To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 19 Summary

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

In chapter 19, Tom Robinson takes the stand. Jem, Scout, and Dill watch as he shares a very different version of the events of November twenty-first. His testimony stirs strong reactions from Dill and the crowd.

Background Information

In previous chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird, we heard testimony that Mayella Ewell had been beaten. Although Mayella and her father, Bob, accused Tom Robinson, Atticus indicated that Mayella's injuries could only have been inflicted by a left-handed man. During questioning, he proved Bob is left-handed. Furthermore, while examining Mayella, Atticus revealed Tom's left arm was badly mangled in a childhood accident and does not function.

Tom Robinson Takes the Stand

Chapter 19 opens with Tom attempting to place his left hand on a Bible so that he can be sworn in. However, when he tries to raise his right hand, his left falls off the Bible. Once in the chair, we learn that Tom is twenty-five years old, has a wife and three children, and once had trouble with the law. Jem explains to Dill that Atticus is showing Tom has nothing to hide by admitting to a thirty day sentence for disorderly conduct.

Tom says he had to pass by Mayella's house every day. Tom works for Mr. Link Deas most of the year, and knows of no way to get to work except passing the Ewell house. Contrary to Mayella's testimony, Tom recalls she asked him to break down a chiffarobe 'way last spring, way over a year ago,' not November. Atticus asks whether Tom helped Mayella more than the once. Tom answers Mayella would often have 'some little something for me to do.' He says he was glad to help her free of charge because it seemed nobody else helped, and he knew the family did not have much money.

Scout thinks that Mayella 'must have been the loneliest person in the world.' She compares Mayella to Boo Radley, who has not been outside in twenty-five years. She thinks Mayella may be as sad as 'what Jem called a mixed child' since white people look down on her, and black people will not go near her because she's white. Scout notes Tom may have been the only person who was ever kind to Mayella. Her thoughts are interrupted by Atticus asking Tom if he had ever gone onto the Ewell property without being asked. Scout believes Tom when he insists he never would.

Tom Remembers What Happened That Night

Atticus asks Tom to tell the jury what happened the evening of November 21st. Tom explains it was unusually quiet when he passed the Ewell house. He was trying to figure out why when Mayella asked him to come to the porch. She claimed the door was coming off its hinges, and it would be cold soon. However, when he tried the door he found nothing wrong with it. Mayella then closed the door with him inside.

Tom realized it was quiet because there were no children. When he asked where they were, Mayella replied she spent a year saving seven nickels so she could send them to get ice cream. Tom thinks she may not have understood he meant it was nice when he said 'that's right smart o'you to treat 'em.' When he moved to leave, she asked him to get a box from on top a large chiffarobe. When he reached for it, she grabbed him from behind. Tom was startled, and knocked over a chair. He insists that was the only furniture disturbed when he left.

Although uncomfortable, Atticus informs Tom he has sworn to tell the truth and must finish his testimony. The people in the courtroom become loud for a moment when Tom says Mayella hugged him. Judge Taylor quiets them, and Tom must continue. He says Mayella kissed him, saying she had never kissed a grown man and 'might as well kiss a nigger.' He recalls her saying what 'her papa do to her don't count.' Tom tried to run away, but she was standing between him and the door.

Then, Tom saw Bob Ewell in the window yelling at Mayella. Atticus insists Tom share what Bob said. Reluctantly, Tom remembers Bob told Mayella 'you goddamn whore, I'll kill ya.' Tom ran away before finding out what happened next. He insists that he did not hurt Mayella in any way, and tried to get away from her without 'being ugly to her.' On hearing this, Scout realizes that Tom's manners are similar to Atticus's.

Scout also realizes what a predicament Tom had been in: if he hurt Mayella, he would have been killed, but because he ran away, he looked guilty. Atticus concludes his questions by asking why he ran. Tom replies that he was scared, and 'if you was a nigger like me, you'd be scared, too.' While Mr. Gilmer, the prosecuting attorney, makes his way to the stand, Mr. Link Deas announces he never had any trouble from Tom in the eight years he has been working for him.

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