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To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 21 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.

Chapter 21 of Harper Lee's ''To Kill a Mockingbird'' reveals the jury's verdict in the case against Tom Robinson. While Jem never loses confidence that the jury will ultimately free Tom Robinson, others in the courtroom are far less optimistic regarding Tom Robinson's fate.

A Dinner Break

Calpurnia timidly approaches the judge. When he acknowledges her, she asks if she can give Atticus a message. After the judge agrees, she hands Atticus a piece of paper that explains that his children have disappeared from home. Atticus shares this information with the judge, and suddenly a man jumps up. 'I know where they are, Atticus' the man says, 'They're right up yonder,' and he motions up to the balcony where the African Americans are seated.

When Atticus asks his son to come down from the balcony, both Jem and Scout obey. Although Calpurnia seems angry and Atticus appears to be very tired, Jem is full of enthusiasm and energy--he says he believes that Atticus has successfully defended Tom Robinson. Atticus, though, is not certain that he has swayed the jury. He wants his children to go home with Calpurnia to eat dinner.

'Aw, Atticus, let us come back,' Jem begs. 'Please let us hear the verdict, please sir.' The children can see that Atticus is giving in to Jem. He tells them that they have to go home for dinner, but they can come back--though he warns them that the jury may already have made a decision by then. 'You think the jury will acquit him that fast?' Jem says, referring to the fate of Tom Robinson. Atticus does not answer, and Calpurnia propels Jem and Scout home.

'Mister Jem, don't you know better'n to take your little sister to that trial?' Calpurnia lashes out, and adds that their Aunt Alexandra will be extremely upset when she learns they have been in the courtroom. As it happens, Aunt Alexandra is indeed unhappy to learn they have been in court--and she is extremely displeased that they will return after supper.

The Verdict

When they go back to court, Scout and Jem learn that the jury has left the courtroom to deliberate. While they wait for the jury, Jem and Reverend Sykes, who are sitting next to each other, discuss the trial. After relating that Mr. Gilmer's closing arguments for the prosecution seemed relatively fair, Reverend Sykes is distressed to hear Jem express his optimism that the defense will prevail. Reverend Sykes tells him, 'Now don't you be so confident, Mr. Jem, I ain't ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man...'

Jem is not deterred. He presents his understanding of rape laws, pointing out that what happened between Tom and Mayella did not fit the criteria for rape. Listening to Jem, Reverend Sykes reminds the boy that the subject is not something to discuss in front of Scout. Jem explains that Scout does not understand what they are discussing. Scout, however, assures her brother and Reverend Sykes that she understands everything they have said. Jem falls silent.

The minutes pass. A hush comes over the courtroom, save for the occasional whimpering of a baby, and Scout dozes off. After she wakes up, the jury comes back into the courtroom, and the judge asks the verdict.

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