Study Guide

To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 19

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Chapter 19

  • Tom Robinson tries to use his good right hand to put his bad left one on the Bible, but it keeps falling off, and the judge tells him not to bother.
  • After the basic questions about his age and family, Atticus asks Tom about a previous conviction for disorderly conduct; Jem whispers that Atticus is showing the jury that Tom has nothing to hide.
  • Gee, we're glad Jem is here to interpret for us.
  • Tom's testimony continues: he passes the Ewell place on his way to work for Mr. Link Deas every day; he did go inside the Ewell yard to chop up a piece of furniture, but that was last spring, not in November like Mayella said, and that he went home without incident after turning down the nickel she offered him for the job.
  • Atticus asks if he ever crossed into Ewell property after that, and Tom says he did lots of times, provoking a murmur from the audience.
  • Atticus asks why, and Tom says Mayella kept having little jobs for him to do, and he never took payment because he knew how poor she was.
  • Tom says the children were always around when he was there, and Mayella would talk to him.
  • Scout thinks that Mayella must have been terribly lonely, even more lonely than Boo Radley, and that Tom was probably the only person who had ever treated her with real kindness.
  • Did Tom ever go on the Ewell property without being invited? He says no.
  • So, what happened that night in November?
  • Tom was going home as usual and passed the Ewell place, which seemed awfully quiet. Mayella asked him to come in to fix a door, even though nothing seemed wrong with it.
  • And then he suddenly realized that the reason it seemed so quiet was that the other children weren't around. Mayella said she'd been saving her nickels for a year to get enough money for all seven to buy ice cream.
  • Well, isn't that nice, he said. He tried to leave, when she asked him to get something down from the top of a wardrobe; he stood on a chair to get it, when she grabbed his legs from behind; he jumped in fright, knocking the chair over.
  • He swears that was the only furniture disturbed in the room when he left it.
  • And then he turned around and Mayella hugged him.
  • The courtroom erupts, but the judge intervenes and Tom continues: Mayella kissed him, saying that she'd never kissed an adult man before, and that what her father does to her doesn't count.
  • Tom says that he tried to get away without touching Mayella, when Mr. Ewell shouted through the window.
  • Atticus forces Tom to repeat Mr. Ewell's words, even though he doesn't want to: he said, "you goddamn whore, I'll kill ya" (19.68).
  • And then Tom ran away as fast as he could.
  • Scout doesn't understand Tom's dilemma until her father explains it to her later: pushing Mayella would have been as good as signing his death warrant, so he had to run, even though it made him look guilty.
  • While Mr. Gilmer is getting up to question the witness, Mr. Link Deas suddenly stands up and vouches for Tom's character to the whole courtroom, sparking Judge Taylor's wrath.
  • The judge tells everyone to forget the interruption and the court reporter to erase it from the record, and the case continues.
  • After revisiting Tom's previous criminal record, Mr. Gilmer asks him about his physical strength, establishing that after all he's strong enough to chop up furniture with his one good hand.
  • Why did Tom spend so much time doing Mayella's chores when he had his own to do at home? Tom says, after persistent questioning, that he felt sorry for her.
  • Mr. Gilmer shows shock and horror at this answer (how dare a black man feel sorry for a white woman?), and pauses to let the jury feel it too.
  • When Mr. Gilmer asks questions about that night, Tom refuses to accuse Mayella of lying, but persistently says that she is "mistaken in her mind" (19.135).
  • Why did he run? Isn't running away evidence of guilt?
  • Tom basically says that he ran because he knew most white people would assume he was guilty no matter what.
  • By this point Dill is crying uncontrollably, and Jem makes Scout take him out of the courtroom.
  • Dill tells Scout it just made him sick to hear how Mr. Gilmer was talking to Tom. There's a difference between the condescending way Mr. Gilmer talked to Tom and the politeness Atticus showed to Mayella.
  • Scout replies that the difference is between Atticus and Mr. Gilmer, not their witnesses, but Dill doesn't believe it.
  • A new voice breaks into their conversation: Mr. Dolphus Raymond, who agrees with Dill.

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