Tom Robinson: Character Analysis

Tom Robinson: Character Analysis
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When most writers plot storylines they have different perspectives on what the day to day lives of characters in their books are like.  In this regard, when Harper Lee wrote her book, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, it was about people who face challenges. People who suffer innocently with no one to believe them or sympathize with them.

Tom was the innocent victim of Mayella’s loneliness. The one misfortune he may have done on himself is indicating that he felt sorry for Mayella.  In his innocent and honest, he does not realize that this not only made the jury angry but it also reduced his chances of being acquitted. All the evidence was obvious for all to see.  There was no way he could have attacked Mayella as only one of his hands was fine and that was his right hand.  Mayella’s physical injuries were obviously inflicted by a left-handed man.

As evidently shown in chapter 14, Tom faces characters like Bob Ewell the villain of the novel. A very unpleasant character who is capable of lying and sacrificing the life of an innocent man without batting an eyelid.  This goes to show the kind of obstacles that Tom faced in the trial. Atticus his lawyer is ready to defend him despite the criticism and hatred his family members face.  But he insists on pushing through with the case.  He wanted to expose their bigotry of the townspeople, but most of all he wanted victory.

In spite of his obvious innocence, Tom is convicted of the crime. At the end of it, all the trial of Tom Robinson can neither be described as victory nor defeat.  With different interpretations, one can conclude either way depending on how one argues.   As the author suggested throughout the novel, moral courage is the ideal attribute to be valued.  No one was ready to believe Tom despite giving an account of what happened and evidence produced to prove it. There are most of the jurors who doubted him.  This is evident in the summary given on the jury’s individual findings.

Tom may have felt he had no chance of winning the case after he was convicted.  Even after Atticus Finch told him that they were going to appeal he felt he was not going to go through the humiliation and rejection by the people of Maycomb.  He would not be there to be weighed down by anger and frustration of being accused of something he did not do.  His death could be viewed as a victory because by shooting him almost seventeen times they proved their hatred of him since one bullet was enough to stop him.  It was a victory because by killing him thus, they had also proved they were Bigots.

On the other hand, we can view it as a defeat.  In chapter 17 Atticus goes to great lengths to prove witnesses as liars.  But despite this efforts to prove him innocent and chances of him going scot-free, he is killed in the end, leaving one with the speculation of what the final verdict would be.  It could also be viewed as a defeat because what the people of Maycomb wanted had come to pass by the death of Tom Robinson.  They wanted him gone for good and by killing him they had done just that, a defeat for his lawyer Atticus who was determined to prove his innocence.

Another reason it can be viewed as a defeat is that all the efforts of his lawyer had gone down the drain.  The negative attitude towards Atticus and what his family had to endure was in vain, gone to waste.   A sure and a definite defeat because the people of Maycomb were not given the opportunity to eat their words.  Most probably they were jubilant because they thought they were right all along since Tom Robinson had no reason to escape if he knew beyond a reasonable doubt that he was innocent.

At the end of it all, it will depend on an individual to interpret whether it is a victory of a defeat.  Based on the storyline, location, society and the evidence given in court one can only come to one’s own conclusion.

He couldn’t hit a white woman to keep her away from him nor could he allow her to kiss him – he ran away when Bob Ewell arrived knowing that whatever he did would get him into trouble. In the trial, Tom’s innocence is proved by the fact that only his right arm is useable. He couldn’t have held Mayella and raped her in the way that she described, and her injuries were the result of a beating from a left-handed man. He is honest and hard-working but he offends the jury by saying that he felt sorry for Mayella. This was not an appropriate feeling for a black person to have about even the poorest white at that time.

The trial gives the readers a chance to see Atticus Finch at work. Atticus is unusual in that his behavior is always the same both in and out of court (unlike Mr. Gilmer who is so unpleasant to Tom that it makes Dill cry but who is, according to Scout, decent enough at other times). His politeness is seen as offensive by Mayella who is not used to being treated decently and it is clear that he takes no pleasure in revealing the true nature of Mayella’s actions. In his summing up, Atticus tries to defend the idea that all men are equal before the law, but he is unable to overcome the basic prejudices of the jury. The only mark of his success is that they take an unusual length of time to come to their decision. Atticus was appointed to defend Tom and he upset people merely by doing his job. In spite of the verdict, the black people of the town appreciated his efforts and on the day after the trial, they sent large amounts of food to his house in gratitude.

The trial reveals a great deal about the prejudices that existed in Maycomb in the 1930s. Mayella would not have tried to kiss Tom if social prejudice had not excluded her from white society – Mayella does not even seem to understand the idea of ‘friends’ when Atticus asks her about them. The arrival of Bob Ewell at the wrong moment involved several aspects of racial prejudice. White women were not supposed to have anything to do with black men and Bob is so shocked by his daughter’s behavior that he beats her savagely. Once the charge of rape is brought, Tom becomes the victim of prejudices about black men and white women. These are so strong that the townspeople’s first reaction is to lynch Tom without a trial. When Atticus agrees to defend Tom, he and his children come in for a great deal of verbal, and some physical, abuse. In the trial itself, Atticus says that Bob and Mayella have assumed that they will automatically be believed over a black person. Atticus asks the jury to try to overcome this prejudice but it is too ingrained for him to succeed and, besides, the jury had probably been offended by Tom’s remark that he felt sorry for Mayella.

The whole trial is viewed from Scout’s point of view. This works well because as a lawyer’s daughter she is very familiar with court procedures and even some of the characters like the judge and Mr. Gilmer. She is, therefore, able to write about things accurately but because she is a child she is still capable of being shocked by the injustice she sees in front of her. The purpose of any trial is to make things plain for the jury and in doing this Harper Lee also makes things plain for the reader.

Reference

Harper L. (1960). To Kill a Mockingbird.  New York: Harper Collins publishers