Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapters
Atticus calls Tom to the stand and he tells that Mayella often asked him
to help her with different things. On the evening in question, she had asked
to him to fix a door. When he looked at the door he saw that there was nothing
wrong with it. Then she asked him to get something for her from the top of
the dresser. As he was standing on the ladder, Mayella grabbed his legs and
he was caught off balance. He fell down and Mayella then put her arms around
his waist and tried to kiss him. Just then Bob Ewell came in calling her a
whore and started to hit her. At that point Tom ran out of the house.
The persecutor then cross-examines Tom and brings to light a previous problem
that Tom had had with the law. He also accuses Tom of lying to conceal his
obvious guilt and gets him to admit that even though one arm was useless,
he still had enough strength with his other arm to overpower a girl and rape
her. When Mr. Gilmore asks Tom why he ran away, Tom said that he was afraid
of being tried in court, not for what he did, but for what he didn't do.
A recess is called and as they take a break from the trial, Scout and Dill
get to know Dolphus
Raymond better. He is thought to be a town drunk, looked badly upon for being
a white man that married a black woman. As it turns out, he isn't drunk after
all. He merely uses it as a cover-up, so that he doesn't have to answer
questions about his life.
Afterwards, Scout and Jem reenter the courtroom and listen to Atticus's closing
statements in the trial. He points out that since no doctor had been called
to examine Mayella, there was no clear evidence that she was raped. Atticus
appeals to the jury to look at the evidence and to remember that the courtroom
is America's great "leveler".
Atticus has just finished his speech when Calpurnia appears in the courtroom
with a note from Aunt Alexandra. Atticus reads the note and realizes that
Jem and Scout were in the courtroom and had witnessed the trial. He tells
them that they would have to go home for dinner but gives them permission
to return to hear the verdict.
The jury is out a long time and Jem is certain that Tom will be found innocent.
Finally, after many hours of waiting, the jury returns and to the dismay of
the children, the verdict is guilty. As the people start to leave the courtroom,
the black people in the balcony remain seated and wait for Atticus to leave.
As he starts to walk out, they all stand up out of respect to him.
That night, the children have difficulty falling asleep as they can't understand
how the jury could have missed the obviousness of Tom's innocence. Atticus
and the children discuss the trial, Scout and Aunt Alexandra discuss Walter
Cunningham, and Jem and Scout discuss class distinctions.
But the episode was not yet closed. Bob Ewell's anger still smoldered. Atticus
Finch had made a fool of him, and he publicly vowed revenge.
As Scout suffers through one of her Aunt's missionary circle affairs, Atticus
returns home with the news that Tom Robinson has been killed as he tried to
escape from jail. Though Atticus tried to describe that they would probably
win when the case was appealed to a higher court, Tom was left without hope.
He brings the news to Tom's family, who reacts as can be expected. Tom was
killed while trying to escape, but he knew he never had a chance.
Tom's testimony clearly shows Mayella's lonely situation and actually embarrasses
the Ewells. He tells the court that Mayella asked him to kiss her saying,
"what her papa do to her don't count." This informs the whole town
that Bob Ewell sexually abuses his daughter. Tom is also very careful in the
way he speaks and never directly accuses Mayella of lying. He accepts the
rules set by the community and maintains a subservient attitude, constantly
saying that "she's mistaken in her mind".
During his closing argument, Atticus does not judge Mayella's
behavior, but simply states that "she has merely broken a rigid and time-honored
code of our society, a code so sever that whoever breaks it is hounded from
our midst as unfit to live with ...What did she do? She tempted a Negro."
As he points out, Mayella wants to protect herself by placing her guilt onto
Tom, knowing that her actions will bring about his death because the jury
will believe her and not him. Thus she manipulates the unfairness of her society
toward her own ends.
Later it becomes apparent that Atticus doesn't really believe that the jury
will set Tom free, even though he does hope that they will, as evidenced by
the way he says "In the name of God, believe him," under his breath at the
end of his speech. All he can hope for is to leave an impression upon the
town by exposing the truth for all to see.
This speech is one of the most famous speeches in a novel of all time. Atticus
emphasizes that he does not believe in complete equality: Some people may
be born richer, or smarter, or with more talent than their fellow human beings.
But there is one kind of equality that he does believe in very much--equality
under the law. For this reason, he asks the jurors to do the right thing and
find Tom Robinson innocent.
The children are extremely disappointed when the jury comes back with a guilty
verdict. Jem can't understand how this can happen and Atticus shocks him further
with his comment that "when it's a white man's word against a black man's,
the white man always wins." He is in fact so deeply upset by the results
of the trial, that his previously good opinion of the people of Maycomb (and
people in general) has been altered.
Immediately after the trial, Atticus seems to lose his usual composure, but
he quickly regains his calm when he begins talking about the chance for an
Jem is the most upset of anyone because he had convinced himself that Tom
had a chance to win. There is no doubt in Jem's mind who is responsible for
Tom's fate. He blames the jurors. Aunt Alexandra s shocked when Atticus comments
that he is glad the children saw the trial because what happened to Tom Robinson
is as much a part of Maycomb. Dill has already started to look for ways to
put the the verdict out of his mind. He tells Jem and Scout that he wants
to be a clown when he grows up, because "There ain't one thing in this
world I can do about folks except laugh....." Miss Maudie's reaction
may be the most interesting of all. She tells Jem and Scout that their father
is one of those people who "do our unpleasant jobs for us."
She points out to them that Atticus was given the case intentionally because
Judge Taylor felt that he was the best lawyer to call attention to the issue
of race prejudice in the community. The children sense that the trial has
affected their lives in many ways, and that they realize that as they get
older they will do whatever they possibly can to help achieve fairness and
equality for all.
Bob Ewell has promised that he will get revenge on Atticus if it takes "the
rest of his life."
Jem and Atticus' discussion of the validity of jury trials shows that for
the most part Atticus believes in the system, even though he is fully aware
of the fallacies that exist. He explains that one such fallacy is that some
people who serve on a jury are afraid to reveal their opinions because they
are too concerned with what people might think of them. As a result they might
vote contrary to what they believe and the verdict might result in being unjust.
Chapter 24 depicts the life style of the women society in Maycomb.
Scout joins the women in their little get-together. They drink a lot of tea.
In the middle of the tea, Atticus arrives home unexpectedly. Out in the kitchen,
where the guests cannot hear him, he tells Alexandra and Scout some bad news:
Tom Robinson has been killed trying to escape from prison.
The ending of the chapter is a bit surprising. Alexandra is
genuinely upset by the news, yet insists that she and Scout go back to entertain
the guests, and carry on as if nothing had happened. It is not clear whether
Aunt Alexandra is concerned that the black community might rise up in protest
over what happened to Tom, or whether she was truly moved by the occurrence.