To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 17 Quotes
How we cite the quotes:
[Mr. Ewell says] "I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin' on my Mayella!" (17.84)
Mr. Ewell may be barely literate, but he's a veritable Shakespeare when it comes to offensive language. The way he phrases his accusation achieves an impressive feat of multitasking: it 1) dehumanizes Tom (he doesn't use Tom's name, or even the pronoun "he"), 2) emphasizes Tom's race over everything else (the redundancy of "black nigger"), 3) compares Tom to a beast ("rutting" is usually applied to animals), 4) portrays Mayella as a passive victim (she's the indirect object of the sentence), and 5) asserts power over his daughter ("my Mayella," as if Tom's trying to steal Ewell's property). Not bad for a mere ten words—no wonder the crowd goes wild.
So far, things were utterly dull: nobody had thundered, there were no arguments between opposing counsel, there was no drama; a grave disappointment to all present, it seemed. Atticus was proceeding amiably, as if he were involved in a title dispute. With his infinite capacity for calming turbulent seas, he could make a rape case as dry as a sermon. (17.56)
And all these people wanted was a fun day out, right? Atticus ruins everything with his fair, reasonable, and calm approach to deciding a man's fate. Spoilsport.
As Judge Taylor banged his gavel, Mr. Ewell was sitting smugly in the witness chair, surveying his handiwork. With one phrase he had turned happy picknickers into a sulky, tense, murmuring crowd, being slowly hypnotized by gavel taps lessening in intensity until the only sound in the courtroom was a dim pink-pink-pink: the judge might have been rapping the bench with a pencil. (17.95)
The courtroom spectators get what they came for with Mr. Ewell: sex, scandal, and hate-mongering. Notice how Judge Taylor calms them down by "hypnotizing" them. This isn't a crowd ready to listen to reason. (Let's put it this way—we wouldn't want to see them anywhere near a Wal-Mart on Black Friday morning.)