13 May 2014

Essay on the Trial Scene in To Kill a Mockingbird AQA Extract Question English Literature Exam

How does Atticus’ Speech build the themes of the novel?

Lee crafts Atticus’ speech using a range of devices designed to appeal to the emotions as well as build a logical argument against racism. She appeals also to the principles of justice and the American constitution.

She first uses rule of three, with the absolute ‘all’: ‘all negroes lie’ etc to highlight how shocking people’s prejudices were. People wrote off an entire section of the population, which Atticus highlights through this hammering home of the word ‘all’. Then the rule of three highlights the prejudice that negroes are evil in all ways: in lying, morality and around women. This rule of three repeats three times as Atticus transforms the logic/prejudices of the typical southerner. In fact, he almost turns the accusation around on them. He challenges their ‘assumption’, and questions the quality of their ‘minds’. He appeals directly to them using the word ‘you’, and also to the high-ideal of ‘truth’, which is repeated to emphasise how central this is to justice/injustice. Atticus breaks down the artificial divisions into ‘all Negroes’ / ‘our women’ / a ‘particular race of men’ and zooms out ‘a truth that applies to the human race’. He emphasises our common humanity, refusing to break society down into ‘particular race[s]’.

His rule of three moves from ‘all negroes’ to ‘some negroes’ to ‘not a person in this courtroom’, to shift blame onto everyone, in just proportion. He also moves from ‘all’ to ‘never’ - from one extreme to the other. He shows that where truth is concerned, no one group has a monopoly on either wrongdoing or goodness.


Next, Atticus appeals to the authority of the American constitution. He brings up the inconvenient first principle: ‘that all men are created equal’, exactly as it appears in the founding of the nation, but a fact many Southerners conveniently chose to overlook when it came to black people. Where previously, Atticus says people are shades of grey, here he states it as an absolute truth, using ‘all’ and ‘are’. He admits this may seem something ‘hurling at us’ from the ‘Yankees’ and says some people use this in a ‘ridiculous’ way ‘out of context’, so seems to weaken his argument before he begins, but really he is anticipating their objections: not all are the same. He uses balanced constructions of ‘stupid and idle’ vs ‘industrious’, and uses comparatives: ‘smarter’, ‘more opportunity’, ‘more money’ then gives a touch of comedy saying ‘some ladies bake better cakes’. In this, he moves from the large features of humanity to the small, with everyday, homely details that should appeal to the audience, adding weight to his argument. He uses elevated, elegant language where he says some are ‘gifted beyond the normal scope’ which shows how he is associated with high ideals and beautiful ideas. The mood continues to lift when he says, although not all are the same, they are gifted by being ‘created equal’ in the eyes of the law. This shows the power of the law. It can make ‘a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller’. Atticus’ language also balances ‘stupid’ with ‘an Einstein’, as if the law is so magnificent it has the power to elevate and ennoble even the lowest of humanity, into the greatest. He repeats the word ‘equal’ as if it’s part of a logical equation that should be obvious, appealing again and again to the simple but powerful ideal of the constitution. The courts are ‘the great levelers’. This may refer to one of the many religious groups that came to America looking for freedom. His language continues full of high ideals, though he says ‘I’m no idealist’: he appeals to ‘integrity’ as a ‘living working reality’. It’s as if he says these ideals should be so basic that they seem day to day, woven into the mundane. Then he deals with the invidual as part of society: he says the law, though it is an abstract and high ideal, is ‘no better than each man’ on the jury. He appeals to their better nature contained within them shifting from large to small: ‘court’ to ‘jury’ to ‘each man’, highlighting the difference that each man can make.


Atticus is urging them individually to act correctly as well as reminding them of principles, but also showing them a more noble path. He asks them to ‘review without passion’. The word ‘passion’ could link to Mayella’s passion for Tom, the racist passions in the court, or even evoke the passion of Christ, wrongfully convicted despite his innocence. He appeals to ‘God’ to add religious as well as philosophical, and legal weight to the justice of his argument. Also, he stresses that this would be a restoration: of ‘this defendant to his family’, appealing to family-instincts and our common humanity as parents/husbands. The word ‘restoration’ also suggests a restoration of what’s right, that the rightful order has been disturbed by this trial.
The author, , is an Oxford graduate, outstanding-rated English Language and Literature teacher and of ages 10-18 in the British education system. In 2012, she was nominated for Pearson's Teaching Awards. As a private tutor, she raises grades often from C to A. Her writing is also featured in The Huffington Post. She offers private tuition in the Haywards Heath area, West Sussex.