Atticus Finch’s Speech Analysis Example
Does equality exist in the sense that it should be? Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird argues that the only place on Earth where all men are equal is in a courtroom. In his speech, he discusses the importance of justice and moral principles as he defends Tom Robinson, an innocent African-American falsely accused of sexual assault by a white woman. Although the entire town of Maycomb is inclined to racism and prejudice, Atticus, who is also white, does everything he can to do the right thing. Atticus appeals to the jury’s sense of logic and emotion by using strong language, parallel structure, hyperboles, similes, and metaphors, and juxtaposing different ideas, in order to convince his audience of Tom Robinson’s innocence, and persuade them to do their duty as the jury and treat his case fairly.
Atticus begins his speech by losing his formality with the jury in order to connect with them on a personal level. After acquiring permission from the court to deliver his speech, Scout is astonished to witness Atticus unbutton his vest, loosen his tie, and take his coat off, something Scout and Jem had never seen him “do before or since, in public or private.” Lee’s double use of juxtaposition in this sentence highlights the peculiarity of the situation.
Lee further amplifies this idea by using a hyperbole: from Jem and Scout’s perspective, it was “the equivalent of him standing before us stark naked” (Lee, 202). This emphasizes the importance of this act, because it demonstrates Atticus’s way of portraying himself as a normal Maycomb citizen. By stripping himself of his formal attire, Atticus is appealing favorably to the jury and attempting to connect with them on a personal human level. Given that all professionals in the court are wearing suit and tie throughout the trial, Atticus takes his own vest off to get rid of that barrier that divides him and the jury, stepping down from his position of authority, presenting himself to the jury as an equal, an example he wants them to follow regarding Tom Robinson.
Atticus proceeds by using politeness with the jury in order to gain their respect and maintain his integrity. After Atticus takes his vest off to create an atmosphere of trust within the court, he regards the audience with “gentlemen”. Harper Lee juxtaposes Atticus’s informal act of loosening his attire with Atticus’s use of formal language to address the jury, emphasizing his attempt to respectfully grab their attention and appeal to their sense of dignity and propriety. He is quick to reassure the jury that his speech will be brief and informs them “that this case is not a difficult one” as “it requires no minute sifting of complicated facts, but it does require you to be sure beyond all reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant.” (Lee, 203).
Atticus claims to be brief in order to get the jury to be receptive, emphasizing the importance of hearing the truth. Lee’s choice to describe the case as not “difficult” or “complicated” is effective because it carries Atticus’s underlying message for the jury to be mature and honest. Atticus further accentuates his point by comparing the simplicity of Tom’s case to “black and white”, a simile that makes it clear to the audience that had it not been Maycomb’s racism, the case would have been cleared completely. Atticus delivers the truth to the jury in a respectful manner because he wants them to understand and embrace the reality that is Tom’s innocence with maturity and honesty.
Atticus narrates Mayella’s side of the story in order to make the audience pity Mayella and evoke sympathy towards Tom Robinson. After Atticus makes it clear to the jury that Tom is innocent from the lack of medical evidence on Mayella’s part, he elaborates that he actually pities Mayella, but only to a limited extent. He tells the jury that she was “a victim of cruel poverty and ignorance” (203). By using emotional language, Atticus is making the whole court feel empathy towards Mayella, referring to the fact that Mayella Ewell is also a victim of the Great Depression, and thus likely the jury is able to connect with her pain and misery. Atticus clarifies that she is, however, undeserving of pity because “she is white.”
The short sentence structure is effective because it indicates that her being white means she still carries more privileges and is therefore in a position of power over individuals like Tom Robinson. Atticus continues to retail Mayella’s story, telling the audience that in order to cover up her guilt, Mayella “struck out at her victim . . . She must destroy the evidence of her offense” (Lee, 203). Atticus uses intense words such as “struck” to describe Mayella’s accusing of an innocent man, emphasizing the gravity of her actions and the harmful impact it would have upon a black, defenseless person like Tom Robinson in a racist society. Mayella’s ignorance was a product of lack of education and poverty. Atticus’s honesty regarding Mayella demonstrates his fair values, and he relates this to the audience to clear up how Mayella’s wrongdoings doomed Tom Robinson, drawing pity from the audience for both, Mayella, and most importantly, Tom.
Atticus proceeds to convince the jury that Tom Robinson is innocent by reprimanding Maycomb’s racism. After exposing Mayella’s offense, Atticus elucidates that Mayella did not merely kiss “an old uncle, but a strong young Negro man.” By juxtaposing the situation with an old uncle with one involving a black person, he highlights the difference that having tempted Tom Robinson not only signifies an immoral act but also having violated a taboo of a segregated society. “No code mattered to her before she broke it,” Atticus explains, “but it came crashing down on her afterwards.” The word “crashing” is effective because it tells the reader that Mayella became aware of her mistakes until it was already too late.
Having realized she had set the blame upon an innocent black man, too scared to tell the truth, she chose to protect herself and her father. Atticus tells the jury that Mayella was “beaten savagely by someone who led almost exclusively with his left” and that Mr. Ewell had done “what any God-fearing, preserving, respectable white man would do under circumstances—he swore a warrant, no doubt signing with his left hand, and Tom Robinson now sits before you, having taken the oath with the only good hand he possesses—his right hand” (203). By using a sarcastic tone, Atticus is purposely mocking the idea that all white men are justified in behaving poorly towards a man of color when Mr. Ewell’s actions clearly don’t make him an honorable example. Lee further emphasizes this irony when Atticus points out Bob Ewell is left-handed, comparing his intact limb with Tom Robinson’s impaired one, deeming him a higher suspect than it would Tom Robinson, who has been accused by Mayella and Mr.
Ewell himself. Lee uses parallelism to describe Tom as a “quiet, respectable, humble Negro who had the unmitigated temerity to ‘feel sorry’ for a white woman has had to put his word against two white people”, in order to appeal to the audience’s sympathy towards Tom, whose kindness has brought him to his own demise. Due to racism, his word was equatable to silence. By raising awareness to the town’s prejudice, Atticus delivers the message that black people’s voices are unfairly silenced, emphasizing the injustice of Tom’s trial.
Atticus continues his argument by addressing the role that Maycomb’s stereotypes play in Tom Robinson’s innocence. Atticus argues that the more reason to not justify the actions and words of the Ewells is because they gave “—the evil assumption—that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption that one associates with minds of their caliber” (204). Lee’s use of parallelism in this sentence is effective because it serves as a tool of persuasion in Atticus’s speech.
By appealing to the logic of his argument, Atticus tries to make memorable the idea that not everyone is the same, and that no one has the right to judge a person by their stereotypes because one never knows who actually falls under minority. He asserts that society merely latches onto the negative qualities of black people and chooses to criticize based on those without getting to know them first. He tries to abolish the belief that black people are all immoral and dishonorable beings, which, in Atticus’s words, “is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson’s skin” (204). In this example, the author uses the color black as a metaphor of evil, which, in the context of the situation, means that Mayella’s lies are dark and therefore purely derived from reasons meant to cause harm, taking away the credibility of her testament. Atticus continues supporting his point by claiming that there was “not a person in the 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”, a hyperbole that suggests that the same logic applies to every human. He delivers the message that everyone is capable of making mistakes and that there’s no such a thing as superior or inferior, accentuating the idea that Tom Robinson is just another victim of society’s misjudgments based off of racist stereotypes: his dark skin color does not make him inferior to those with lighter skin.
Finally, Atticus calls out the courtroom as a whole in order to raise the jury’s recognition of their own prejudice to make them to reflect on their actions. Towards the end of his speech, Atticus suddenly pauses to wipe his glasses off, something else that perplexes Scout, who describes the gesture as “another ‘first’: we had never seen him sweat—” she tells us, “[Atticus] was one of those men whose faces never perspired, but now it was shining tan” (Lee, 204-205). This is relevant because it provides a sign of his nervousness, an emotion Atticus had never displayed in the novel before, which indicates the seriousness of the situation, and his perception towards it. This pause is effective because it gives a moment for the audience to process and think about Atticus’s previous statement. By defending Tom Robinson, Atticus is venturing beyond Maycomb’s comfort zone, which is defying prejudice, something the town is afraid to do.
Having said that, Atticus attempts to push some reason into the people so they can reflect on their immoral actions, telling them that their definition of equality is wrong. He justifies himself by asserting that “some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cake than others—.” Atticus makes his argument more credible by listing out facts and appealing to the jury’s sense of logic. Lee uses parallelism to emphasize Atticus’s point that not everyone is equal in terms of character, as some are born with greater gifts or fortunes than others, however, courts make an exception because all men are treated equally there.
To clarify, Atticus juxtaposes human intelligence with stupidity, saying that a courtroom is the “one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man equal of an Einstein, and an ignorant man equal of any college president” (Lee, 205). The author alludes to Rockefeller, one of the richest and most powerful families worldwide, and Einstein, a famous inventor, and physician, comparing their high level of sophistication to that of a commoner’s in order to emphasize equality, even in cases of extremity.
Atticus asserts that “courts have their faults, as does any human constitution, but in this country our courts are the great levellers, and in our courts all men are created equal” (Lee, 205). By describing the courts as the “great” levellers, Lee highlights the importance of the duty of courts, which is to ensure that all men are created equal and therefore treated so under the law, effectively gaining more credibility in Atticus’s argument. He proceeds to voice out his confidence that the jury “will review without passion the evidence [they] have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family” (Lee, 205). Atticus takes note of the fact that the jury has as much power as the court in the decision of a verdict. He addresses the court as a whole to make an acknowledgment of the harm their racial prejudice will inflict upon Tom Robinson. Atticus is also appealing to their sense of morality by pointing out the corruption and unlawfulness that makes up a court. He asks the jury to do their duty, to be honest, and put all biased feelings aside to do the right thing: acquit Tom Robinson of his charges, knowing that he’s innocent and yet proven guilty because he is black.
In conclusion, Atticus Finch condemns racism and persuades the jury to acquit Tom Robinson of his charges by appealing to the audience’s emotions and sense of logic through strong language, hyperbole, simile, metaphor, and parallelism, and repeating and juxtaposing different concepts. Atticus discusses the evidence of Tom’s innocence and the Ewell’s offenses, which he describes as nothing but evil lies told to deliver the assumption that all black men are immoral and ungracious human beings. Atticus challenges his audience to not believe them, providing them with the argument that all men are born equal, regardless of race. By convincing that Tom Robinson is innocent, Atticus is delivering the message to Maycomb that black people are also human beings and deserve to be treated so. Harper Lee delivers Atticus’s speech striving to inspire her readers to be honorable individuals and to treat everyone equally and respectfully.