To Kill a Mockingbird By Harper Lee Summary and Analysis Part 2: Chapters 21-23

Summary

Calpurnia brings a note telling Atticus that Scout and Jem are missing, which causes him great concern until Mr. Underwood tells him that the children are in the courtroom — in the Colored balcony. Calpurnia scolds the children all the way home, but Atticus says that they can return to hear the jury's verdict.

Jem is convinced that the jury will acquit Tom Robinson after the evidence Atticus presented. After the verdict, Jem leaves the courtroom stunned, angry, and crying. The African American community loads the Finch family with food for defending Tom so valiantly, which surprises the children because Atticus didn't win. Atticus tells Jem not to be disheartened because he will appeal Tom's case, and they stand a much better chance of winning on appeal. The neighborhood is abuzz with talk of the trial, and Miss Stephanie questions the children relentlessly until Miss Maudie sides with Atticus and puts an end to the discussion.

In the days following the trial, Bob Ewell publicly threatens Atticus, which frightens the children. However, Atticus uses the opportunity to further educate his children on the ways of the world. As they look forward to the appeal, Scout asks if Walter Cunningham can come over to play, which Aunt Alexandra firmly refuses to allow. In the process, Aunt Alexandra hurts Scout's feelings horribly, prompting Jem to guess why Boo Radley chooses to stay inside.

Analysis

In these chapters, Scout and Jem continue to mature as they begin to understand the importance of respect and integrity. From the moment Atticus was assigned to defend Tom, he's been telling the children that he couldn't face them or God if he didn't try to free this man. But as the trial ends, the children gain new insight into their father. Scout is quite surprised when Reverend Skyes makes her stand along with the rest of the balcony as her father passes by. Lee deftly adds to the impact of the respect the African American community has for Atticus by ending a chapter with this action.

The children are bitterly disappointed by the loss, but Miss Maudie helps them see it in a new light when she says, "'I thought, Atticus Finch won't win, he can't win, but he's the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long on a case like that.'" With that, the children begin to understand that in many ways, Atticus's defeat was a major victory.

The importance of respect is further delineated when Atticus tells the children that having a Cunningham on the jury actually helped his case, mainly because Scout earned Walter Cunningham's respect at the jail. And, Atticus changes Jem's definition of bravery, equating it with integrity, by his reaction to being spat on and threatened by Bob Ewell.

Mockingbird symbolism runs throughout these chapters, as well. Scout compares the ominous feeling in the courtroom when the jury returns to "a cold February morning, when the mockingbirds were still." Later, Atticus quietly lectures his children about the evil of white people cheating black people. In this situation, Atticus sees the African American community as a flock of mockingbirds who are only trying to make their way in a world that is often hostile.

Lee addresses the theme of prejudice on several levels in these chapters:

In the courtroom: Jem simply can't understand how the jury could convict Tom, and Atticus shocks him with the revelation that "'when it's a white man's word against a black man's, the white man always wins.'" Atticus further reveals the jury's mindset when he explains why Tom wasn't at least given a lighter sentence.

Jem is so angered by the injustice of Tom's case that he vows to somehow make a difference when he grows up. Atticus' response allows Lee a nod to the modern civil rights movement: "'Don't fool yourselves — it's [white treatment of blacks] all adding up and one of these days we're going to pay the bill for it.'"

In the community: Miss Stephanie is full of questions about why Scout, Jem, and Dill were sitting in the "Colored balcony." Did Atticus plant them there for sympathy? She assumes that the children wouldn't choose to sit with African Americans. Jem is upset again by the community's seeming lack of compassion for Tom until Miss Maudie counsels him that many people in the community besides her and the Finches feel differently: "'Did it ever strike you that Judge Taylor naming Atticus to defend that boy was no accident? That Judge Taylor might have had his reasons for naming him?'"

In the Finch family: Scout is astounded when Aunt Alexandra informs her that she can't invite Walter Cunningham to play at her house "'Because — he — is — trash'" and because "'Finch women aren't interested in that sort of people.'" Jem later explains the real Maycomb caste system to Scout, introducing her to the fact that prejudice exists in whites amongst themselves as much as against people of color. Importantly, Scout ultimately decides for herself that "'there's just one kind of folks. Folks.'" Equally important is Jem's suggestion that she will come to change her mind about that.

Lee also provides a unique perspective on the role of women in these chapters. Admittedly, Atticus is less concerned about women's "place" than any other character in the novel (with the possible exception of Miss Maudie). So although he's somewhat bemused by Scout's reaction to the fact that women in Alabama can't serve on a jury, he's still forced to explain, "'I guess it's to protect our frail ladies from sordid cases like Tom's.'" Curiously, Scout has to laugh when Atticus jokes that female jurors would slow down the judicial process by asking too many questions. Hearing Atticus, who doesn't have preconceived notions about the way that women should behave, say something so silly is likely one source of Scout's laughter. Still, as much as she dislikes women's role in Maycomb society, she is ultimately willing to accept it.

Unlike her brother, Aunt Alexandra is so committed to her feminine duties that she makes woolen rugs, a very hot job, in the dead of summer. The work must be done, women must do it, and comfort doesn't matter. This woman is obsessed with turning Scout into a lady. Jem finally tells Scout that Aunt Alexandra's "'not used to girls,  . . . leastways not girls like you. She's tryin' to make you a lady. Can't you take up sewin' or somethin'?'" Scout's very funny answer confirms her refusal to accept societal expectations at face value. Ironically, though, when the children fear for Atticus after Bob Ewell's threats, Jem entreats Scout to throw a tantrum reasoning "it might work if [she] cried and flung a bit, being young and a girl." When that tactic gets them nowhere, Scout is again validated against using feminine wiles to achieve a goal.

Throughout the novel, Lee has been working on two levels. First, she's trying to expose the injustice in whites' treatment of blacks. Secondly, she subtly questions the ideals of Womanhood. Through Scout, Lee shows how women who don't question their assigned roles are as oppressed as African Americans. Lee is speaking as much in favor of women's liberation as she is civil rights. By posing these questions through a young girl, Lee offers hope for the future. By this point in the story, Scout is clearly not going to accept all the trappings of being a lady. Like Miss Maudie, she will create her own definition of womanhood. Curiously, readers don't meet any other little girls in the story. Perhaps if other girls feel as Scout does, the quiet oppression of women may be nearing an end.

Glossary

salt pork pork cured in salt; esp., fatty pork from the back, side, or belly of a hog.

feral savage; wild.

furtive done or acting in a stealthy manner, as if to hinder observation; surreptitious; stealthy; sneaky.

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