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Chapter 21

Professor Bradley Greenburg from Northeastern Illinois University explains Chapter 21 in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird | Chapter 21 | Summary

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Summary

Calpurnia passes Atticus a note, which Atticus quickly reads. Atticus reports to the judge that the note is from his sister, Alexandra, who writes that his children are missing and haven't been seen since noon. Braxton Underwood, the publisher of the newspaper, interrupts to say that Jem, Scout, and Dill are sitting above in the "Colored balcony."

The children meet Atticus and Calpurnia downstairs just before the jury is sent out, and Atticus orders the trio home. When they beg to return for the verdict Atticus relents, sending them home to eat and telling them that if the jury is still out when they return, they can wait with everyone else to hear the verdict.

At home Alexandra is shocked to know where they've been and disapproves of Atticus's consent for them to return. The children eat and head back, finding that Reverend Sykes had saved their seats. The jury has been out for a half hour.

By the time the jury files back in it's well past 11 p.m. Scout and Dill have been dozing on and off, and they wake to find the courtroom still packed. As the guilty verdict is read Scout recalls that everything took on a dreamlike state. She reports the details—Atticus packing his briefcase, saying something to Mr. Gilmer and the court reporter, speaking softly to Tom Robinson—and as Atticus turns toward the aisle to leave, Scout becomes aware of someone poking her. It is Reverend Sykes. Pointing out that her father is passing, Scout realizes that everyone in the Colored balcony has stood to honor Atticus as he leaves.

Analysis

The fact that Calpurnia interrupts the trial to pass a note to Atticus is a reminder that Maycomb is a small community. It's a town where everyone knows each other's name and business. These qualities can be an asset, but they can also be a detriment when overlaid with prejudice and racism. The trial of Tom Robinson is proof of that.

Although Atticus sends the children home to eat (and didn't want them at the courthouse in the first place), he allows them to return, signaling that his relationship with his children has matured. He is beginning to see them more clearly just as they are beginning to see him more clearly.

The tension leading up to Chapter 21 makes the reading of the verdict a perfect climax. Some in the courtroom may be disappointed and shocked (as Jem is) to hear the guilty verdict, but, as Atticus recognizes, it couldn't have turned out any other way. A significant moment occurs when the entire black community honors Atticus as he passes, reminding the citizens of Maycomb that true class has more to do with morality than someone's family name, how much money they have, or the color of their skin.

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