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To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24 
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 To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
To Kill a Mockingbird


Please use this thread to discuss Chapters 19 through 24.



Wed Oct 21, 2020 6:26 pm
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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
In Chapter 19, Tom Robinson is on the witness stand. He explains his relationship with Mayella Ewell, arising from walking past their house every day on his way to work and being asked by Mayella to do odd jobs. He knows any physical advances could get him killed. This is all completely believable, whereas the Ewell’s testimony sounds like lies.

The only thing I don’t get is why Mayella in her testimony appeared not to know that Tom had lost a hand.

Scout has the impression Mayella is the loneliest person in the world, with no comprehension of what it might mean to have friends. The Ewells are white trash, ostracised by everyone: “Maycomb gave them Christmas baskets, welfare money, and the back of its hand. Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her.”

Tom’s explanation of the events is that Mayella sent all the children to town, invited him in and hugged and kissed him, saying “she never kissed a grown man before an’ she might as well kiss a nigger. She says what her papa do to her don’t count.” It all appears well planned.

Tom tells the court that when Bob Ewell appeared at the window, “He says you goddamn whore, I’ll kill ya.” At which point Tom ran away: he says “Mr. Finch, if you was a nigger like me, you’d be scared, too.” Mayella had put him in an impossible situation, condemned if he stayed or left.

This is all such a tragedy, combining incest, poverty, racism and injustice.

Bob Ewell can see the relationship with Tom is entirely instigated by his daughter, and the shame requires the sacrifice of the black man as expiating victim, essentially the scapegoat for his own incestuous actions which isolated his daughter and left her with only Tom as a possible relationship.

Tom’s farm employer then stands up and states “I just want the whole lot of you to know one thing right now. That boy’s worked for me eight years an‘ I ain’t had a speck o’trouble outa him. Not a speck.” Which gets him thrown out of the court. The message is that Tom is entirely dignified and honourable. But this is a battle between truth and the deceitful expiation of white supremacy.

The cross examination by the prosecution is typified by the question “Had your eye on her a long time, hadn’t you, boy?”

The underlying theme is that it was a grave error of judgement for Tom Robinson to help out Mayella, an attitude of simple friendly generosity, when there was no one around to see, out of pity for her sad situation. The idea that a black man could feel sorry for a white woman struck the whole audience as an affront to the established order of things.

The kids leave the court while this is going on. Scout explains the problem is that the prosecutor is hateful. The building theme is that blacks in rural Alabama could do nothing to shift the white view of them as sub-human.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
Robert Tulip wrote:
The only thing I don’t get is why Mayella in her testimony appeared not to know that Tom had lost a hand.
I agree. I would say it is a plot hole, and I imagine an editor pointing it out and, after discussing it for hours, concluding that it could not be fixed. Putting the best face on things it could be taken as further evidence that the Ewells assumed they would never have to face any challenge to their story. That things would be taken care of, for example, by the whiskeyed-up farmers who came into town to lynch Robinson.

I would also be surprised if the accused would have been allowed to testify in a typical town of this size in the South. It sets up the dramatic moment when the prosecutor underlines, "You felt sorry for her?" and we know the jury will not accept that, but I suspect it was unrealistic.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Scout has the impression Mayella is the loneliest person in the world, with no comprehension of what it might mean to have friends. The Ewells are white trash, ostracised by everyone: “Maycomb gave them Christmas baskets, welfare money, and the back of its hand. Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her.”
More of Lee's keen insight about the inhumanity at the base of it all. Scout, being young, treats everyone as a person. Most adults are too caught up in their insecurities to be so straightforward or courageous.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Tom’s explanation of the events is that Mayella sent all the children to town, invited him in and hugged and kissed him, saying “she never kissed a grown man before an’ she might as well kiss a nigger. She says what her papa do to her don’t count.” It all appears well planned.
If this had really happened, giving that testimony would have sealed his fate. I have real trouble believing such a thing as this testimony ever happened.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Bob Ewell can see the relationship with Tom is entirely instigated by his daughter, and the shame requires the sacrifice of the black man as expiating victim, essentially the scapegoat for his own incestuous actions which isolated his daughter and left her with only Tom as a possible relationship.
And that scapegoating is the aspect that raises this to the level of archetype, above any serious question about plot holes. It plays out a drama that festers within most people, of guilt and denial of guilt and fear of people's condemnation, of shame and resentment of shame and maybe rage that life does not treat us better.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The underlying theme is that it was a grave error of judgement for Tom Robinson to help out Mayella, an attitude of simple friendly generosity, when there was no one around to see, out of pity for her sad situation. The idea that a black man could feel sorry for a white woman struck the whole audience as an affront to the established order of things.
So kindness and simple human connection are not always a solvent to social ills, and can even be an invitation to trouble. It's a kind of tragedy, really, with Tom Robinson having the fatal flaw of simple human empathy. That can get a person crucified.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
Harry Marks wrote:
Scapegoating is the aspect that raises this to the level of archetype. It plays out a drama that festers within most people, of guilt and denial of guilt and fear of people's condemnation, of shame and resentment of shame and maybe rage that life does not treat us better.
Knowing your interest Harry in René Girard, who made this theme of the scapegoat a core of his anthropological philosophy, I thought you might find this scapegoat analysis in To Kill A Mockingbird worth discussing.

I have not read Girard, but just looking at the linked summary page it is clear how his ideas help us to analyse the social dynamics of racism as touching on universal or archetypal sentiments that can potentially be broken down by changing how people think. Gerard’s themes of mimicry and desire describe universal phenomena in psychology. In To Kill a Mockingbird these themes play out in the reactions of the Ewells and the town, using blame of the scapegoat to defuse conflict and tension, but in an entirely deficient way. The importance of the book is in bringing these irrational hidden attitudes into widespread public scrutiny in a friendly accessible format.

Lynching makes the black man the scapegoat for the wider social problem of the refusal to discuss racial hierarchy. Brute force replaces rational explanation as the basis of legitimacy. This syndrome has the side effect of being impossible to justify by logic. As a result, criticisms of racial exclusion are deflected by emotional rage, as seen recently in the Capitol riot. The racist mentality is inherently unstable over time due to the dissonance between empirical observation and racist ideology.

Harper Lee generates sympathy for Tom Robinson as the sacrificial victim, making him a Christ figure in a different way from Atticus Finch.

The way Gerard discusses this scapegoat syndrome is that after the frenzy of execution of the innocent, the community seeks to expiate its guilt by sanctifying the victim. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the paradigm of this scapegoat model, although versions exist written by the executors that continue to blame the victim.

Gerard sees this activity of ritual sacrifice as explaining religion as an essential instrument of social cohesion due to its ability to meet deeply instinctual emotional desires through irrational sublimated violence.
Harry Marks wrote:
So kindness and simple human connection are not always a solvent to social ills, and can even be an invitation to trouble. It's a kind of tragedy, really, with Tom Robinson having the fatal flaw of simple human empathy. That can get a person crucified.
The irony in your comment about the cross is that the Christianity of the Gospels and Epistles seeks to dissolve all social enmity, but institutional Christianity has become a bulwark of tribal conservative culture with its extreme racist sentiments.

This extreme dissonance can only be sustained by the ability of Christians to construct a mythological fantasy that completely deflects any coherent analysis of the Bible. The tragedy of Christ was the effort of a perfect man living by love who met the cruel response from his society of having nails driven through his hands and feet and being left on a tree to die.

The archetypal meaning of the Christ story emerges from the belief that love is stronger than hatred, that the inevitable trajectory of human culture is toward a more inclusive and rational order, where a man like Tom Robinson will be dealt with justly.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Tue Feb 16, 2021 8:20 am, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
Robert Tulip wrote:
I have not read Girard,
Neither have I, but I have read a lot of "popular level" discussion of his work. The first I ran across it was in a discussion of mimetic desire in the context of modern commercial materialism. Yet I find the mimesis in "Mockingbird" to be going on at a different level. Mayellen Ewell longs for human company. Her efforts at flowers, and a presentable house, are pitiful attempts to be accepted. She does not seem to be aching for things, as Girard would have it, but works at a few things in an effort at acceptance.

It seems to me that Girard had some deep insights, but maybe concentrated them too much in materialism. Certainly I would argue that his system doesn't encompass the Ewells very well.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Gerard’s themes of mimicry and desire describe universal phenomena in psychology. In To Kill a Mockingbird these themes play out in the reactions of the Ewells and the town, using blame of the scapegoat to defuse conflict and tension, but in an entirely deficient way. The importance of the book is in bringing these irrational hidden attitudes into widespread public scrutiny in a friendly accessible format.
That part works for me. Robinson's victim status is created entirely by his pity for Mayellen. The tension is too much for her, and when she lets it burst into the open, too much for White society. Their irrationality is both customary and, in the heat of the moment, a functional response to their contempt for the Ewells and their insistence on holding Black folks at the bottom of the hierarchy. Someone must be at fault, be an offender, and Robinson has been chosen for that role by his misplaced generosity.

I sense that you are correct to observe that the scapegoating defuses conflict in a deficient way, but I am having trouble putting my finger on that deficiency. I suppose it has something to do with scapegoating never satisfying people's sense of the true forces at work, but simply gives them an object for their rage and a sop for their feelings of inadequacy.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The racist mentality is inherently unstable over time due to the dissonance between empirical observation and racist ideology.
That's an interesting, and insightful, observation. Interesting because we often think of stereotyping as a sort of generalization from observation. If Black people are always less educated and facing obstruction to energy and enterprise, then racism will interpret this as their fault. But the average observation will tend to confirm the stereotypes. You seem to be saying that observation of generosity of spirit, of gentleness, of effort, of intelligence, requires the racist to erase these good qualities as some sort of aberration or even, as in Robinson's case, some challenge to the social order.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The irony in your comment about the cross is that the Christianity of the Gospels and Epistles seeks to dissolve all social enmity, but institutional Christianity has become a bulwark of tribal conservative culture with its extreme racist sentiments.

This extreme dissonance can only be sustained by the ability of Christians to construct a mythological fantasy that completely deflects any coherent analysis of the Bible. The tragedy of Christ was the effort of a perfect man living by love who met the cruel response from his society of having nails driven through his hands and feet and being left on a tree to die.
The tragedy, for me, has come to be not even a tragedy. He was killed by the Romans, but unlize Reza Aslan I think he chose the confrontation. My view is that he saw the Messiah mythology inherited from the Maccabees episode as a threat to his people's lives, but moreso as a threat to their relationship to God. So he confronted it by claiming to be Messiah and then getting himself killed as a martyr. I rather suspect that he expected some kind of continuation of the movement (just as there were those preaching the message of John the Baptist in Greece, according to Paul's letters). But yes, the cruelty of the response by authorities and crowd alike is certainly an illuminating episode, telling about the human heart in situations of conflict and domination.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The archetypal meaning of the Christ story emerges from the belief that love is stronger than hatred, that the inevitable trajectory of human culture is toward a more inclusive and rational order, where a man like Tom Robinson will be dealt with justly.
There must have been some sense of hope in the time within which Lee wrote her story. I think she puts her hope in people connecting as "just people" and illustrates this at several points in the story. But she grasps another force at work, resisting such straightforward rationality and goodness. It is Girardian and works by scapegoating, as you say.

But I think she has captured an illustration of this horror at work in such a way that the human depth of being in the story is allowed to emerge, and we see Mayellen's longing as much more poignant and individual than Girard's social envy. In doing so Lee may have illustrated her own point, as I think great literature tends to do, that the humanity we have in common is deeper than the structures we erect to obstruct connection.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
Chapter Twenty begins with the amazing discovery by Scout and Dill that Mr. Dolphus Raymond, a rich landowner who scandalously lives with blacks, is not a dissolute drunkard but in fact drinks Coca-Cola. The parable is that things are not as they seem, and that the perspective of the genteel justification of racism readily distorts perception by prejudice, with the illogic that because he lives with blacks he must be morally degenerate.

Dolphus explains that he likes his dissolute reputation among people he disrespects. He is inured to the hostility of the burgher caste and happy to deceive them. Scout felt she “shouldn’t be here listening to this sinful man who had mixed children and didn’t care who knew it, but he was fascinating.”

Back in the court, Jem summarises proceedings as an open and shut case for Tom’s innocence. Scout and Dill have returned just in time to hear Atticus sum up the situation.

Adopting an easy familiarity with the jury, Atticus says the reasonable doubt criterion for conviction has not been met. With no medical evidence, and totally unreliable witness accounts, the real guilt sits with Mayella Ewell, guilty of putting a man’s life at stake in an effort to get rid of her own guilt for breaking the rigid and time-honored code of tempting a Negro.

She struck out at her victim to destroy the evidence of her offense. She did something unspeakable in that racially divided society: she kissed a black man. Circumstantial evidence indicates that Mayella was beaten savagely by someone who led almost exclusively with his left, but Tom Robinson only has a right hand.

Atticus accuses the Ewells of cynical confidence in their testimony, grounded in the evil assumption that all Negro men are not to be trusted. In reality, all races are equally prone to immorality. He cites Thomas Jefferson that all men are created equal, recognising the weight of the conservative rejoinder that equality can be overdone – for example the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious.

This shows how modern politically correct views about self-esteem and equality of outcome have been around for a long time. Conceding to the views of the jury, Atticus recognises unequal endowments of brains and opportunity and other gifts, but then claims that equality before the law is the great leveler, based on the integrity of the jury system. This is a direct call to the jurors to abandon their racial prejudice and apply the law with justice, as a duty to God to believe Tom Robinson.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
The last plot twist comes at the expense of Mr. Atticus Finch. He is distraught over the death of Ewell, and wants to be scrupulous about legal accountability. The sheriff insists that Ewell fell on his own knife, despite some ambiguous evidence to the contrary. Finally he gets it through to Finch that he is not protecting Jem.

This scene grew on me. I was turning over in my mind Lee's advocacy for ordinary human contact, and I realized it was embedded in this last business. If Mr. Nathan Radley's cementing of the knothole is an image for the religious zealot's rejection of human contact, the sheriff's empathy for Boo Radley is an image for the kindness of ordinary people. I found it very moving, and a wonderful way of tying up some of the separate strands of the narrative under her main theme.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
It might be soon to talk about the novel's ending, but I will anyway. I find the plot after Tom Robinson's trial to be not quite satisfying, a result of the problem of finding endings after a morally significant climax--the guilty verdict. Mark Twain faced the same problem in Huckleberry Finn. After the climax of Huck deciding to accept eternal damnation by not turning in Jim, Twain ends the book with the Tom Sawyer nonsense of freeing Jim, a process that strips Jim of dignity. Lee doesn't fare so badly in her book, but the big moral question raised in the trial is orphaned, I feel. Tom Robinson is gunned down in prison as he attempts futilely to escape. There had been no outrage or even grumbling over the verdict, apparently (this is 1935 Alabama, after all), and Tom getting himself killed probably confirms White opinion of Black behavior. Atticus lost his case, but he isn't about to step forward as a warrior for racial justice. That is quite believable in terms of the times; Atticus isn't personally at fault.

Harry had said that making Bob Ewell the bad guy felt like a misstep. Making him a crazed killer who exacts revenge on Atticus by going after his children seems to me to continue funneling the moral failing of the society into one person. It appears that this plot device is more about achieving closure on the Boo Radley subplot. It would have been a large hole had Lee not returned to Boo. Her handling of the final scene is well done even though perhaps a little too subtle. I don't know, however, how Lee could have concluded her book in a manner that kept the racial caste questions in focus, while not seeming to anachronistically reflect the concerns of a 1960 liberal.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
Chapter 21 delivers the verdict. The process is explained through the eyes of Scout, beginning with the entrance of the domestic servant Calpurnia to the court to inform Atticus that his children are missing. The court staff tell him they have been watching all along from the colored balcony.

Jem expresses again his total confidence that Tom will be acquitted, with no jury deliberation required for such an obvious verdict.

Calpurnia’s indignation at the presence of young children at a rape trial is augmented by the silent sadness of shame radiated by racist Aunt Alexandra at dinner once Calpurnia has dragged them home. It does seem astounding that a court would allow children to watch such a trial, but this is a plot device to enable the innocent to observe the innocent. The children watch the trial without any racist baggage, looking from the pure perspective of justice, which is how Harper Lee wants us to see the case too.

The objective is to transform the corrupted and degraded attitude of the old south toward a state of grace, from a morality grounded in division to one that supports social integration.

Scout and Jem are back in court for the verdict, which is attended by a remarkably patient packed public gallery, such is the notoriety of the case. A key exchange between the young Jem and the black Reverend Sykes about the judge’s summation summarises the problem of the whole story of To Kill a Mockingbird:
Quote:
Jem smiled. “He’s not supposed to lean, Reverend, but don’t fret, we’ve won it,” he said wisely. “Don’t see how any jury could convict on what we heard—”

“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…”
For Lee to say Jem’s comment is “wise” continues the rich vein of bitter ironic humour that courses through this satirical morality tale. Readers entirely see that Jem is utterly naïve to the ways of the world, speaking only with the innocent wisdom of babes. Readers can in fact understand that the entire court proceeding has been a charade, a formal process to satisfy legalities for a community who regard facts as of no relevance, when the opportunity presents to put blacks in their place through public humiliation. Jem cannot imagine that such a hypocritical travesty of justice is possible.

Like the chorus in a Greek Tragedy, the public gallery waits for hours for the return of the jury, with every passing minute only increasing the anxiety about the likely verdict among Tom's supporters in the still-packed and silently still courtroom. Like a dream of underwater swimmers, Scout watches the twelve men return, observing their failure to look Tom Robinson in the eye. She then watches Jem’s reaction, as each guilty verdict comes like a dagger in his back.


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