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Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird: Character, Analysis & Quotes

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  • 0:00 Tom Robinson
  • 0:24 The Trial
  • 2:41 Verdict and Aftermath
  • 2:58 Importance in the Novel
  • 3:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

This lesson focuses on Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee. Atticus Finch acts as Tom's defense attorney in a trial that comprises the pivotal scene in the novel.

Tom Robinson

Tom Robinson is a black man who works in Link Deas' cotton fields. He is twenty-five years old and has a wife and children. Tom is arrested and charged in the rape and assault of Mayella Ewell. Tom Robinson is depicted as a hard-working man in the novel. He is also a generous man; he spends time helping Mayella in spite of the demands of a job and a family.

The Trial

The trial of Tom Robinson is the pivotal event in To Kill a Mockingbird. The trial exposes the racial prejudice that permeates the town of Maycomb, Alabama. Atticus Finch serves as Tom's defense attorney.

In court, Tom testifies that he had to pass the Ewell's house to get to work. He says that Mayella asks him to help her with the chores almost every day as he passes her house. She asks him to haul water, chop kindling, and do other tasks for her. Typically, Mayella's seven siblings watch as Tom works.

On the day of the alleged attack, Tom says Mayella asked him to repair a door. Tom examines the hinges and finds nothing wrong with the door. Tom testifies that he had noticed the house was unusually quiet and that he soon realized none of Mayella's siblings were at home. Mayella tells him that it has taken all year, but she has saved enough money to send all the children to town for ice cream.

Tom says Mayella then asked him to get a box from atop the chifferobe, or a wardrobe. While he was standing on a chair to get the box, Mayella grabbed his legs. Tom says he stepped off the chair, terrified because Mayella had grabbed him. Mayella then hugged and kissed him, Tom says.

At that moment, Mayella's father, Bob Ewell, arrived and yelled through the window. Tom reluctantly testifies that Bob Ewell called Mayella a whore and threatened to kill her. Tom says he ran away because, 'I was scared, suh.'

Link Deas supports Tom Robinson's plea of innocence; he interrupts the court proceedings from the audience and announces that he has had no trouble with Tom in the eight years that he has employed the man. Link Deas' endorsement of Tom reinforces the image of Tom Robinson as a model citizen and a good man.

Given his position as a black man in a small, 1930s Alabama town, Tom makes a terrible mistake as he is being cross-examined. When the prosecutor asks why Tom is willing to help Mayella every day, Tom responds, 'I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more'n the rest of 'em--.'

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