us about the symbolism of the Mockingbird…
The symbolism of the mockingbird is used because Atticus says they only sing for us, they do not cause any problems. By the same token we should not make good men like Tom and Boo suffer: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”.
It is important to the text as a whole because it helps develop the books most important piece of symbolism – the mockingbird which represents Tom Robinson and Boo Radley.
Novel: To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Incident: Tom Robinson’s trial
Explain again why it is important to the text: It tells us about the theme of prejudice, the setting of Maycomb, the character of Atticus Finch and the symbolism of the Mockingbird.
Explain which techniques you used: theme, setting, character and symbolism