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Chapter 22

Professor Bradley Greenburg from Northeastern Illinois University explains Chapter 22 in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird | Chapter 22 | Summary

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Summary

Feeling defeated, Atticus, Jem, Scout, and Dill trudge home. Jem in particular is crushed by the verdict because he can't make sense of why Tom was treated so unfairly. At home they find Aunt Alexandra has stayed up to greet them.

Before they go to bed Jem asks Atticus how the jury could have come to this verdict. Atticus admits he also doesn't understand it.

In the morning life picks up where it left off, except for the bounty of food that covers the kitchen table. Calpurnia tells Atticus that she found it all on the back steps that morning: gifts from Tom Robinson's many supporters to show their appreciation for Atticus. The people's gratitude brings tears to Atticus's eyes.

Outside, Miss Stephanie drills the children with questions, wanting to know the latest gossip about the trial. She doesn't let up until Miss Maudie calls her off and invites the children in for cakes. She tries to help the children understand the previous day's events by explaining how Atticus helped the community advance toward something better, even if by only a little bit.

Jem, Scout, and Dill listen but seem unconvinced as they leave Miss Maudie's house. Miss Rachel catches up to them and tells them danger is coming as she herds them back home. Word has spread that Bob Ewell confronted Atticus at the post office, spitting on him and threatening him.

Analysis

Chapter 22 focuses on what the characters take away from the trial and how it might change them. That Aunt Alexandra is waiting up for Atticus and the children to come home shows how much she loves and stands by her family. Unfortunately, her tenderness is far too often buried by her prejudices. A little like Scout's former classmate Burris Ewell, Alexandra is a product of her surroundings. These brief glimpses of a caring Alexandra are rare, but they suggest that somewhere down the line Alexandra might be able to change.

The bulk of Chapter 22 details Jem's reaction to the verdict. Growing up, he's always been exposed to Atticus's steadfast moral code and ability to make rational decisions based on facts—so he feels betrayed by Maycomb when the jury reaches such an illogical verdict. The last thing he says to Atticus the night of the verdict is: "How could they do it, how could they?" This is a subtle but powerful indictment of the town and an important moment for Jem, who is halfway between childhood and adulthood. While he has begun to form his own moral code, he has not yet entirely given up the simplicity and innocence of a child's perspective.

Atticus's reactions to the verdict are informative. While Aunt Alexandra is angry with him for allowing the children to witness the trial, he stands firm that it is important for the children to understand the makeup of their town: "We've made it this way for them, they might as well learn to cope with it." Perhaps Atticus believes that if his children know the cold, hard truth about their community they will be inspired to be catalysts for positive change.

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