To Kill a Mockingbird

by: Harper Lee

Law

1

“The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.”

An ongoing theme in To Kill a Mockingbird is the complicated relationship between the abstract justice system and the individuals who participate in it. Although institutions may appear fair on paper, each trial is in some way biased by the judge, jury, lawyers, and other individuals in the courtroom. Here, Atticus tells Jem and Scout that an unbiased trial is realistically impossible. Overall, the book suggests that despite this inherent bias, each individual must strive to make their participation in the trial as free of prejudice as possible.

2

“I waited and waited to see you all come down the sidewalk, and as I waited I thought, Atticus Finch won’t win, he can’t win, but he’s the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that.”

Miss Maudie, the Finches’ neighbor, says this to Jem and Scout, who are disappointed that their father lost the trial. This quote reaffirms Atticus’s exceptional character, a theme throughout the book, and emphasizes that structural injustice made the case unwinnable from the start. It also suggests that social change does not occur quickly but is accumulated over time; from this perspective, prolonging the jury deliberation indicates potential future change and represents a step in the right direction. This statement maintains a thread of optimism despite the tragic outcome of the case.

3

“Our courts have our faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.”

This line comes from Atticus’s closing argument to the jury at Tom Robinson’s trial. He appeals to the jury’s patriotism by suggesting that American courts ensure equality, which is one of the country’s foundational principles. However, after this closing argument, Tom Robinson is wrongly convicted, which shows the deep bias in the court system and disproves Atticus’s point. This line reveals the instance between the ideal of American courts and the reality.