Essay on Importance of the Trial in To Kill a Mockingbird

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Importance of the Trial in To Kill a Mockingbird

The trial of Tom Robinson is central to our understanding of racial and social prejudice in Maycomb. Harper Lee uses Tom Robinson's 'crime' to bring tensions in the town to a head and the author uses the trial as a way of making the ideas behind such tensions explicit for the reader.

The two people involved in the so-called crime, Tom Robinson and Mayella Ewell, are at the very bottom of Maycomb society. Tom is black and Mayella one of the poorest of the poor whites. However, neither of them fits into the stereotypes held by the people of Maycomb. Tom is honest, hardworking and dependable, as Mr Link Deas's shouted testimony and his demeanour in court
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The trial itself provides Harper Lee with the opportunity to examine the attitudes of people like the Ewells and the presumably more respectable members of the jury. Bob Ewell emerges as a drunken, bullying, child-abuser with little respect for the law and even less for truth and justice. But however low in the social order he is, Bob Ewell can still look down on black people. At the beginning of his testimony he complains about a 'nest' of them near him bringing down the property values of his shack by the town dump. Tom's account of Mayella's actions suggests that he may have indulged in some form of incest with his daughter, but the taboo against relationships between white women and black men is so strong that even Bob Ewell is shocked and horrified by it. He responds first by savagely beating his daughter and then by accusing Tom Robinson of rape.

Whatever respect or sympathy the reader might have had for Bob Ewell is dispelled by his behaviour in the courtroom and the evidence that Atticus produces that he was the cause of Mayella's beating. Not only is he a self-righteous bully but he is prepared to sacrifice Tom Robinson's life for his own selfish ends. The reader is more likely to feel sympathy for Mayella as the trial progresses. Her loneliness and need for simple human contact are made painfully evident as Scout comes to understand that she is 'the loneliest

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