To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 20 Quotes
How we cite the quotes:
"She was white, and she tempted a Negro. She did something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man. Not an old Uncle, but a strong young Negro man. No code mattered to her before she broke it, but it came crashing down on her afterwards." (20.44-45)
Question #1: Why do the citizens of Maycomb (or at least some of them) prefer to believe that a black man raped a white woman than that a white woman kissed a black man? Question #2: Why does Atticus use the word "tempted," considering Tom's reaction to her advances seemed less "I totally would, but they'd totally kill me" than "just not that into you, kthxbye"? Isn't this a little racist? Doesn't it imply that, even if Tom can control himself, he wouldn't be able to help being tempted by any white woman?
"Which, gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson's skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you. You know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not a person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire." (20.47-48)
On the one hand, Atticus is totally right: we need to judge people as individuals rather than by their race. No argument here. On the other hand, check out the way he calls the lie of racist stereotypes "as black as Tom Robinson's skin," once again associating evilness with blackness, although in a more figurative way.
"She has committed no crime, she has merely broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society, a code so severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our midst as unfit to live with. She is the victim of cruel poverty and ignorance, but I cannot pity her: she is white. She knew full well the enormity of her offense, but because her desires were stronger than the code she was breaking, she persisted in breaking it." (20.43)
It's an enormous injustice to have Tom on trial and pre-convicted for something he didn't do. But Mayella is also a victim of injustice: dirt poor, kept ignorant, raped by her father, and forbidden to seek companionship from the one person who was ever nice to her. No surprise that Atticus is the one to see it.