To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

Chapters 20–22

Summary Chapters 20–22

Mr. Raymond’s presence outside the courtroom is fitting: like Miss Maudie, he does not belong inside with the rest of the white people, because he does not share their guilt. Mr. Raymond is a harsh realist, and while he shares Jem’s outrage, he is too old to cry. In a way, Mr. Raymond is another illustration of an innocent destroyed by hatred and prejudice: a moral and conscientious man, he is also an unhappy figure, a good man who has turned cynical and lost hope after witnessing too much evil in the world. “You haven’t seen enough of the world yet,” he tells Scout, commenting on how special and good her father is, and her innocent belief in human goodness. “You haven’t even seen this town, but all you gotta do is step back inside the courthouse.”

Whereas Mr. Raymond believes that Maycomb’s racist side is the real Maycomb, Atticus, less embittered, seems to hold out hope for the town—significantly, his eloquent closing argument is devoid of despair. Rather, he speaks to the jury with confidence and dignity, urging them to find confidence and dignity within themselves. Though To Kill a Mockingbird dramatizes the threat posed to goodness by evil, and though it frequently treats this theme by exploring the destruction of innocence, the novel’s ultimate moral outlook is not bleak; rather, it is characterized by Atticus’s wise understanding of both the goodness and the badness within people. Moral issues within the novel are often black and white, with a clear good side and a clear evil side, but the novel’s conclusion about humanity is not so simple. On the contrary, Atticus understands that people are capable of great goodness and great evil, which proves the key to his own admirable moral strength. Unlike the children’s outlook, Atticus’s understanding of the world is not innocent: he does not believe in goodness simply because he has never seen evil. He has indeed seen and experienced evil, but he is nevertheless capable of faith in the good qualities of humankind. This faith represents the adult perspective toward which Scout, who begins the novel as an innocent child, is forced to move as the story progresses. Although the jury strikes a blow for prejudice by convicting Tom, it is still possible for the town’s morally unblemished adult characters to hold out hope. Even after the verdict has been handed down, there is a sense that progress has been made: as Miss Maudie puts it, the town has taken “a step—it’s just a baby-step, but it’s a step.”

Jem, however, is not able to see things this way. Scout is bewildered by the verdict, but, like Atticus, she is resilient and retains her positive view of the world. Her brother is crushed: his dearly held illusions about justice and the law have been shattered. In a way, Jem, like Tom Robinson, is a mockingbird. While the Ewells and the forces of hatred and prejudice do not take his life, they do strip him of his childhood and youthful idealism.