What do the trial scenes in “To Kill a Mockingbird” reveal to us about the nature of prejudice and how it has affected the inhabitants of Maycomb at the time the book is set.
“To Kill a Mocking Bird” is a novel by Harper Lee which explores the institutionalised prejudice in a town called Maycomb in southern Alabama. The novel is set during the Great Depression in the 1930’s. It is based around the trial of Tom Robinson, a Negro man falsely accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. Atticus Finch, a lawyer and one of Lee’s main characters decides to defend Robinson even though he is likely to be found guilty because of the prejudice instilled in the inhabitants of Maycomb. The events in the book are seen through the eyes of Finches daughter, Jean-Louise Finch, more commonly known as Scout. This allows us to see the towns peoples prejudice through the eyes of an innocent child. This essay will look at the trial scenes and how they show the prejudice of the inhabitants of Maycomb.
One example of prejudice is the way Mayella’s lawyer, Mr Gilmer speaks to Robinson during the trial. Gilmer calls Robinson “boy” and asks him questions where the answer is implied “Had your eye on her a long time, hadn’t you boy?” and “Strong enough to choke the breath out of a woman” He also uses the term “nigger” in the courtroom during the trial “What’d the nigger look like” Gilmer’s attitude shows that the prejudice in Maycomb is so strong that black people don’t get a fair trial.
Heck Tate, the town sheriff shows his prejudice by arresting Robinson without any evidence. When Bob calls Tate he arrives at Bobs house half an hour after the rape supposedly took place, and although he didn’t see it happen and doesn’t call for a doctor to check Mayella he still arrests Robison and testifies against him. This shows his prejudice as he believes the likes of Bob Ewell over Robinson because of skin colour.
The Ewell family lived “behind the town garbage dump” near the Negro settlement. Their garden is described as “the playhouse of an insane child”. Mayella Ewell tried to seduce Robinson but he resisted. Mayella’s father Bob Ewell came into the house and saw what Mayella was doing. Bob got angry and Robinson ran away. Bob then called the sheriff, Heck Tate and accused Robinson of raping Mayella. Atticus says he feels sorry for Mayella, but not so much that he can condone her “putting a man’s life at stake, which she has done in an effort to get rid of her own guilt.” This shows prejudice because Mayella is so ashamed of herself for trying to seduce a black man she goes along with her father’s story and has Robinson arrested so she doesn’t have to live with her guilt. This also shows the town peoples prejudice because they would believe the dirty, antisocial Bob Ewell over Robinson because “if scrubbed with lye soap in very hot water, his skin was white”. Bob is also very prejudice as he gets Robinson arrested even though he didn’t do anything wrong. He is also very disrespectful towards Robinson in court “I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!”
Although Robinson does not show prejudice he knows that the inhabitants of Maycomb will, as even though Mayella came onto him, nobody would believe him because he was black. When Finch asks him why he was scared and ran he replied “Mr Finch, if you was a nigger like me you’d be scared, too” The people watching the trial in the court show their prejudice because when Robinson says “I felt right sorry for her” they misunderstand him and think that he is taking pity on her which would mean that he thinks he is “better” than her, and they don’t see how a black person could be “better” than a white person, even a Ewell.
Lee shows how the town’s prejudice affects Dill, a friend of Scouts, and Dolphus Raymond, a man who has black wife and mixed raced kids who drinks out of a paper bag and pretends to act drunk. Black people won’t accept is family because they are half white, and white people won’t accept them because they are half black “Coloured folks won’t have em because they’re half white – white folks won’t have them because they’re coloured. During the trial scenes Dill starts crying over the way Gilmer is cross examining Robison and says he has to leave because “the way he said it made me sick” While the children are outside they come across Dolphus Raymond. He lives on the outskirts of town and has a black wife and mixed raced children.
He offered Dill a drink from his paper sack to calm him down. Scout thought that he was giving Dill whiskey, but it was just Coca-Cola. Raymond tells the kids “that’s all I drink” he pretends to act drunk when all he actually drinks is Coca-Cola. He says he acts drunk because “some folks don’t – like the way I live” When the children ask why he needs to act drunk so people leave him alone he says” it helps folks if they can latch onto a reason” This shows that Maycomb’s inhabitants will be prejudice towards Raymond because he has a black family, and they’ll only leave him alone if they think “Raymond’s in the clutches of whiskey – that’s why he won’t change his ways.” Raymond also says “they could never, never understand that I live like I do that’s the way I want to live.” This shows peoples prejudice because it means they can’t understand how someone could like living with black people.
Atticus sums up the court case by saying “the state has not produced one iota of medical evidence.” He tells the jury that the case is “as simple as black and white”, meaning it is obvious who is telling the truth, and who is lying. He says that in the courts “all men are created equal”. Telling people to put aside their prejudices and look at the fact that not only has “two witnesses whose evidence has not only been called into serious question” but also “has been flatly contradicted by the defendant.” Here he is saying the Ewells are not to be trusted because of the holes in their story. Despite Finch’s speech the jury are unable to overlook their deeply ingrained prejudice, and find Robinson guilty. The trial did have some effect on them though because they took a few hours to decide a verdict, whereas normally they would have said any black man was guilty.