To Kill a Mockingbird – Chapter 23

Atticus is not worried at all. He does not believe that Ewell will follow through on the threat. He explains to Jem and Scout that Ewell’s credibility had been destroyed at the trial, and the man simply had to take his anger out on somebody. He adds that he would rather have Ewell take it out on him than on Mayella and the other Ewell children. Alexandra disagrees with Atticus about the threat. What are her reasons? In youropinion, should Atticus be taking the threat more seriously?
Alexandra says that the Ewells are the kind of people who would “do anything to pay off a grudge.” When Atticus asks her what Bob Ewell could possibly do to him, she replies, “Something furtive…you may count on that,” implying that Ewell’s revenge will be sneaky and/or unexpected. Opinions will vary on the second part of the question. Alexandra disagrees with Atticus about the threat. What are her reasons? In youropinion, should Atticus be taking the threat more seriously?
Atticus says that once the higher court reviews his case, Tom has a good chance of going free or at least receiving a new trial. According to Atticus, what is optimistic about Tom’s case?
If he is found guilty on appeal, Tom will be sentenced to death. This is because rape is a capital offense in Alabama, carrying a punishment of either death or twenty years to life. As Jem notes, the jury could have given Tom a lighter sentence, but the racial nature of the case provoked them to give the severest punishment possible. As Atticus explains, “Tom Robinson’s a colored man, Jem. No jury in this part of the world’s going to say, ‘We think you’re guilty, but not very,’ on a charge like that.” If Tom is found guilty on appeal, what will his punishment be? Why?
Jem begins by saying he knows Tom’s punishment is not right, but he cannot pinpoint exactly what is wrong. He offers that maybe rape should not be a capital offense in the first place. Atticus responds by saying he has no problem with the rape statute, but he does have “deep misgivings when the state ask[s] for and the jury [gives] a death penalty on purely circumstantial evidence.” He says that, before a person is sentenced to death, there should be eyewitnesses who can testify that they saw the person commit the crime. In the absence of that, there is always “the shadow of a doubt…the possibility, no matter how improbable, that he’s innocent.” Jem observes that it all goes back to the jury for condemning a man on mere circumstantial evidence. He concludes that the system should “do away with juries.” Atticus disagrees, offering what he believes is a better way: “Change the law. Change it so that only judges have the power of fixing the penalty in capital cases.” Jem and Atticus converse about some of the obvious problems with the legal system.Briefly summarize their discussion. What are Jem’s major points, and how does Atticusaddress them?
Atticus has just been telling Jem that many white people cheat black people every day. In saying, “one of these days we’re going to pay the bill for it,” he means that sooner or later the white population will have to pay for the mounting injustices it has committed against the black population. What does Atticus mean when he says, “…it’s all adding up and one of these days we’re going to pay the bill for it”? To what is he referring?
Atticus says that many Maycomb citizens simply are not interested in serving on a jury. In addition, they fear retribution from their fellow citizens. To explain this to Jem and Scout, Atticus provides the following example: “Well, what if—say, Mr. Link Deas had to decide the amount of damages to award, say, Miss Maudie, when Miss Rachel ran over her with a car. Link wouldn’t like the thought of losing either lady’s business at his store…so he tells Judge Taylor that he can’t serve on the jury because he doesn’t have anybody to keep store for him while he’s gone.” Finally, Atticus says, “Serving on a jury forces a man to make up his mind and declare himself about something. Men don’t like to do that. Sometimes it’s unpleasant.” According to Atticus, what are three reasons why many Maycomb citizens do not want to serve on a jury? Summarize the example he uses to illustrate one of these reasons.
He says that one of the jurors held out for a long time. In fact, this juror had been “rarin’ for an outright acquittal.” This is surprising in itself, but even more shocking is the fact that this juror was of the Cunningham clan, many of whom were among the angry mob at the jail on the night of the thwarted lynching. Atticus tells Jem that once a person earns the respect of a Cunningham, the whole clan becomes fiercely loyal to that person. He adds that when the Cunninghams left the jail that night, he had a feeling that they left with a great degree of respect for the Finch family. Notably, if there had been just one more juror to hold out like the Cunningham man did, the trial would have ended with a hung jury. Atticus says that the fact that the jury took so long to reach a verdict may indicate “the shadow of a beginning.” What does he tell Jem and Scout about one of the jurors?
Scout plans to invite Walter Cunningham home for dinner. She even mentions that maybe he can stay over sometimes after school. Aunt Alexandra once again shows her intolerance for people whom she believes are lower in class than the Finches. She begins by saying that the Cunninghams are good folks but “not our kind of folks.” After much questioning by Scout about why she cannot play with Walter Cunningham, Alexandra finally reveals the depth of her prejudice and narrow-mindedness: “I’ll tell you why…Because—he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with him. I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what. You’re enough of a problem to your father as it is.” When Scout learns about the Cunningham juror, what does she declare she will do as soon as school starts? What is Aunt Alexandra’s response?
Jem is undergoing several physical changes as he matures. Scout notices that his eyebrows have become heavier, his body is slimmer, and he is growing taller. When he brings Scout into his room, he lifts his shirt to show her the beginnings of hair growth on his chest. He adds that he has hair under his arms now, too. What physical signs indicate that Jem is growing up? For example, what does he show to Scout when he brings her into his room?
Scout says she knows that Aunt Alexandra does not like her, and she does not care. She also knows that she is not a problem to Atticus, so that cruel remark did not bother her. What upset her was that Aunt Alexandra had called Walter Cunningham “trash.” Scout explains to Jem what Aunt Alexandra said that caused her to cry. What was it that upset her more than anything else?
He says that there are four kinds of people in the world: “There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes.” He goes on to explain, “…our kind of folks don’t like the Cunninghams, the Cunninghams don’t like the Ewells, and the Ewells hate and despise the colored folks.” How does Jem describe the social hierarchy in Maycomb?
Jem theorizes that the difference has something to do with the ability to read and write.According to him, “background” does not mean how long a family has been around. Instead, “it’s how long your family’s been readin’ and writin’.” He concludes that the Finches and the Cunninghams are different because “We’ve just been readin’ and writin’ longer’n they have.”Scout disagrees, wisely reasoning that background cannot be the ability to read and writebecause these things must be learned: “No, everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowin’.That Walter’s as smart as he can be, he just gets held back sometimes because he has to stay out and help his daddy. Nothin’s wrong with him. Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” Scout’s response exemplifies the antithesis of racism and/or classism: the idea that people are just people and that no one is inherently different from anyone else. Jem talks about “background” to explain how the Finches are different from the Cunninghams. How does he define “background”? What is Scout’s response to his theory?
Jem cynically decides that Boo Radley stays in his house because he does not want to come out. He comes to this conclusion because he is frustrated and disillusioned by the way people treat one another: “If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?…I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time…it’s because he wants to stay inside.” At the end of the chapter, what conclusion does Jem draw about Boo Radley? What leads him to this conclusion?

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