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To Kill a Mockingbird | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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In Chapter 20 of To Kill a Mockingbird how does the interaction between Scout, Dill, and Dolphus Raymond outside the courthouse give readers another view of Maycomb's complicated society?

Dolphus Raymond, a white man with some apparent means, lives with a black woman outside of town. Together they have several children. Readers first learn of Dolphus Raymond's situation in Chapter 16 when Jem explains it to Scout and Dill. It is understood that he and his family, by nature of being mixed, belong neither to the black nor the white society of Maycomb. Here we see that Raymond, like a number of other people in the book, figures out a way to accommodate the community's intolerance: regularly seeing him drinking out of a brown-bagged bottle that he carries, people think he is a drunkard. Raymond lets them believe he's a drunkard, even though he's just drinking Coca-Cola, because from the narrow perspective of the town folks that will be enough for them to understand why he can't live according to the norms the community has established.

What is the climax of To Kill a Mockingbird, and why is it considered the climax?

The climax of To Kill a Mockingbird comes in Chapter 21 with the reading of the verdict in Tom Robinson's trial. This scene is considered the climax for many reasons. Tension has been building up to this point, and when the verdict is read readers experience different reactions. On the one hand readers are as deflated and shocked as Jem to hear the guilty verdict; on the other hand, like Atticus, readers knew it couldn't go any other way. The climax is made even more wrenching by the presence of Jem, Scout, and Dill. After the verdict Harper Lee adds a poignant touch; the entire black community stands in honor as Atticus passes. It reminds the readers—and the Maycomb characters who are paying attention or have open minds—that true class is determined from within. Scout's recollection of it suggests that, for her, it was a significant moment; to her young self it must suggest that class has more to do with the moral code Atticus is instilling in them than name, skin color, or wealth.

In Chapter 22 of To Kill a Mockingbird which character does Lee focus on to show the emotional impact of Tom Robinson's trial, and how are that character's reactions portrayed?

The bulk of the chapter focuses on Jem's reaction. He is in utter disbelief. His upbringing as Atticus's son has exposed him to Atticus's morals—justice, equality, and honesty. He has matured through the book, and we see that he is adopting these values as his own code. To him then the simplicity of the facts laid before the jury made their verdict illogical. Jem feels betrayed that the jury could reach this conclusion. The last thing he says to Atticus the night of the trial before everyone goes to bed is telling: "How could they do it, how could they?" That Jem asks it is a subtle but powerful point: halfway between child and adult, he has begun to form his own moral code, as readers have seen, but he has not yet entirely relinquished a child's clear view of what is fair.

In Chapter 23 of To Kill a Mockingbird how do discussions within the Finch family show the effects that events of the trial have had on each of them?

In addition to discussing the aftermath of the trial of Tom Robinson, the chapter keeps the potential appeal of the verdict in readers' minds and uses it as a springboard for a discussion between Atticus, Jem, Scout, and Alexandra to examine how the events of the trial have affected each of them. Atticus and Jem's discussion of a potential appeal for Tom Robinson gives us insight into Jem's continued interest in and understanding of the legal system and the power that society's racism can have over it. The two of them have a rather adult conversation around it. As Scout joins in, readers sense that she is beginning to think more deeply about issues of prejudice, even if she doesn't yet have the words for it. Her thought to invite Walter Cunningham home to dinner when school resumes—the boy of whom she once said, "He ain't company, Cal, he's just a Cunningham ..."—suggests the summer's events have influenced her. In Alexandra's blunt response—that Walter Cunningham is trash—she manages to both slander Walter, whom she doesn't know, and to wound Scout.

In Chapter 24 of To Kill a Mockingbird what is particularly devastating about Tom Robinson dying while trying to escape from prison?

That Tom Robinson is dead is heart-breaking news; that he died trying to escape without waiting to hear what an appeal might bring suggests the utter sense of helplessness he felt. Despite his obvious innocence, he believed he would never receive justice in a white-run legal system. The fact that he was shot 17 times while attempting to escape over a fence suggests a disregard for his life. In this chapter Lee is masterful in making the connection between Tom Robinson and the mockingbird. That he is going over a fence suggests a caged bird, although this bird, like several other characters in the novel, is disabled. Says Atticus: "If he'd had two good arms he'd have made it, he was moving that fast."

In Chapter 25 of To Kill a Mockingbird what does Bob Ewell's reaction to Tom Robinson's death suggest in terms of plot line?

A brief mention of Bob Ewell at the end of Chapter 25 reminds the reader that he and his seething anger are still out there. Miss Stephanie tells Alexandra in Jem's presence that Ewell says "one down and about two more to go." This threatening comment foreshadows trouble ahead.

In Chapter 26 of To Kill a Mockingbird what does Scout's remorse about harassing Boo Radley suggest?

When the chapter opens Scout is now in the third grade. Talking about how different her and Jem's schedules are now, she mentions walking by the Radley house each day alone. That thought causes her to say that she has a twinge of remorse about her role in their plot to get Boo Radley to come outside. The passing remark suggests that Scout is maturing; she is obviously making a habit of taking Atticus's advice about walking in another person's shoes.

In Chapter 26 of To Kill a Mockingbird when Cecil Jacobs presents his report on Hitler's persecution of the Jews, why is Scout bothered by Miss Gates's response?

Harper Lee uses an incident in school to show that Scout has adopted Atticus and Jem's moral code. Scout's reflection on the discussion of Hitler and his persecution of the Jews—and her teacher's reaction—impress her enough that she is still thinking about it that evening. When speaking about Jews being persecuted in Nazi Germany, Miss Gates had declared, "Over here we don't believe in persecuting anybody." Yet the night of Tom Robinson's trial Scout hears her make this statement about the black community right here in Maycomb: "It's time somebody taught 'em a lesson, they were gettin' way above themselves." To Scout Miss Gates's contrasting statements are an example of hypocrisy.

How is Bob Ewell considered an extreme example of evil in Chapter 27 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

One major theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is morality, particularly contrasting good and evil. Chapter 27 provides a description of Bob Ewell, whose fabricated testimony has helped to convict an innocent black man of a rape that never happened. By the end of the novel there is nothing redeeming about Bob Ewell, and there is very little evil that he has not done. When readers consider the incidents described in this chapter (his harassment of Helen Robinson, his stalking of the judge) in conjunction with what is already known of Ewell, he emerges as a representation of human existence at its worst—an embodiment of evil.

How does Harper Lee weave the concepts of family and loyalty regarding Jem and Scout in Chapter 28 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

A very strong focus in Chapter 28 is Scout and Jem's relationship. From the start these two have stuck together, despite age and gender differences and Jem's coming teenage years. The description of him guiding Scout along the path, one hand resting on the top of her costume, telling her where to step, makes that clear. For Scout's part, even trapped inside her costume in the dark and fully aware that someone is trying to hurt them, she doesn't leave him—and certainly a third-grader (or anyone) would be terrified.

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