Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, Harper Lee's, To Kill a Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior, to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, and the struggle between blacks and whites. Atticus Finch, a lawyer and single parent in a small southern town in the 1930's, is appointed by the local judge to defend Tom Robinson
, a black man
, who is accused of raping a white woman. Friends and neighbors object when Atticus puts up a strong and spirited defense on behalf of the accused black man. Atticus renounces violence but stands up for what he believes in. He decides to defend Tom Robinson because if he did not, he would not only lose the respect of his children and the townspeople, but himself as well.
In addition to being a lawyer, Atticus enjoys being a father to Jem and Scout. When Jem and Scout found out that their father would be defending a black person, they knew immediately that there would be much controversy, humiliation from the people of Maycomb and great difficulty keeping Tom alive for the trial. It was not long when Atticus had to leave the house very late to go to jail, where Tom was kept because many white people
wanted to kill him. Worrying about their father, Jem and Scout sneak out of the house to find him. A self-appointed lynch mob has gathered on the jail to take justice into their own hands. Scout decides to talk to Walter Cunningham, one of the members of the mob. She talks about how her father Atticus thought that "entailments are bad "(154 ) " and that his boy Walter is a real nice boy and tell him I said hey"(154). Upon hearing this, the mob realized that Atticus cannot be all bad if he has such a nice daughter as Scout. Atticus, with some unexpected help from his children, faces down the mob and cause them to break up the potential lynching of the man behind bars. Having gone to a black church earlier, the children found out that Tom is actually a kind person, church-going and a good husband and father to his children.
The town of Maycomb in the 1930's was split into two sections, the white section and the black section. This was a time of racial segregation, where blacks were not permitted to go to the same schools as the whites. They could not sit in the same restaurants, sit in the same part of the courthouse, use the same public restrooms or drink at the same water fountains. Everyone in Maycomb, from children to adults, accused Atticus and his children of being "black lovers." Atticus, with all this turmoil, stayed calm. He taught his children to accept the differences between one human being and another. He advised Jem not to pay attention to ugly talk at school about his decision to defend a Negro. He told Scout that, no matter what circumstances, she was forbidden to fight anyone who was making fun of him. Jem and Scout thought that they just had about enough when their neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, had said to the children that "your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for! "(102). They tried to ignore her, as their father had said, and walked away. One day when the pressure got too much for Jem, he went into Mrs. Dubose's yard and destroyed all her flowers. When Atticus discovered what Jem had done, he was furious and punished him by making him go read to Mrs. Dubose everyday. He knew, though, in his heart that she had it coming. Atticus had told Scout that "when summer comes you'll have to keep your head about far worse things it's not fair for you and Jem, but sometimes we have to make the best of things, and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down is very important" (104). Scout then realized why Atticus did all the things that he did; it wasn't because he did not love his children but he wanted to protect them from what was still to come, the trial.
Atticus needed to prove to himself that, no matter what anyone else thought, he would try his best to defend Tom Robinson, regardless of Tom's color. According to Jem, this trial was "the most excitin' thing that ever happened in this town!" (159). The courthouse was filled. During the trial, Tom was accused of having raped Mayella Ewell, a white woman. She had been beaten on her right side of her face and had bruises on her arm and neck. When she finished her testimony, Atticus took over. The respected and incorruptible Atticus quickly becomes embroiled in a hostile world of hatred and prejudice. He bravely proves the innocence of his client in a final, low-keyed defense summation to the jury. No one knew that Tom did not have a left hand and the bruises on Mayella's face were on her right side so he could not have beat her. "His left arm was fully twelve inches shorter than his right, and hung dead at his side"(186). Atticus uses the testimony about Tom's useless left hand to illustrate that, the white girl Mayella could not have been struck by Tom Robinson. She was savagely struck, beaten, and raped by someone who was left-handed, most likely by her father, Bob Ewell. "You are left-handed, Mr. Ewell" (177) said judge Taylor to Mayella's father, after he was asked by Atticus to write his name on an envelope. Atticus vigorously and powerfully argues that Mayella lied because she broke a code that prohibits a white woman from becoming sexually attracted to a black man, which was an unspeakable offense. Atticus proved to the jury, without a shadow of a doubt, that Tom was innocent. Unfortunately, the jury found Tom guilty, as charged, because of the color of his skin. Everyone was astonished about the outcome of the verdict.
In the town of Maycomb many exciting events occurred, though not all of them good, which changed it forever. Jem and Scout learned that you could not always believe everything you hear. The town was made aware that, although Tom was black, Atticus still did his best to defend him. The black people of Maycomb were very thankful that he went past his color and tried to save Tom. Most importantly, Atticus proved to his children, the townspeople and himself that all men are created equal and should be given the same respect as everyone else.