Atticus Finch's Closing Argument in To Kill a Mockingbird

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

Atticus Finch concludes his defense of Tom Robinson by asking the jury to set aside racial prejudice and consider what likely occurred between Tom and Mayella Ewell. Mayella has violated a societal norm by kissing a black man, and she is lying to hide the truth, Atticus says.

Earlier in the Trial

Mayella Ewell, a white woman, has accused a black man named Tom Robinson of raping and beating her. Tom has testified that he had been trying to help Mayella with household chores when she grabbed him and kissed him. Her father arrived, and Tom fled, knowing that trouble would ensue. Atticus Finch argues on Tom's behalf, saying that Mayella is lying and that her father Bob Ewell was the person who beat her. As Atticus Finch's children and their friend Dill watch the trial from the courtroom balcony, Dill becomes physically ill at the prosecutor's words. He and Scout leave the courtroom briefly so that he can recover.

Atticus Addresses the Jury

As Scout and Dill return to their seats in the courtroom, Atticus is midway through his final argument. Jem tells the other children that the only thing they missed was Atticus' review of the evidence. The children notice that Atticus is speaking calmly and quietly to the jury. 'I guess it was because Atticus wasn't a thunderer,' Scout says. Then Atticus does something completely out of character: with the judge's permission, he unbuttons his vest and collar and removes his coat.

As Simple as Black and White

Atticus tells the jury that the evidence in this case is not complicated. 'This case is as simple as black and white,' Atticus says. Atticus shocks the courtroom by claiming that Tom Robinson is not guilty, but someone else in the courtroom is. Atticus goes on to say that the case hinges on Mayella Ewell's feelings of guilt. Mayella is attracted to a black man who has been kind to her, but a white woman cannot be attracted to a black man and expect to be accepted by the white citizens of Maycomb, Atticus says.

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