To Kill a Mockingbird


Harper Lee

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To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Calpurnia passes Atticus a note. Atticus asks Judge Taylor to go, since his children are missing, but Mr. Underwood interjects that Scout, Jem, and Dill are in the balcony. The children head downstairs and Jem excitedly announces that they’re going to win. Atticus looks exhausted. He agrees that they can return after supper and stay if the jury is still out. Calpurnia is enraged and scolds Jem, which delights Scout. Aunt Alexandra looks faint when she learns where the children were and seems hurt that Atticus already gave them permission to go back.
When Atticus agrees to let the children return for the verdict, it again shows that he believes children are capable of grappling with difficult adult ideas. Doing so will help them become better people as they move toward adulthood, and since Atticus seems fairly convinced that Tom is going to lose, he understands that this will help the children recognize the underlying cruelty and unfairness in their idyllic small town.
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Jem, Scout, and Dill return to find that the jury is still out, and few people moved. Reverend Sykes shares that Judge Taylor seemed like he may have been leaning toward Tom’s side. Jem confidently announces that they’ll win and then offers his own ideas of how the courts deal with rape in Alabama. Jem stops only when Scout assures Reverend Sykes that she knows exactly what Jem is talking about. Atticus, Mr. Gilmer, and Judge Taylor all behave normally, but the rest of the courtroom still seems fretful and anxious. They sit, and around 11:00 p.m. Scout falls asleep against Reverend Sykes. Dill sleeps against Jem.
Again, it’s unlikely that Scout actually knows exactly what Jem is talking about—it’s still unclear if Scout even knows what sex is or that it can be used to abusively exert power over a person. It’s telling that the jury is out for so long, as it suggests that there’s real conversation happening behind closed doors, hence the fretful and anxious courtroom. For everyone, this could mean that change is on the horizon, though whether it’s considered good change or not likely depends on their skin color.
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Scout starts to feel the same way she did in February, when the street closed up, the mockingbirds were silent, and Mr. Tate told Atticus to shoot Tim Johnson. Mr. Tate returns and calls the court to order. Tom returns, along with the jury, and Scout notices that the jury doesn’t look at Tom—a sure sign they convicted him. She half expects to see Atticus raise an unloaded rifle. Judge Taylor reads the verdicts: they’re all guilty. Atticus packs his things, whispers something to Tom, and then leaves. Reverend Sykes calls Scout to attention and makes her stand for Atticus’s departure with the other black people.
When Scout continues to think back to the day when Atticus shot Tim Johnson, it shows that she recognizes that Atticus is sacrificing himself to doing what he feels is right and necessary. When Reverend Sykes asks the children, along with the others in the balcony to stand for Atticus out of respect, it shows how meaningful Atticus’s honest attempt to save Tom was for the black community, even if he lost the case. Atticus’s efforts send the message that in the eyes of this influential community member, they matter.
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