To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 20 Quotes Page 2

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"I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty." (20.51-52)

If Atticus had a car, it'd have a "Be the Change You Wish to See in the World" bumper sticker. While he says here that he's no idealist, he's been realistic throughout about his extremely low chances of winning this case. In his closing argument, he's acting as if the outcome he knows is impossible is actually the only possible one, in an attempt to make it so.

But why had he entrusted us with his deepest secret? I asked him why.

"Because you're children and you can understand it," he said, "and because I heard that one-"

He jerked his head at Dill: "Things haven't caught up with that one's instinct yet. Let him get a little older and he won't get sick and cry. Maybe things'll strike him as being—not quite right, say, but he won't cry, not when he gets a few years on him." (20.18-22)

Growing up means going from weeping uncontrollably at displays of injustice, to feeling a vague sense that things aren't quite right. The good: it's hard to get through the day if you're weeping uncontrollably. The bad: vague feelings aren't usually enough to make anything change. Is there a way to keep the sharp sense of injustice without needing to carrying a hankie everywhere?

"Atticus-" said Jem bleakly.

He turned in the doorway. "What, son?"

"How could they do it, how could they?"

"I don't know, but they did it. They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep. Good night." (22.14-17)

Is it "children" who are weeping, or only Jem, Scout, and Dill? Is it simply being children that causes them to be sad about Tom's fate, or are their other factors? We doubt Cousin Francis is losing any sleep about it.

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