How Powerful Do You Find Atticus Finch’s Closing Speech?

10 October 2016

Use of the word ‘victim’ is effective in building pity for Mayella, as it implies that she is not at fault for her misfortunes and is instead the poor unfortunate soul suffering due to circumstances that she could not control. This pity is then used as a way for the jurors to feel a connection with Tom, who, as Atticus points out, is ‘a quiet, respectable, humble Negro who had the unmitigated temerity to ‘feel sorry’ for a white woman’.

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By reminding the jurors that Tom is not so different from them, in that they all pity Mayella, Atticus relates them with Tom. Pity for Tom is also evoked, as Atticus reminds the jurors that Tom was merely ‘a quiet, respectable, humble Negro’. Words such as ‘humble’ builds up an image of an unassuming man and plants a little seed of doubt about Tom’s guilt in the minds of the jurors. Atticus also tries to lead the jury to feel pity for Tom by putting a little emphasis on Tom’s plight: ‘[Tom] has had to put his word against two white people’s. In that time of racial prejudice, for Tom to contradict any white person was a desperate path, as black people are usually assumed to be in the wrong automatically, and therefore, through reminding the jurors of Tom’s testimony, Atticus is attempting to bring forth pity for Tom. The tone of the statement also suggests that such a drastic action was not by choice; with the phrase ‘has had to’, Atticus is insinuating that it was Tom’s last resort, that Tom was forced by the circumstances to challenge the Ewells’s testimonies.

The evidence is presented to the jury in a clear manner: ‘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 hand. ’ Here, Atticus is very definite on the evidence and leaves no room for ambiguity; he emphasises the fact that Tom had only one functional hand, his right.

The effect of this observation is powerful, because it forces the jury to take a moment and reconsider; Atticus’s statement clearly outlines that Mayella was beaten by a left-hander, a feat impossible for the crippled Tom, therefore reinforcing an earlier assertion by Atticus: ‘The defendant is not guilty, but someone in this court-room is. ’ The tone in this allegation adds a little dramatic tension to the atmosphere of the courtroom and helps Atticus gain the interest and attention of the audience as they wait to hear to whom Atticus has assigned the guilt.

The tone of Atticus’s speech also brings in another persuasive element. An example of this is seen when Atticus disdains the assumption that all black people are liars and immoral beings not to be trusted around white women: ‘Which, gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson’s skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you. ’ The words of this statement suggest a rather forceful tone as Atticus asserts that to stereotype is wrong.

Through the use of inclusive phrases, such as ‘we know’, Atticus is also able to evoke a slight feeling of shame in the jurors as he indirectly reprimands their prejudice by implying that they ought to have known that their generalisation of black people was simply not true. Atticus tries further to break this long-ingrained prejudice by telling his audience that they are all the same: ‘You know the truth and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women – black and white.

But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not a person in this court-room 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 with desire. ’ With this proclamation, Atticus is able to show that Tom is no different in character to anyone else and that the jury should not allow racist perceptions to influence their verdict and cause them to judge Tom basing their opinions on how likely they think those of his race are to commit this terrible offense.

Atticus later augments his plea by noting that ideally, justice is blind: ‘But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal… The institution, gentlemen, is a court… in our courts, all men are created equal. ’ Atticus is beseeching the jurors to look upon the case with an unprejudiced eye, reminding all that everyone deserves justice, regardless of skin colour.

His point, that ‘all men are created equal’, is also repeated, to emphasise that a jury, or indeed, anyone at all, should not judge based on race, but on the truth. Personally, I find Atticus’s speech extremely powerful in that it is deeply convincing. The manipulation and use of the words is also incredibly effective, causing the audience to feel exactly as intended and by the end of the speech, one could hardly doubt that Tom was truly innocent of the heinous crime of which he was accused.

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