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To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 23 Summary

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

Despite the guilty verdict in Tom Robinson's trial, emotions are still running high in Maycomb County. In this chapter, Jem and Scout continue to try and come to terms with the trial as they learn about prejudice in their society. Read a summary of Chapter 23, then test yourself.

Background

Despite the guilty verdict, the effects of the trial linger. At the end of chapter 22, we learned that Bob Ewell confronted and threatened Atticus.

Atticus Tries to Explain

Chapter 23 opens with Atticus stating he wishes Bob did not chew tobacco, but he will not say any more. Miss Stephanie Crawford, who had originally reported the news in the previous chapter, happily elaborates on the confrontation. Bob spat in Atticus's eye outside the post office before calling him names and threatening him. Despite Bob's taunting, Atticus maintained calm silence and walked away.

Atticus does not take Bob's threat to heart. However, Jem and Scout are worried that Bob will attack their father, and they want him to arm himself. Scout remembers that Atticus is a good shooter, but Jem points out that Atticus does not believe in carrying guns. Brainstorming ways they could convince Atticus he needs to protect himself, Dill suggests they could argue they would starve if Bob killed Atticus. Jem proposes Scout crying and throwing a fit might work. Neither plan succeeds in convincing Atticus he is in danger.

Atticus realizes the children truly are scared when they lose interest in their normal games, hobbies, and food. One evening, he tries to get Jem excited with a football magazine. When Jem does not show much interest, Atticus asks what is wrong. Jem quickly tells him they are scared of Bob Ewell, and they believe Atticus should 'do something about him.'

Atticus asks his children to try and see things from Bob's point of view. He explains that Bob is angry because Atticus showed in court that Bob and Mayella were lying. Atticus also accused Bob in court of beating Mayella, which is something everyone suspects Bob does to all of his children when he is angry. Atticus claims that if he saved Mayella, or one of the other children, from a beating, he is glad to be the recipient of Bob's anger. Aunt Alexandra still thinks they should be wary. Despite her warning that Bob may do 'something furtive,' Atticus reassures the children that Bob got all his anger out.

An Evening Talking About the Law

The children resume their normal summer activities. Atticus assures them that Tom has a chance of going free or getting a new trial. One night, Scout asks what will happen if Tom loses his appeal. Atticus tells her he will be executed in the chair, but that it's not time to worry yet. Jem interjects that it is wrong for Tom to get the death penalty when he did not kill anybody.

Atticus reminds him that Alabama holds rape as a capital offense, but Jem argues the jury could have given a different sentence. Atticus points out that Tom is a black man, and any jury in their region is going to give 'either a straight acquittal or nothing.' However, he does believe more than circumstantial evidence should be required for a conviction. Though the law says there should be 'reasonable doubt,' Atticus believes 'a defendant's entitled to the shadow of a doubt.' Jem exclaims this means it comes back to the jury, and maybe they should do away with them.

Amused by Jem's outburst, Atticus still insists the better way would be to change the law. He cautions that it will be hard, and Jem might be an old man by the time it changes. Jem is skeptical, and continues to focus on the jury. Atticus tells them the men on Tom's jury are 'reasonable men in everyday life.' He points out the fact that racism makes men lose their reason.

Atticus notes that race tips the balance in a court of law, which is a place where everyone should be equal. From this observation, he segues into expressing his belief that anytime a white man cheats a black man, no matter the white man's money or history, 'that white man is trash.' He insists that there is 'nothing more sickening to me than a low-grade white man who'll take advantage of a Negro's ignorance.'

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