Goodreads Celebrity Death Match Elimination Tournament Review – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (13) versus To Kill a Mockingbird (20)
The scene: on the banks of the Mississippi, early morning. Mist is rising from the river and spreading over the meadows. In a grove formed by a group of moss-covered trees, the people of St. Petersburg are gathered in a circle around a makeshift outdoor court setting jointly presided over by Judges Taylor and Thatcher. Atticus Finch has left his table on one side of the court setting and is pacing back and forth, addressing the jury that is sitting in a box next to the judges. At a table opposite to the one Atticus has risen from, Huck Finn is lounging back in his chair, slid halfway under the table, chewing and occasionally spitting out watermelon seeds. The case, it would appear, concerns the disappearance of a sum of money that Huck is accused of having "borrowed" from the Widow Douglas, who is now sitting at the table Atticus has left, looking at Huck with a supremely grieved expression (Huck having protested that he'd never borrowed anything other than cornstalks and watermelons in his life, and he'd even given up on the cornstalks considering that then borrowing watermelons wasn't going to be so bad no more).
"But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal," Atticus is holding forth. "That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest court in the land, or this honourable court which you serve."
"Oh, come to the mourners' bench! come, black with sin!" is heard from a group of black spectators, standing in the back of the crowd, segregated from the white folks by a barrier. "AMEN!" answer others from their group. "Come, pore and needy, sunk in shame! (A-A-MEN!) come, all that's worn and soiled and suffering!"
Huck lets out a yawn and exchanges a glance with Tom Sawyer, who is sitting in the first row of the audience next to Aunt Polly and Becky Thatcher, while Scout Finch is amusing herself somewhere in the distance, playing hide and seek with Jim.
"I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system," Atticus continues. "That is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard and come to a decision. In the name of God, do your duty."
Atticus makes his way back to his table, keeping his eyes on the jury even after he has finished addressing them, to emphasize the last point he has made.
"Come with a contrite heart!" echoes the chorus behind the barrier. "Come in your rags and sin and dirt! the waters that cleanse is free, the door of heaven stands open – oh, enter in and be at rest! (A-A-MEN! GLORY, GLORY HALLELUJAH!)"
At the words "the door of heaven stands open," Huck exchanges another glance with Tom, who surreptitiously advances his left foot by just a few inches. Atticus (eyes still on the jury) stumbles and, with a shout, crashes into a hole that had been covered up by a makeshift layer of grass and dirt spread out over a blanket and secured by a few rotting planks. Chaos ensues, while Atticus is heard complaining that the hole is full of snakes, spiders, rats and the like. Under cover of the turmoil that is surrounding the crowd's joint efforts to rescue Atticus from the hole, Huck makes his escape by way of a rickety boat moored nearby, courtesy of Jim who'd also been using that boat as his most recent hiding place in his game with Scout. Tom is prevented from following them by Aunt Polly's iron grip on his arm and by a reproachful look from Becky Thatcher's eyes, under which he turns bright red.
As the boat floats down the river, the judges squabble over whether to declare a mistrial or consider Huck's flight an admission of guilt and convict him in absentiam. Atticus however, finally rescued from his hole, dusts off his clothes and, with the Widow Douglas's grudging consent, resolves the issue by graciously admitting defeat to an opponent who has simply outsmarted him.