Atticus Finch's Closing Argument in To Kill a Mockingbird



This essay will be discussing Atticus’ closing argument in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee in this Southern Gothic Novel. Atticus is the father of Scout and Jem and is also the lawyer of an African American man named Tom Robinson. He plays an important role in the novel as he defends Tom Robinson’s accusation of raping a white woman by the name of Mayella Ewell. This story takes place during the Great Depression in Maycomb, Alabama. Atticus utilizes various methods in his closing argument in the trial, that are crucial for benefiting Tom Robinson’s case.

In the closing argument, Atticus is trying to tell the jury to ignore Tom’s race, and directly look at the case and the evidence it carries. As Atticus finishes his statement, he states, "A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up"(Lee 232). This means that the justice system works only when every individual juror takes their obligation seriously. This means that a juror ought to use purpose and intellect, weigh the evidence objectively, and leave all biases and/or prejudices out of the courtroom. Mayella Ewell was motivated by guilt, as she tempted a negro and as it all began to crash down on her, she starting feeling guilt, and immediately accused Tom Robinson. For example, “I have nothing but pity in my heart for the chief witness for the state, but my pity does not extend so far as to her putting a man’s life at stake, which she has done in an effort to get rid of her own guilt”(Lee 231). Tom Robinson was expressing empathy towards Mayella, as he helped tidy up the house when she was lonely, and it all backfired for the humble and quiet Negro. She did something that in their society was “unspeakable”; a white woman kissing a black man. Atticus doesn’t only address the jury, but also address’s every citizen in Maycomb. Atticus makes it clear that racism is based on a series of lies and evil assumptions: "that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women...."(Lee 232). He explains how this is a truth that applies to every human, and that these behaviors exist among all races. For instance, “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”(Lee 232). As a result, Atticus uses this closing argument to not only tell the jury to look at the direct evidence and reasoning behind the case, but also address the social and racial injustice in the town, and how black men are no different than white men.

Additionally, Atticus’s closing argument does an excellent job in including rhetorical appeals. Prior to his closing argument, Atticus begins by using ethos. Such as, “he unbuttoned his vest, unbuttoned his collar loosened his tie, and took off his coat”(Lee 230). By loosening his clothing and removing his coat, he establishes ethos by losing some of his formality and gaining credibility. He wants to remind the jury that he is a regular person just like they are; that he is speaking personally to them as a fellow Maycomb citizen. He also precedes to make the tone of his voice less formal. In particular, “His voice had lost its aridity, its detachment, and he was talking to the jury as of they were folks on the post office corner”(Lee 230). This also helps create less formality, and can ultimately help persuade the jury. At the beginning of the speech, he proves that Tom could not have committed the crime using logos. Atticus explains to the jury why Tom isn’t guilty, "There is circumstantial evidence to indicate that Mayella Ewell was beaten savagely by someone who led almost exclusively with his left... and Tom Robinson now sits before you, having taken the oath with his only good hand he possesses - his right hand"(Lee 232). Since most of the marks on Mayella Ewell were on the left side, it can be inferred that the person that raped her is left-hand dominant. Since Tom Robinson is right-handed, logos can be used to support this accusation. In like manner, Atticus starts by building pity for Mayella Ewell. Then he uses pathos to build a connection with Tom by mentioning that "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's"(Lee 232). Atticus does this to get the jury to pity Tom because they all share pity for Mayella. This is an example of pathos because it evokes pity or sadness throughout the audience. For the most part, Atticus includes rhetorical appeals to spread his message and also persuade the audience to agree with him.

As a matter of fact, Atticus uses very relevant words or phrases to help make his argument stronger. Tom deserved a fair and sound verdict, and Atticus begged the jury to "... review without passion the evidence you have heard... In the name of God, do your duty... In the name of God, believe him."(Lee 233). Atticus knows it is not going to end well for Tom, so he tries to appeal to the jury's moral compass. By telling the jury that it is their God-given right to do the right thing, he is telling them that they have a responsibility to God to do what is right. Atticus's final speech is aimed at the jury's racist perspective as he challenges them to look past their prejudice and judge the case simply on the facts presented. He not only appeals to the logic of the case but also depicts the Ewells' motivation and plan to rely on the jury's racial bias. By presenting the facts, focusing on Mayella's motivation, and addressing the predominant issue of race, Atticus hopes to sway the jury's decision in his client's favor.

To summarize, Atticus’s great choice of words and rhetorical appeals help the jury really understand this case. Atticus thoroughly disproves the possibility that Tom is guilty by providing solid evidence that is logically sound. Although Tom was ultimately found guilty, all of the persuasion techniques that Atticus uses to make his speech more convincing overall. It’s important that he reminded the jury that “all men are created equal” so they could ignore Tom Robinson’s race, and focus more on what the case holds, and who’s being held accountable for raping Mayella Ewell.