Thoughts on Justice and the trial in TKAM

I thought I had written this post long ago!

Some thinking points for my current year 11 and 10 studying TKAM for IGCSE… (no quotations  -they are your responsibility).

  • The nature of Justice itself: consider the difference between natural and societal justice.  Natural justice generally suggests that one is punished in some way for ones misdeeds, even if there is no legal redress – “you get what you deserve”.  Societal Justice is the justice of the legal system – designed to be foolproof and fair for all parties, but which is capable of failing the test of “natural justice.”
  • Consider where we see the two issues:  The trial is evidently societal, and it is equally clear that it fails to provide “justice”in terms of the conviction of Tom and the freedom of Bob which presumably would mean a continuing life of misery for Mayella and the “chillun'”.
  • The trial is a clear product of societal justice.  Despite all attempts to make it fair, society and societal moral codes will dominate and eventually undermine the justice which is enshrined in the idea of trial by jury.  Perhaps this is why the courthouse roof sags – struggling to sustain justice in the face of society.
  • This is a fair trial – Atticus’ appointment ensures this and Tom is given a fair hearing – students can draw their evidence for this from the text- but it is a fair trial given the restrictions of the era.  The jury is male and white – this has a bearing on the outcome that cannot be denied.  Despite the presence of a Cunningham on the jury to delay matters, the outcome is never in doubt.  Atticus knows this and expresses it clearly several times, especially at the close of Chapter 11 when discussing courage with Jem…  Given the shortcomings of the system, Tom could not be given a fairer trial, yet justice is not served.
  • It seems that society is not yet ready for justice and that societal codes still dominate.  No white juror will vote to acquit in this case and the crowd and jury can still be incensed not by the idea of rape, sexual abuse, neglect, but by the suggestion that a Black man had the temerity to feel sorry for a downtrodden white woman.
  • In the face of such small minded societal attitudes to justice, it is Natural Justice which will eventually win out.  Bob will seek to exact his own perverted revenge on Atticus’ children and Boo will emerge from his cage to deliver justice – Bob is an abuser, a liar, a cheat and a man trying to murder the two Mockingbirds – it is only right that he dies.
  • Or is it?  Atticus would subject Jem to trial if necessary.  He sees the bigger issue here.  If societies are to rely on Natural Justice, then the law has failed.  Though the book does not address this, the need to make the legal system as free from societal bias as possible shouts loudly at the end of the novel and there should be a sense of dissatisfaction in the reader.  There should be a trial in order to acquit Boo on the grounds of self defence and protection of the children.  The justice system has not developed sufficiently to allow this and that is a problem.
  • Natural Justice can be used by all elements of society and twisted to their ends.  We rejoice in Bob’s comeuppance, but the other side of the coin will be seen in the expressions of pleasure or utter disinterest in the news of Tom’s death – “he is black, there fore he committed the crime – therefore it is fitting that he died” runs the idea.
  • Natural Justice is not enough for a society to flourish, any more than the education received out of school will ultimately be enough for the Finch children to succeed in society  – there must be a formal judicial code and must must serve all.  The trial is a fair as it can be-  it might even be biased in favour of Tom by the choice of Atticus as defence barrister since he seems so much better than the hapless Mr Gilmer – but it is not fair enough.  Not by a long way.