To Kill a Mockingbird Study Guide

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel about Atticus, a lawyer, and his children, Jem and Scout, living in Alabama. Jem and Scout are infatuated with a spooky neighbor, "Boo" Radley, Atticus is defending Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Tom is found guilty by a racist jury and is killed while trying to escape from prison. Bob Ewell, the winner of the case, attacks Jem and Scout to exact revenge but Boo saves them and kills Bob.

Chapter 16 Summary

Brief Summary

The trial begins the day following the incident with the lynch mob.Atticus is tired and frustrated about the case, but mainly about his children. He does not want them as spectators. Aunt Alexandra does not help ease his anxiety. She continues to ridicule the manner in which he raises Scout and Jem as well as the manner in which he relates to Calpurnia. Nearly the entire county has arrived at the courthouse to watch the spectacle. Miss Maudie elects to remain at home, rather than watch Tom lose his fight for his life. Although Scout and Jem are forbidden from heading near the courthouse, they attend the trial and sit in the balcony or colored section of the courthouse.

Detailed Summary

The trial begins the morning following the incident with the lynch mob. That morning, the tension is hovering at the surface between Atticus and Aunt Alexandra. She chastises Atticus for speaking plainly about Mr. Underwood's racism in front of Calpurnia; however, rather than fearing offense, Aunt Alexandra does not want to encourage Calpurnia to gossip among the black community. Tired of his sister's ignorance, Atticus retorts I don't know of any law that says they can't talk. Maybe if we didn't give them so much to talk about they'd be quiet (179). Scout begins questioning Atticus about the lynch mob and how Mr. Walter Cunningham can be their friend. Atticus explains that a lynch mob is made of people and usually people you know. As soon as Atticus leaves for the courthouse, the children see most of the county heading in that direction as well. On one side of the court square stands the white community while on the other side stands the black community with Mr. Dolphus Raymond, a wealthy eccentric whose marriage to a black woman and close ties with the black community have made him an outcast among Maycomb's white gentry. The fact that he has fathered many children with his wife makes him even more suspicious in the white community. Miss Maudie refuses to go, saying that watching someone on trial for his life is as morbid as attending a Roman carnival. Dill, Jem , and Scout are forbidden from attending the trial, but they sneak to the courthouse anyway. Upon arriving at the courthouse, Scout is overwhelmed by the crowd and finds herself separated from Dill and Jem but in the company of the Idlers Club: a group of old men who Atticus claims knows as much about the law as the Chief Justice.

The children wait too long to enter the courthouse after lunch recess ends. They manage to find seats next to Reverend Sykes in the balcony where black people are required to sit in order to watch the trial. They are able to see the entire courtroom from their seats, including the honorable Judge Taylor who presides over the case with his characteristic informal air.

Chapter 17

Brief Summary

The prosecutor, Mr.Gilmer, begins the trial with Sheriff Heck Tate on the stand. He testifies about Mayella Ewell's injuries which he claims are on the right side of her face. Atticus cross examines, mainly with the intention of learning whether a doctor was called. Both Heck and Bob Ewell confirm no doctor was called to the Ewell house after the incident. Atticus attempts to cast doubt on the Ewell story by demonstrating that Bob could have inflicted the injuries on his own daughter. Scout doubts the effectiveness of this strategy because Tom Robinson could easily have been left handed as well.

Detailed Summary

The prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer, opens the trial by asking Sheriff Heck Tate to recount he events of the day in question. The sheriff testifies that on the night of November 21, Bob Ewell insisted that he go to the Ewell house as quickly as possible because some nigger'd raped his daughter (190) Mayella. Heck arrived on the scene to find Maylla on the floor, bruised and beaten. She claimed that Tom Robinson is the one who had hurt her. Atticus cross-examines Heck about whether a doctor was summoned to the Ewells' house after finding Mayella bruised and beaten. Heck admits that no doctor was summoned. Atticus asks Heck on which side of Mayella's face her injuries located in order to confirm that they were located on her right side. Bob Ewell replaces Heck on the stand.

Bob Ewell and his children live behind the town garbage dump in a former slave cabin. The yard was full of trash, only a corner of which is planted with geraniums the town believes are tended by Mayella. Bob testifies that on the fateful November evening he was returning from gathering wood when he heard his daughter screaming. Upon running to the house, he finds Tom Robinson ruttin' on [his] Mayella (196). Bob then claims that Robinson fled before he could reach the front of the house at which point he ran for the sheriff. Atticus' cross-examination is brief and direct: he asks Bob why he did not run for a doctor despite the severity of his daughter's injuries. He then asks Bob to write his name on an envelope; as a result, the court sees that Bob Ewell is left-handed. Scout realizes that Atticus is attempting to provide the jury with a reasonable doubt by presenting Bob as a potential suspect in his daughter's beating. Atticus demonstrated that her injuries were caused by a left handed perpetrator; Bob Ewell is left handed.

Chapters 16-17 Analysis

Lee makes the trial one of the most dramatic sequences of the novel and uses seven chapters to complete it. Although Tom Robinson stands as the accused, Maycomb County is actually on trial. In Chapter 16, the reader should note the odd and disturbing yet comical procession of spectators heading to the courthouse. Everyone in town is going to Tom fight an unfair fight for his life. There is a group of Mennonite women driven by a bearded man; Mr. X Billups, an illiterate man who has had prior trouble with the law; and the foot-washing Baptists who point to Miss Maudie's home and damn her to hell for her supposedly blasphemous lifestyle. The interesting aspect about this procession is that each citizen has a secret or flaw that makes them less than qualified to pass judgment on one of their peers. However, and Lee demonstrates this with subtlety, these same people are able to pass judgment on a black man unjustly accused of rape. The point is clear; Maycomb neither views Tom as a peer nor as a potentially innocent man. The trial is for show, a mere spectacle for the towns' folk so that they can 1) maintain the illusion that they area fair and just people and 2) to feed to the towns' folk voyeuristic desires for real life entertainment. Instead of using the typical lynching party to explore the contradictions inherent to southern towns such as Maycomb, Lee uses the trial as a similar symbol of such local entertainment.

The courtroom becomes a microcosm of Maycomb proper; the black community sits in the balcony out of the view of the white community. This mimics life outside the courtroom in that the black community is hidden from main stream society and only acknowledged when necessary or when the law is involved. Lee emphasizes her points with Atticus' cross examination of Bob Ewell. Bob proves himself to be an ignorant man, both intellectually and culturaly; however, his lies are valued more than the truth offered by Tom Robinson. Blackness is feared and hates so much that neither the Sheriff nor the law can protect Tom Robinson from the anger the town feels for his alleged crime. The reader must wonder if either the Sheriff or the court has any interest in protecting Tom's virtually non existent rights.

The reader should also not that the children are sitting in the colored section of the courthouse, and Miss Maudie refuses to attend the trial at all. By locating these three outside the mainstream of Maycomb physically and mentally, Lee is establishing a new level of stratification that has more to do with one's personal principles and convictions than skin color or socioeconomic background. All three lack the racism that the crowd of white faces in the courtroom propagates. Miss Maudie, Jem, Scout, and Dill are segregated from their peers just as Maycomb's black community is segregated from its white counterpart.


Interestingly, Atticus becomes more like the children towards the end of his cross examination; he relies on the natural intelligence and understanding of the jury and general spectators when he raises the issue of Bob Ewell spelling his name. Unfortunately, the town is prepared to send an innocent black man to jail.

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