To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 20 Summary

Instructor: Abigail Walker

Abigail has taught writing and literature at various universities. She has an M.A. In literature from American University and an M.F.A. in English from The University of Iowa.

In Chapter 20 of Harper Lee's ''To Kill a Mockingbird'', Scout Finch learns the extent to which adults tell lies. First, she discovers that one of Maycomb's richest citizens has been deceiving others in the town, and then she hears that Tom Robinson, the man her father is defending, has been falsely accused.

An Unusual Deception

Seeing that Dill has an upset stomach, a wealthy man named Dolphus Raymond offers the boy something to drink. Scout believes that Dolphus is 'sinful.' He has fathered children with an African-American woman who is not his wife, and he always walks around drinking from a paper bag. Now he is offering this bag to Dill, who has gotten sick after watching the prosecutor Mr. Gilmer cross-examine Tom Robinson.

'Dill, you watch out, now,' Scout warns Dill. But Dill takes a sip anyway, explaining afterward that it is just Coca-Cola. Scout is amazed, and asks him why he lets people believe he is always drunk. He responds:

'Some folks don't--like the way I live. Now I could say the hell with 'em, I don't care if they don't like it. I do say I don't care if they don't like it, right enough-- but I don't say the hell with 'em, see?'

When Scout and Jem indicate that they understand, Dolphus goes on to explain that people need 'a reason' for not liking him, and so he gives them one: his apparent drunkenness.

Scout points out that he is being dishonest. He concedes that he is, but adds, 'you see they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that's the way I want to live.' Dolphus then goes on to remark that once Dill is older, he will see things that are not as he might like, but he will not cry about 'the hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they're people, too.'

Considering Dolphus' words, Scout responds that Atticus believes it is much better to cheat a white person than an African American. Dolphus tells her that Atticus is different from other men--an idea that makes her realize that she is missing the end of the cross-examination by Mr. Gilmer, the prosecutor.

Words to the Jury

Actually, the prosecutor has finished, as Scout realizes when she and Dill get back to the courtroom. Atticus is now calmly speaking and the jury looks at him approvingly. Then Atticus, after being granted the 'court's permission,' startles Scout by removing his jacket--something he never does until late at night.

Now, standing without his jacket in front of the jury, Atticus speaks at length about discrimination and about the lack of credible evidence against Tom Robinson. Tom is not guilty, Atticus explains; Mayella is: 'she kissed a black man.' Her father apparently saw Tom and his daughter together and flew into a rage, violently attacking Mayella. Atticus argues that it was her father and not Tom who beat Mayella because Tom Robinson's right arm is useless as a result of a cotton gin accident years before.

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