To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 16 Summary
- The night after their run-in at the town jail, Scout ends up sleeping in Jem's room after she starts crying in her own.
- At breakfast the next morning, no one except Jem has much appetite.
- Atticus says he's glad the kids came along, though Aunt Alexandra sniffs that Mr. Underwood would have made sure nothing too bad happened.
- Atticus comments that Mr. Underwood is a strange man—he "despises Negroes" (16.5), yet he acted to protect Atticus and Tom Robinson.
- Scout wants coffee, but Calpurnia will only give her one tablespoon of the evil brew in a cupful of milk.
- Alexandra tells Atticus not to make comments like the one he just made about Mr. Underwood in front of "them" (16.8), i.e. Calpurnia, i.e. African-Americans.
- Atticus says that it's nothing Cal doesn't already know, and that anything that can be said in table conversation is fit for Calpurnia's ears.
- Alexandra thinks it encourages gossip among the town's African-American residents.
- Well, says Atticus, if the white people didn't do so much that was gossip-worthy the African-Americans wouldn't have so much to talk about.
- Scout wants to know why, if Mr. Cunningham is a friend of theirs, he wanted to hurt Atticus last night.
- Atticus says that Mr. Cunningham is a good man, he just has a few "blind spots" (16.18).
- Uh, okay.
- Then Dill bounces in, saying that the gossip mill is having a field day about how three kids fought off a hundred men with their bare hands.
- The kids head out to the porch to watch people passing on their way to the courthouse.
- Some of the personalities the kids spot: Mr. Dolphus Raymond, already drunk; a bunch of Mennonites; Mr. Billups, whose first name is simply X; Mr. Jake Slade, who's growing his third mouthful of teeth; and the foot-washing Baptists, who pause to shout Bible verses about vanity to Miss Maudie in her revamped yard. (She responds in kind.)
- Finally, Scout, Jem, and Dill join the crowds at the courthouse.
- Among the strangers the kids spot Mr. Dolphus Raymond, who's drinking out of a paper sack; Jem says that in the bag is a Coca-Cola bottle full of whiskey.
- Dill asks why Mr. Raymond's sitting on the far side of the square with the African-Americans, and Jem says that he likes them better than the whites, and that he has several children by an African-American woman.
- Jem tells more about Mr. Raymond's history: he's from an old, respected family; he was engaged to a white woman, but she shot herself after the wedding rehearsal, perhaps because she found out about his African-American mistress; since then Mr. Raymond's been almost constantly tipsy, but is good to his "mixed" (16.61) children.
- Scout asks what a mixed child is, and Jem tells her that they're biracial, and also that they're "real sad" (16.69), because they don't fully belong on either side of Maycomb's strict racial divide, even when they don't look any different from the other African-Americans.
- Scout says that if you can't tell a person's racial heritage from looking at them, how does Jem know that the Finches are 100% white?
- Jem says that Uncle Jack says that they can't know for certain what happened centuries ago, but that in Maycomb "once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black" (16.81).
- If you're thinking this sounds completely nonsensical—you'd be right.
- The lunch break ends and everyone lines up to go back into the courthouse, the African-Americans letting the white people be at the front of the line.
- Once they get inside the courthouse, Scout gets separated in the rush of people from Jem and Dill.
- Scout overhears some old men saying that Atticus was appointed by the court to defend Tom Robinson, and she wonders why Atticus hadn't told them that—it would have been a convenient excuse in schoolyard brawls.
- By the time the boys find Scout, there's no room left in the white section.
- Reverend Sykes sees them standing in the lobby and offers to take them up to the balcony (where the African-Americans are segregated).
- Up in the balcony, four people move so that Scout, Jem, Dill, and the Reverend can have front-row seats.
- Scout surveys the scene below her: the jury, made up of farmers (since the townspeople usually got out of jury duty), the lawyers, and the witnesses.
- In charge of the court is Judge Taylor, whose sleepy demeanor conceals an eagle eye, and who has a habit of eating (yes, eating, not smoking) cigars during cases.
- The trial is already in progress, with Mr. Heck Tate on the witness stand.
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