"What genuinely scares the white man is that the colored is going to suck up all the jobs from the whites. You just got out of Memphis, you saw how it is. It's the same in all the big cities— Nashville, New Orleans, Atlanta. You got thousands and thousands of N****es running around looking for jobs. And every one of 'em willing to work cheaper than the white man, be they a field hand, a factory hand, or what have you." (20.18)
According to a stranger on a train, white people in the South are deeply afraid of change because they want to make sure their jobs and homes don't get taken away. What we don't get is how this connects to lynching Black men. You can't be so afraid of change that you kill everyone who might possibly in some way alter your life, right?
"The news does travel down to Mississippi eventually. And everybody I know says you're the most progressive young lawyer in Washington." I had never heard that word pronounced with a more audible sneer. (23.5)
Ben's dad hates the fact that he's progressive. In fact, he even says it like it's a dirty word. What we see, though, is that his dad is resistant to change. He doesn't see why Ben has to work hard to change the world when everything is going just fine.
Theodore Roosevelt hadn't sent me to Eudora to take a rickety bicycle ride down memory lane. I had a job to do, and it might even help change history. (31.5)
As we recall, President Roosevelt wants Ben to go to Eudora and report back on the lynching going on. But instead, Ben takes that as a directive to start changing racist attitudes down there.
"Be aware. There are forces at work here that would like nothing better than to take away your freedoms, your right to live life the way you have always lived it here. I warn you to do what you must to make sure that does not happen. Gentlemen, be alert. And acquit these three innocent men." (122.17)
Lewis's warning about change to the jury comes out like a threat. He wants the jury to find his clients not guilty not because they are innocent, but because they shouldn't let things change in their community. His tactic works, too. Maybe it's racism, or maybe it's about fear of the unknown, but the jury eats every word up.
"But bad as it was," Abraham went on, "that's when things begun to change. A big change at the first, then they took it back. But what happened in that courtroom…that'll change it. You just wait. You'll live to see it." (127.10)
Back during the Civil War, plenty of people died over big issues like slavery and ownership. Even though it was a dark time in American history, it also helped pave the way for change. Abraham remembers blood everywhere, and then slowly but surely, attitudes shifted and rules changed.
"Papaw keeps saying it takes a long time for things to change. Well, that's fine for him—he's almost run out of time. I don't want to be old and dying before anything ever starts to get better." (128.10)
Moody gets frustrated with her patient and kind grandpa, Abraham. She gets what he means about change taking a long time to work itself out, but she doesn't want to keep waiting around. She wants—and deserves—to be treated better now.
"Why, Ben?" he croaked. "Why'd you have to come back and ruin our nice little town?" (134.8)
Jacob questions Ben's motives for coming back to Eudora as a way of pointing out how he is afraid of change. From where he sits, everything was just fine before Ben came down South and ruined things with the trial.This only takes Jacob's side into account, though, and life certainly wasn't fine for everyone living in the Quarter.
Four white men lay trussed up in the dirt in front of Abraham's house. I remembered Abraham talking about the earth running red with blood—and I saw blood, tiny rivers of it, here on his home ground. (136.6)
When Ben sees blood on the ground, he remembers Abraham's words about change in the Civil War. Here he insinuates change has begun. We want to believe that's the case, but he doesn't stick around long enough to show us whether or not that's true. So what do you think? Is change happening?
"The more progressive citizens see you as a kind of abolitionist, a figure of progress in the march of civilization toward full equality. And the coloreds in the South see you as some kind of protector, a hero. It's damn good!" (139.8)
President Roosevelt praises Ben for his efforts in Eudora, but this doesn't stop Ben from feeling lousy. He's not sure he's a "figure of progress" at all since they lost the trial. These words are a good reminder, though, that just because we don't see change, doesn't mean it's not happening.
"Nothing needs reforming," he said by way of beginning, "so much as other people's habits." The audience roared in recognition of a universal truth. (56.3)
No matter how you feel about Mark Twain, the guy knows how to tell a joke. We get the sense that he's playing with the audience here. While he's pretending to be chit-chatting in a light-hearted way, he's actually berating the audience for living in the past. Embrace change, people.