To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Scout tries to ask Jem about the Ewells, but he turns her attention to Mr. Tate’s testimony. Scout doesn’t know the solicitor, Mr. Gilmer, well, as he’s from Abbottsville and she and Jem seldom come to court. Mr. Tate gives his account of what happened: Mr. Ewell called him out because Tom raped his daughter. Mr. Tate found Mayella beaten up on the floor and she identified Tom as her rapist, so he took Tom into custody. Atticus takes over questioning and asks why they didn’t call a doctor. Jem is on the edge of his seat. Mr. Tate describes the injuries and notes that her right eye was blackened. Atticus, Mr. Tate, and Tom all look suddenly alert. Mr. Tate says there were also bruises around her neck like someone strangled her.
Atticus’s query of why Mr. Tate and Mr. Ewell didn’t call a doctor calls into question why it is that this case has gotten this far when there’s no physical evidence—this fight is entirely based around whose subjective story is going to be believed. This reminds the reader that this case is truly about racism and whether the jury will succumb to it—it’s not about actually giving Tom Robinson the chance to make his case and prove that he didn’t do it.
Themes
Prejudice Theme Icon
Scout thinks all of this seems boring. Judge Taylor calls Bob Ewell to the stand as Scout notice Jem’s grin. Bob Ewell is bright red and struts like a rooster. Scout tells the reader that the Ewells are always poor and on government assistance, whether it’s a depression era or not. They live behind the garbage dump in a cabin once inhabited by black people. There are no windows and the yard is littered with refuse, but along one side of the fence, red geraniums bloom in slop jars. There are lots of children. Beyond the cabin is a neat black settlement. Scout thinks that the only thing that makes Mr. Ewell better than his neighbors is his skin color.
Again, notice the way that Scout describes the Ewell home versus the “neat” black settlement—it truly is the case that the only thing that makes Mr. Ewell “better” than the black people down the road is the fact that he’s white, as it seems like his home is far from neat or orderly. The geraniums, however, function much like Mrs. Dubose’s camellias did: they indicate that there’s some sense of humanity and redemption here, even if the Ewells are mostly awful people.
Themes
Good, Evil, and Human Dignity Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Small Town Southern Life Theme Icon
Mr. Gilmer begins to question Mr. Ewell. Mr. Ewell is rude to Mr. Gilmer and makes a crude joke when Mr. Gilmer asks if he’s Mayella’s father. Judge Taylor tells Mr. Ewell to not speak like that in his courtroom, but Scout doesn’t think Mr. Ewell gets it. When asked to tell his version of events, he says that he arrived home to hear Mayella screaming. He says he looked in the window to see Tom raping Mayella. He stands and points to Tom as he says this, and the court erupts. Reverend Sykes tries to get Jem, Scout, and Dill to leave, but they refuse, and he doesn’t press the issue. Mr. Ewell looks smugly at the tense crowd. Judge Taylor warns the crowd and Mr. Ewell that if another outburst happens, everyone will be charged with contempt.
Mr. Ewell’s smug look betrays that he knows exactly what he’s doing. Even if what he’s saying isn’t at all true, the simple thought of a black man raping a white woman is enough to send the courtroom into hysterics—evidence again that many of the people watching are racist themselves. Judge Taylor’s attempts to contain Mr. Ewell and the damage he’s wrought show that he’s taking this trial seriously, just like Atticus, which situates him as a sympathetic and less racist figure than his peers.
Themes
Prejudice Theme Icon
Courage Theme Icon
Small Town Southern Life Theme Icon
Fixing Mr. Ewell with a glare, Judge Taylor gets the questioning going again. Mr. Ewell says he saw the room in disarray and recognized Tom. He then asks that Judge Taylor clean out the black settlement that devalues his property, but Judge Taylor cuts him off. Mr. Gilmer ends his questioning. Judge Taylor allows the courtroom to laugh when Mr. Ewell runs into Atticus as he stands to question Mr. Ewell. In a genial tone, Atticus asks why he didn’t call a doctor and asks if Mr. Ewell agrees with what Mr. Tate said about Mayella’s injuries. He asks the court reporter to read them word for word, and then asks Mr. Ewell if he can read and write. Atticus offers Mr. Ewell a pen and paper to demonstrate. He declares that Mr. Ewell is left-handed and after this, Mr. Ewell refuses to say anything else.
When Judge Taylor cuts Mr. Ewell off in his diatribe about his black neighbors, it suggests he’s well aware that Mr. Ewell is trying to garner sympathy from other people who are also racist. Again, given Scout’s description of the Ewell property, its low value likely has little to do with the neighbors and everything to do with his personal failure to provide for his family. Mr. Ewell seems to expect that Maycomb is going to rally around him by sending the message that Maycomb is undeniably a white town.
Themes
Prejudice Theme Icon
Small Town Southern Life Theme Icon
Get the entire To Kill a Mockingbird LitChart as a printable PDF.
To kill a mockingbird.pdf.medium
Jem excitedly whispers that Mr. Ewell is going down. Scout doesn’t agree. She understands that Atticus is making the case that Mr. Ewell could’ve beaten Mayella, but she thinks that Tom may also be left-handed.
It’s unclear exactly what Jem knows that Scout doesn’t, but his glee suggests that he still trusts the justice system to actually function fairly—something that speaks to his youth and innocence despite his relative maturity.
Themes
Growing Up Theme Icon