To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, is one of the most famous and classic pieces of literature today. The novel depicts a society in which black people and white people are segregated; racism is alive in this society and in the jury that will sentence an innocent black slave, Tom Robinson, to death for a crime he did not commit. Atticus Finch, the lawyer that will defend Robinson in court, will clearly display evidence to the people of Maycomb county and to the jury, that will prove Robinson’s innocence. He will give factual evidence that proves that Robinson is innocent, and the man who is attempting to falsely accuse him is, in fact, the culprit. However, in this racist society, the jury will choose to put their biases above the facts, and find Tom Robinson guilty. The question is this: how can we believe in justice and the goodness of humanity when human’s do things such as condemn other humans based solely off the color of their skin and not their character?
In Harper’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Atticus Finch, a white lawyer, will defend a black slave, Tom Robinson, in court. Tom Robinson has been accused of raping and abusing a white woman, Mayella Ewell, and Mr. Finch is determined to prove his innocence. According to Miss Ewell and the two witnesses, (her father, Robert Ewell, and the sheriff, Heck Tate), Mayella was witness being raped by Tom Robinson. After rushing to help Miss Ewell, Mr. Ewell was said to have chased after Mr. Robinson and Sheriff Tate examined Miss Ewell to find her with a black eye and bruises covering around her neck and face. After asking both witnesses if they had called a doctor after finding Mayella in her abused condition, Sheriff Tate and Mr. Ewell claim that there was no reason to because there was “no need to” because they’d already seen what had happened (Lee, pg. 51). Upon asking what evidence the Sheriff had before arresting Mr. Robinson, Tate says, “—asked her if he beat her like that, she said yes he had. Asked her if he took advantage of her and she said yes he did. So I went down to Robinson’s house and brought him back. She identified him as the one, so I took him in. That’s all there was to it.” (Lee, pg. 51) In questioning the Sheriff about his grounds on arresting Mr. Robinson, it is obvious to the jury and to Atticus that the Sheriff had no real evidence worthy of arresting Tom Robinson. He does not even question Mayella or her father’s word on what happened, and gives Mr. Robinson no time to explain himself. In this society, a white man or woman’s word means more than a black man’s, no questions asked. The injustice in this racist society is not even apparent to its civilians; it is just their way of life.
As Atticus questions Mr. Ewell on the stand about what happened the night his daughter Mayella was allegedly raped and abused by Mr. Robinson, he asks him if he agrees with Sheriff Tate’s testimony about her injuries. Mr. Ewell responds that he defends what the Sheriff said about Mayella’s bruises, that she had bruises and a black eye on “The right side, Mr. Finch, but she had more bruises-” all around her neck (Lee, pg. 48). Atticus then asks Mr. Ewell if he can read and write. After responding that yes, he can, Atticus asks him to sign his name for the jury to see. After doing so, the jury learns that Mr. Ewell is left handed. This is a significant detail, as Mayella’s bruises were on the right side of her face, meaning someone with a left hand must have beaten her. Tom Robinson, is right handed, so it would have been very difficult and unnatural for him to have hit her and made bruises on that side of her face (Lee, pg. 52). This is the first piece of evidence that Atticus gathers and makes apparent for the jury so that he can begin to prove Mr. Robinson’s innocence.
After questioning Sheriff Tate and Mr. Ewell, Mayella Ewell, the victim, is called to the stand. Upon questioning her, Atticus begins to ask her a series of questions about her “attack”. Mayella claims that she screamed and fought against Mr. Robinson as he beats and rapes her, but the evidence defies this. Her younger siblings were said to have been at the dump, a short distance from the house, and closer than the woods that Mr. Ewell could apparently hear her from. Atticus asks, “Why didn’t your screams make them come running? The dump’s closer than the woods, isn’t it?” to which he receives no reply. Then, “Or didn’t you scream until you saw your father in the window? You didn’t think to scream until then, did you?” Again, he receives no reply. Lastly, he asks “What did your father see in the window, the crime of rape or the best defense to it? Why don’t you tell the truth, child, didn’t Bob Ewell beat you up?” Mayella does not respond to this either, but instead explodes in a fit of rage and hurls insults at Atticus and repeats her claims, even though her story has just been severely questioned by Atticus as he has revealed many inconsistencies within it (Lee, pg. 60). At this point, Mayella and Mr. Ewell’s testimony seems to be very inconsistent and questionable. Lastly, Atticus will question the accused, Tom Robinson, about what happened that night.
Tom Robinson tells Atticus and the jury that Mayella would frequently ask him to come up to the house to do tasks for her. On that night, when she asked him to chop up a piece of furniture, she made advances towards him. Being a married man and also knowing the law of the society about black men and white women, Robinson attempted to escape. This is when Mr. Ewell saw what was happening and was heard screaming, “You a goddamn whore, I’ll kill ya” at his daughter (Lee, pg. 68). According to Tom Robinson’s testimony, he was simply trying to escape form Mayella’s advances on him, and harmed her in no way. From Mr. Ewell’s threatening remarks, it is made clear that he must have been the one to inflict the injuries upon his daughter, and lied to protect her from the judgment of the society. Atticus explains this to the jury, when he displays all the evidence he has gathered that undoubtedly proves Robinson’s innocence. Atticus explains to the jury, “She has committed no crime, she has merely broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society, a code so severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our midst as unfit to live with.” He continues, “She was white, and she tempted a Negro. She did something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man.” Calling out the racist code within the society they live in. The code that compelled Mr. Ewell and his daughter Mayella to falsely accuse Tom Robinson of raping his daughter, just to conceal the fact that his daughter was attracted to a black man.
Even after Atticus displayed all of the evidence that undoubtedly proved Tom Robinson’s innocence and revealed the truth of what happened that night, the jury finds Robinson guilty, and is soon after shot seventeen times and killed attempting to escape. Upon reading this novel, the reader must question how someone can do this. How a group of people can ruin a man’s whole life, knowing his innocence, simply to maintain an immoral, racist societal code. The answer is a sad one, but it is that this was a time in America when people truly believed that a person’s skin color meant more than their character. Not only did this society have a racial bias within it, but the Ewell’s had a special place aside the law within this society as well. Earlier in the novel, Atticus tells his children that “the Ewell’s were members of an exclusive society made up of Ewell’s. In certain circumstances the common folk judiciously allowed them certain privileges by the simple method of becoming blind to some of the Ewell’s’ activities. They didn’t have to go to school, for one thing. Another thing, Mr. Bob Ewell, Burris’s father, was permitted to hunt and trap out of season.” (Lee, pg. 7) This is another unjust societal bias that the Maycomb county had lived by, and would stick by in this specific trial. As they were permitted to break other laws without consequence, they would be permitted to blame their own crimes on an innocent black man, simply because he was not white and because he did not fit in the favor of their society.
Upon questioning how we can believe in justice and the ultimate goodness of humanity, I would answer that the difference in society back then in the 1930’s and society nowadays serves as a good example of how evil and injustice will always be purged from a society by the majority of the people who are good by nature. I feel that it is common knowledge that the world is unfair, and that there will always be “bad” people, or people who do horrible things in the name of something they believe in. For example, all over the world, and especially in this country, people discriminated against one another based solely on the color of their skin. Blacks were enslaved for hundreds of years in this country and suffered through storms of unjust behavior towards them. That is, until a large majority of the country joined together, both black and white, and fought for equality and to rid the country of slavery and segregation.
We go to war and kill in the name of what we believe in, and what we think is right, and this cycle will never end. Whether it be conflict over religion, money, race or power, there will always be a force to fight against and always be an opposing side to what people believe in. Those who we think are “bad”, think the same of us and it will be a vicious cycle until the end of time. I believe that we can believe in justice and the goodness of humanity by understanding this and continuing to fight for what we believe is right, and while most things will be a matter of opinion, the situations in which there is a right and a wrong, I believe that the majority of people will fight for what is right.
Lee, Harper E. To Kill a Mockingbird. N.p.: McIntosh and Otis, 1988. Print.
WRITTEN BY: GRACE RILEY