To Kill a Mockingbird Study Guide

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel about Atticus, a lawyer, and his children, Jem and Scout, living in Alabama. Jem and Scout are infatuated with a spooky neighbor, "Boo" Radley, Atticus is defending Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Tom is found guilty by a racist jury and is killed while trying to escape from prison. Bob Ewell, the winner of the case, attacks Jem and Scout to exact revenge but Boo saves them and kills Bob.

Chapter 18 Summary

Brief Summary

Mayella Ewell is called to the stand. At first she is able to garner sympathy; however, her demeanor changes drastically when Atticus cross examines her. Unaccustomed to politeness, Mayella vehemently attacks Atticus when he addresses her formally. The reader learns more about the Ewells and their impoverished lifestyle which explains much about their behavior and attitudes during the trial.

Detailed Summary

The trial progresses with the entire town following it. Mayella Ewell is called to the witness stand after her father. She presents a striking contrast to her living conditions; she is clean and demure. Mayella testifies that she called Tom Robinson inside her family's fenced yard the evening in question so that he would break up a chiffarobe for her. She claims that as soon as he finished the chore, he attacked her from behind. Atticus' cross-examination reveals that Mayella has seven unhelpful siblings, any number of whom should have been home that night to assist her with the chores. He also compels Mayella to admit that her father is a lonely and abusive alcoholic.

Atticus asks why Mayella didn't fight harder to escape the attact, why her screams didn't cause any of her seven siblings to come to her rescue, and how Tom Robinson was capable of beating Mayella on the right side of her face with a worthless left hand that was crippled by a cotton gin when he was a boy. Atticus asks Mayella several times if she wishes to reconsider her testimony because the evidence is far too contradictory to support her story. Mayella is insulted by what she believes are Atticus' attempts to publicly ridicule and humiliate her. Her final statement is a general insult hurled at the county's men regarding their seeming cowardice in deciding on a conviction. Mr. Underwood sees Jem and Scout in the balcony during the recess, but neither of the children is worried about being discovered. When court is called back in to session, the prosecution rests and Atticus calls Tom Robinson, his only witness.

Chapter 19 Summary

Brief Summary

Atticus calls to the stand Tom Robinson as his only witness. Tom recounts his version of events of the night in question. He tells a drastically different story from those of Bob and Mayella Ewell. During his testimony, Tom displays tremendous humility and integrity that have not been seen yet in the courthouse. Unfortunately, he makes the mistake of admitting that he has sympathy for Mayella whose situation is obviously worse than Tom's current situation. It is obvious before Mr. Gilmore completes his cross that Tom's fate is death.Dill is so disgusted by Mr. Gilmore's blatant display of prejudice that he breaks down in sobs and must leave the courthouse. Scout escorts him to a shade area where they encounter Mr. Dolphus Raymond, the town's eccentric white man.

Detailed Summary

When Tom takes the stand, he testifies that the Ewell house is on the way to work in Link Deas' field. Nearly each time Tom passed by the Ewells', Mayella asked him to do a small chore for her. Tom recounts that on the evening in question, she asked him to come inside the house to fix a door. Upon entering the house, he discovered there was nothing wrong with the door. He also noticed that the other children were gone. Mayella told him she sent them all to buy ice cream with the money it took her nearly a year to save. Tom climbed a chair in order to retrieve a box for Mayella from atop the chiffarobe. As soon as he was on top of the chair, she grabbed his legs, scaring him so much that he knocked the chair over trying to turn around. Mayellas forced herself on Tom, begging him to kiss her and touch her because she's never been with a grown man before and what her father does to her does not count. Tom struggled to release himself from her grasp, but her father appeared at the window before he could get away. Shocked by the sight of his daughter kissing a nigger, Bob Ewell called Mayella a whore and threatened to kill her. Tom managed to flee during this exchange between Mayella and her father.

Link Deas, Tom's employer, stands up and announces that he has never had any trouble from Tom during the eight years of his employment. Judge Taylor furiously expels Deas from the courtroom for his interruption, explaining he does not want to be forced to declare a mistrial. Mr. Gilmer cross-examines Tom regarding a seemingly violent past. The prosecutor reveals that Tom was once arrested for disorderly conduct as a result of fighting with another man despite his being defeated in the fight. Mr. Gilmer persuades Tom to admit that he has the strength, even with one hand, to choke a woman nearly to death as well as hurl her to the floor. He then accuses Tom of having intentions for Mayella. He badgers the witness about his motives for always helping Mayella with her chores until Tom declares that he fets sorry for her. Tom's confession upsets the courtroom because a black man in Maycomb County is not in a position to have sympathy or pity on his white superior. Mr. Gilmer reviews Mayella's testimony as a technique to accuse Tom of lying while under oath. Dill begins to sob loudly; therefore, Scout escorts him from the courtroom. Once outside, Dill complains to Scout about Mr. Gilmer's disrespectful treatment of Tom during the cross -- examination. As the children sit under a large oak tree discussing the differences between Atticus' and Mr.Gilmer's approach with the witnesses, Scout and Dill are interrupted by Mr. Dolphus Raymond who claims to understand Dill's admiration of Atticus' courtroom style.

Chapters 18-19 Analysis

Mayella Ewell is a quasi sympathetic character and the misery of her life almost places her among the novel's few innocents; she is similar to Boo Radley in that she is the victim of circumstances beyond her control such as destitute poverty as well as her father's extreme racial hatred and instability. Lee's presentation of Mayella at the trialis stark and disturbing in that the reader is shown the dire consequences of living a life under duress; not only does her father beat her and molest her, but she is also responsible for her seven siblings. It is important to remember that Mayella bears more responsibility than an average young woman of nineteen years of age. Mayella has grown so accustomed to abuse that she believes she is being ridiculed when Atticus approaches her with common social etiquette by calling her ma'am and Miss Mayella. Scout's vision of Mayella as the loneliest person in the world (218) seems accurate.

On the other hand, though, Mayellas's role as the victim is spoiled by her numerous attempts to not only destroy Tom Robinson's character but to also attack Atticus from the witness stand; all of which are actually attempts to cover her personally feelings of guilt and shame. The reader can have very little real sympathy for Mayella Ewell, despite her circumstances because her attitude proves her to be unreliable and untrustworthy.

During the trial, the only character worthy of the reader's compassion is Tom Robinson, whose genuine goodness and striking honesty makes him justifiably righteous. In contrast to the Ewells, Tom is hardworking and altruistic to a fault; he, a social undesirable is able to set aside self pity in order to appreciate others who are either as unfortunate or more unfortunate than he, such as Mayella Ewell. Like Boo Radley, Tom is the mockingbird manifest. His life is one of loyal servitude; to be more precise, he is self less in comparison to the other characters in the novel. Unfortunately, at this point in the novel, it becomes clear that this mockingbird is one that will be killed. The odds are stacked against Tom from the beginning as is demonstrated by the treatment of his trial for life by the people of Maycomb. As mentioned earlier, his trial is a morbid form of afternoon entertainment to be enjoyed by those who knew what the verdict would be prior to the trial. Link Deas represents the unfortunately more often than not unsung voice against racial prejudice. He assesses Tom by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin. However, Deas cannot so easily be categorized as a liberal. Lee places intentionally places his outburst during Tom's testimony for two reasons: the first is that Deas, as a white man, has the power to validate Tom's story and personhood and secondly, Lee is demonstrating the consequences of waiting too long to stand up for one's convictions. By the time Link decides to speak behalf of Tom, the trial is already underway with a predetermined verdict. Judge Taylor's removal of Link Deas from the courtroom summarizes the lack of impact he has on the outcome of the trial.

Dill's response to Mr. Gilmer's cross examination is only to be expected. Still a child with much to learn in the way of the world, he is literally shocked to tears by the display of absolute hatred in the courthouse. This is particularly evident by Mr. Gilmer's focus on Tom's admission of feeling pity and sympathy for Mayella Ewell. In some sense, the prosecutor considers this to be more of a crime than the alleged rape and that is something that is quite obvious to Dill. Interestingly enough, Dill finds an ally in Mr. Dolphus Raymond, a relationship that Lee foreshadows at the beginning of the trial with Dill's particular interest in the man and his mulatto children. The commonalities between them become more evident in the next section.

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