Chapters 18 and 19
Mayella testifies, clearly terrified, and she reveals herself to be a lonely
seventeen year-old, reasonably well kept considering her surroundings, whose daily task is to bring up seven siblings and care for her drunken father. She says that she called Tom Robinson inside the fence
offering to pay him to break up a dresser for her. Once he was inside the house he grabbed her and took advantage of her.
Atticus asks why she didn’t put up a better fight and why didn’t her screams
bring in the other children and most crucially, how did Tom Robinson manage to perpetrate the crime of rape when his left hand is useless, torn apart by a cotton gin when he was a boy?
Mayella squirms under this attack and Atticus begs her to admit that there
was no rape, but like a cornered animal, she shouts at him and the courtroom calling them cowards if they don’t convict Tom Robinson. She then breaks down and refuses to answer any more questions.
A recess is called and Mr. Underwood, the newspaper editor, spots the three
white children in the balcony, but he doesn’t tell Atticus, but he may include it in the social section of his newspaper.
The prosecution rests.
now calls the only witness he has, Tom Robinson.
story about the events contradicts Mayella's completely. According
to Tom, Mayella, who asked him onto her property many times before,
asked Tom to help her fix the door to her house. Tom enters the
property and proceeds to examine the door. Finding nothing wrong
with the door he asks if there is really anything that he can do
for her. She asks Tom to lift a box down from atop a high dresser.
Tom notices that, oddly, no children are on the property. Mayella
explains that she finally saved up enough money to send all the
children to town to buy ice cream. Tom remarks how generous Mayella
was to do that and proceeds to reach for the box. As he does so,
Mayella grabs him around his legs. Tom steps down and faces Mayella
who hugs him around his chest and kisses his mouth. Scared and confused,
Tom tries to push himself away from Mayella without hurting her.
Bob Ewell catches the two of them together in his living room and
proceeds to yell at Mayella. Tom runs and admits that he does not
know who beat her (although it seems obvious that Bob Ewell, racist
and ashamed of his daughter, beat Mayella).
When Gilmer cross-examines Tom he calls him boy and treats him with
blatant disrespect. He then brings to light a previous problem that
Tom had had with the law. He continues by asking Tom why he had
helped Mayella so many times without ever taking her money. Tom
explains that he felt sorry for Mayella who always seemed to do
all the work on the property and had to take care of so many children.
Upon hearing that Tom felt sorry for Mayella, the people in the
courtroom begin to murmur and Tom realizes that he has made a mistake.
He also accuses Tom of lying to conceal his obvious guilt and gets
him to admit that even though one arm was useless, he still had
enough strength with his other arm to overpower a girl and rape
her. When Mr. Gilmore asks Tom why he ran away, Tom said that he
was afraid of being tried in court, not for what he did, but for
what he didn't do.
Gilmer accuses Tom of lying and making up the whole story contained
in his testimony.
The white children watch the proceedings with disbelief and Dill begins to
cry and Scout takes him out of the courtroom.
The two accusers Bob and Mayella Ewell are a gruesome pair. The father
is villainous and the daughter is pitiful. Their miserable existence almost makes the reader consider Mayella to also be an innocent victim.
Atticus was desperate to make Mayella confess that no rape took place.
He knew he had to achieve this in order to free his client, and with the flaws he had clearly exposed for everyone to see in both of their testimonies, he felt he had a chance of success.
Both the Ewell’s are, however, slaves to their prejudice and although it may
be acceptable that Bob Ewell hits his daughter, treats her like a drudge and perhaps even molests her, it is not acceptable, or even possible, for a black man, Tom Robinson, to pity Mayella. This actually
compounds his guilt in the eyes of the white community.
must stick to her story that she was raped, because the alternative
is that she would have to live with the shame of being attracted
to a black man for the rest of her life, and it would be impossible
for her to live with that stigma. This means, of course, that in
order to cover her shame, she has to destroy Tom Robinson, but in
her eyes he is only a black man.
One final shock, which Scout had, was when she heard the prosecutor calling
Tom ‘boy’, a typically racist remark.
The reader is left with the impression that the Ewell’s are
slaves to their prejudice, ironically Tom Robinson, descendant of slaves, has more freedom of spirit than the whites who condemn him.
He will go through the rest of his life knowing he was innocent whilst the Ewell’s and the white community, if they have any conscience at all, will have this guilt hanging over them.