To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 17: Summary and Analysis

Avery Gordon, Molly Richards
  • Author
    Avery Gordon

    Avery Gordon has experience working in the education space both in and outside of the classroom. He has served as a social studies teacher and has created content for Ohio's Historical Society. He has a bachelor's degree in history from The Ohio State University.

  • Instructor
    Molly Richards

    Molly has ten years of middle school teaching experience and two master's degrees in teaching.

Explore the To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 17 summary. Learn about Tom Robinson's trial, and read the quotes from Chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird. Updated: 02/16/2022

Table of Contents


Chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird has become a staple in American literary education. This Pulitzer prize-winning classic written by Harper Lee tells the story of Scout Finch and her experiences growing up in Depression-era small town Alabama. It is used in schools across the country because of its thoughtful exploration of prejudice and social injustice. Scout and her brother Jem must face the loss of childhood innocence as they experience the hatred of their neighbors when their father Atticus, a lawyer, decides to represent Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird

Chapter 16 sets the stage for the beginning of the trial. The small town of Maycomb is overrun with people from across the county who have come to bear witness. Scout, Jem, and their friend Dill hide in the crowd so that Atticus will not notice them. They go up into the balcony where members of the Black community are relegated. Chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird covers the first two witnesses of the trial; Sheriff Heck Tate and Bob Ewell, father of the alleged victim.

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To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 17 Summary

Chapter 17 takes place in the Maycomb Courtroom. The trial is set to begin and the first witness, Sheriff Heck Tate, is called by the prosecution to testify. Tate gives his recounting of the night of November 21, when the alleged rape occurred. He tells the prosecution that he had been asked by Bob Ewell to come out to the Ewell house. When he arrived Bob told him of the rape. Tate examined Mayella, Bob's daughter. Tate explains that she was pretty badly beaten up. When Tate is turned over to Atticus for cross examination, Atticus first asks the Sheriff if a doctor was called, to which he replied "no." Atticus then makes a point to ask Sheriff Tate to describe her injuries. When he mentions a black eye, Atticus asks him which eye. The Sheriff replies that it was the right eye and that the whole right side of her face was bruised.

Atticus and Tom Robinson in court from the film To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Atticus and Tom

The next witness called to testify is Bob Ewell, Mayella's father. The prosecution has him recount his side of the story. The critical part of testimony comes during Atticus' cross-examination. He asks Ewell if he agrees with Sheriff Tate's description of Mayella's injuries. Bob answers that he does. Atticus then asks Bob to write his name for the court. Bob writes his name with his left hand. Atticus is trying to prove that it was actually Bob that hit his daughter, not Tom. If Mayella was bruised on her right side, then it would have to have come from a left-handed punch.

Jem is excited, thinking his father has gotten the evidence he needs to prove Tom's innocence. Scout knows what her father is doing, as she recognizes that Atticus is trying to prove that Bob could have beaten Mayella. Despite the evidence, she doesn't share Jem's enthusiasm, thinking that Bob being left handed doesn't prove anything, because Tom could be as well. What Scout doesn't yet know is that Tom's left hand was severely crippled in his youth by an accident with a cotton gin. He couldn't have hit Mayella with it.

Analysis of the Trial in Chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird

In chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Bob Ewell represents the white supremacy of Maycomb. Scout describes him as dirty, poor, and uneducated. She says that houses in the Black neighborhood are more well-maintained than the Ewells'. Despite that, Bob comes into the courtroom with an air of superiority. He acts proud because even though he is considered a lowly nobody in Maycomb, he still has power over Tom Robinson. The society of the south in the 1930s elevates the lowliest white man above any Black person. Bob tries to use this to garner sympathy with the jury when he theatrically accuses Tom of raping his daughter. The judge recognizes what Bob is doing and asks him to knock it off.

To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 17 Quotes

The following is a list of important To Kill a Mockingbird chapter 17 quotes.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Scout nervous at the end of Chapter 17?

Scout is nervous because she isn't sure her father's argument will be enough to prove Tom's innocence. She thinks that it could still be supposed that Tom hit Mayella with his own left hand.

What characters are in Chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

The main characters in Chapter 17 include Scout Finch, Jem Finch, Atticus Finch, Bob Ewell, Heck Tate, and the Judge. A few minor characters also are present.

What is the conflict in To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 17?

The conflict in chapter 17 of to Kill a Mockingbird is the trial of Tom Robinson. In larger sense the conflict could be described as Atticus against the white supremacy in Maycomb.

Where does Chapter 17 open in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird opens in the Maycomb courtroom. It is the beginning of the trial of Tom Robinson.

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