“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “A Lesson before Dying “ Essay
“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “A Lesson before Dying “
There is always more than one way to go about solving any given problem. The closing statements of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and another attorney in A Lesson before Dying differ in many respects as to how they go about arguing for the same purpose: the acquittal of their defendants. In the end, Atticus Finch’s argument is, objectively, more persuasive. Unlike the other attorney, Atticus draws on logic to support his defendant’s position, placing him as an equal of the jury, and asking the jury, above all else, to do their duty.
Easily the most striking difference between the two arguments is the place that the orators attempt to position their defendants. Atticus, who plans to use logic as his weapon, treats his client with respect. He never insults his intelligence, and even implies that his client felt pity, a condescending emotion, toward the chief witness: “And so 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.” Meanwhile, the other lawyer, keenly playing on the prejudices of the jury, explains to them why his client is so beneath them as to be deserving of their pity and mercy.
He constantly refers to him as a “fool.” He even dehumanizes him, saying that his client is “A thing to hold the handle of a plow, a thing to load [the jury’s] bales of cotton, a thing to dig [the jury’s] ditches, to chop [the jury’s] wood, to pull [the jury’s] corn.” While Atticus uses this placement as a device to engender the equality between the jury and the defendant that merits the frank, honest, and logical use of the law, the other attorney uses it as an argument, “in and of itself”. Perhaps the only strength of his argument comes only from the fact that the white juries that preside over these two trials of black men are easily swayed by prejudice, for while Atticus’s argument is destroyed by prejudice, an emotional phenomenon, the other attorney’s entire case depends on it.
The defining difference between the two arguments, however, is the sort of “evidence” that they use. Atticus tells the jury that his client should be acquitted because he has presented factual evidence that proves that he could not have committed the crime in question: the crime was committed by somebody left-handed, though the defendant does not have the use of his left hand. He also points out that “The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence to the effect that the crime [the defendant] is charged with ever took place.” In short, he shows that the burden of proof has not been fulfilled. On the other hand, the other attorney’s argument is that the defendant is too stupid to have planned a murder or a robbery. Whereas Atticus relies on the very convincing facts, the other attorney invokes emotion and implores the jury to, “For God’s sake, be merciful.” In a just courthouse, where the law supposedly reigns supreme, only one of these arguments would stand a chance: Atticus’s.
Several minor similarities, other than the general purpose, exist between these two conclusions. First, both attorneys treat the juries with respect. Whether it is as simple as referring to the jurors as “gentlemen” or feeding them the idea that they are so much more “civilized” than the “fools” whose fates they decide, both attorneys realize that offending the jury is a deadly mistake. In addition, both make the connection between the fate of the defendant and the fates of the defendant’s family. Atticus does it briefly when he asks the jury to “. . . review without passion the evidence [they] have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family.” The other lawyer, though, makes it the second largest portion of his argument. He asks the jury to look to the second row, where the defendant’s mother sits, and know that “. . . [the defendant is] her reason for existence.” Perhaps the degree to which this argument is made is important, however, since this emotional appeal is much more heavily relied upon in the other attorney’s argument, staying within the motif of that entire closing statement.
The persuasiveness of these two arguments can be seen in two different contexts. In the context of the law, unbiased and a great equalizer between all men, Atticus’s factual argument greatly outdoes the other attorney’s baseless and hopeless appeal for pity. However, Atticus’s affirmation that a court is only as good as its jury holds true to the effect that a white jury, while deciding the fate of a black person charged with an act of violence against a white, might allow their emotions to supersede what they know logically is right. This suggests that not only is all truth in the eye of the beholder, but that truth itself in many different forms and levels in every consciousness.