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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

THE STORY

PART TWO

CHAPTER 19

There is only one witness for the defense: the accused man himself.

According to Tom Robinson, the incident when he broke up a piece of furniture actually took place months earlier. Since that time, he had done many small favors for Mayella. On the day the rape is supposed to have happened, Mayella asked him to come inside the house to fix a door. But once they were alone together, Mayella kissed him. Tom's reaction to this was panic. He knew that any involvement with Mayella would mean trouble. And when Bob Ewell came in and found him and Mayella together, Tom ran away as fast as he could.

It is obvious by now that Tom is telling the truth. How do we know this? Here are a few of the important reasons:

-Tom's left arm is crippled. He could not possibly have tried to choke Mayella with two hands, or beaten her on the right side of her face.

-You have learned earlier from Heck Tate that Bob Ewell never called a doctor for his daughter. There is no proof that she was ever raped at all.

-Bob Ewell and Mayella's stories contradict each other about what was going on at the moment Bob arrived. Bob says he saw the rape. Mayella says her father had to ask, "Who did this?"

-Both of the Ewells acted as if they weren't telling the truth. Bob Ewell was surly and aggressive; Mayella was frightened of Atticus because she knew he could see through her lies.


Tom Robinson's problems, however, are far from over. The prosecuting attorney gives him a very hard time. At one point, he gets Tom to tell the court the reason why he did so many favors for Mayella: He felt sorry for her. Mayella had no friends, and she spent her whole life taking care of the house while her father and brothers just sat around.

This admission will be fatal for Tom. As far as the people of Maycomb are concerned, no black man has a right to feel sorry for a white woman. Inferiors are not supposed to pity their betters.

At the end of the chapter is a conversation between Dill and Scout that contrasts their reactions to the trial. Dill, the sensitive outsider, is so upset by the way the prosecuting attorney treats Tom Robinson that he feels ill and has to leave the courthouse. Scout's feelings are more complex. As a lawyer's daughter, she realizes that the prosecuting attorney is just doing his job. Perhaps he has gone too far in the insulting way he spoke to the defendant, but basically all prosecutors ask tough questions of every defendant. Scout even feels sympathy for Mayella, who, she says, must be "the loneliest person in the world." Originally, Mayella did not mean to hurt Tom. She only wanted affection. Now, one way or another, Mayella's father has convinced her that accusing Tom is the only way to restore the family's lost pride.

NOTE:

Scout's reactions show just how far she has come in accepting her father's advice to try to understand people by getting inside their skin. But understanding the motives of others does not necessarily make the world a less confusing place. If the prosecuting attorney is not entirely to blame, and Mayella is not entirely to blame, then who is responsible for what is happening to Tom Robinson? Scout does not have an answer to this question. Your first reaction may be that it is all the fault of Bob Ewell, who is obviously a liar. But remember, Bob Ewell could not have hurt Tom Robinson in the way he has if it were not for the cooperation of many other people in Maycomb.  

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