Atticus Finch’s Closing Argument to the Jury, from To Kill A Mockingbird*
To begin with, this case should never have come to trial.
The State has not produced one iota of medical
evidence that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with
ever took place. It has relied instead upon the testimony
of two witnesses whose evidence has not only been
called into serious question on cross examination, but
has been flatly contradicted by the defendant. Now
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 the
only good hand he possesses – his right.
I have nothing but pity in my heart for the Chief
Witness for the State. She is the victim of cruel poverty
and ignorance. 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. Now I say “guilt,”
gentlemen, because it was guilt that motivated her.
She’s committed no crime. She has merely broken a
rigid and time-honoured code of our society, a code so
severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our
midst as unfit to live with. She must destroy the
evidence of her offense. But, what was the evidence of
her offense? Tom Robinson, a human being. She must
put Tom Robinson away from her. Tom Robinson was to
her a daily reminder of what she did.
Now what did she do? She tempted a negro. 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.
The witnesses for the State, with the exception of the
sheriff of Lincoln County, have presented themselves to
you gentlemen – to this Court – in the cynical
confidence that their testimony would not be doubted;
confident that you gentlemen would go along with
them on the assumption, the evil assumption, that all
negroes lie; all negroes are basically immoral beings; all
negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an
assumption that one associates with minds of their
caliber, and which is in itself, gentlemen, a lie – which I
do not need to point out to you.
And so, a quiet, humble, respectable negro, who has
had the unmitigated temerity to feel sorry for a white
woman, has had to put his word against two white
peoples. The defendant is not guilty. But somebody in
this courtroom is.
Now, gentlemen, in this country our courts are the great
levelers. In our courts, all men are created equal. I’m no
idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts
and of our jury system. That’s no ideal to me. That is a
living, working reality!
Now I am confident that you gentlemen will review
without passion the evidence that you have heard,
come to a decision, and restore this man to his family.
In the name of God, do your duty. In the name of God,
believe Tom Robinson.
Lee, Harper. "Chapter 20." To Kill a Mockingbird. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960. N. pag. Print.
The persuasive effect of lines 7-12 rely primarily on the speaker’s use of