To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 16-19 Summary

    Chapter 16 opens with the start of Tom Robinson's trial. Almost everyone in the town seems to have shown up to see it. Perhaps the only exception is Miss Maudie, who doesn't want to see a man on trial for his life. One interesting character who does shows up to the trial is Mr. Raymond, and Jem has to explain some of his history Scout. Mr. Raymond is involved with a black woman and has several children with her. Jem explains that these children are all "real sad" because they don't fully belong to either the black or the white community in Maycomb. Mr. Raymond himself is also a bit of an outcast.

    After a lunch break, Jem, Scout, and Dill attempt to sneak into the courtroom. Scout overhears someone saying that Atticus was actually appointed as Tom Robinson's lawyer, and she wonders why Atticus hadn't told her this.

    By the time the children get into the courthouse, there is no room for them to sit. They run into the reverend from Calpurnia's church-Reverend Sykes-and he offers them a seat in the balcony, where everyone from the African American community is seated. From the balcony, Scout has a good view of the courthouse. She sees that Judge Taylor is presiding over the case, a judge who has a reputation for being rather informal in the courtroom.

    The first person to take the stand is Heck Tate, the town sheriff. Mr. Gilmer, the prosecutor, questions him first. Guided by Mr. Gilmer's questions, Tate recalls how Bob Ewell came to him on November 21st and asked him to come to his home. Upon arriving at the Ewell home, he found that Bob Ewell's daughter-Mayella Ewell-had been badly beaten. Heck Tate asked who beat her, and Mayella asserted that it was Tom Robinson. She claimed, also, that he raped her. Tate retrieved Tom Robinson, brought him to Mayella, and she identified him.

    Atticus questions Tate next, asking first if medical help was sought. Heck Tate tells that he did not call for medical help. Additionally, Atticus makes a point of noting that all of Mayella's bruises, including a black eye, were on the right side of her face. This is a key point that Atticus will use to try and prove Tom Robinson's innocence.

    Bob Ewell takes the witness stand next, and Scout gives some background information about his family. They live behind the garbage dump in a run-down, filthy shack. There is only one nice section of the yard, an area where Mayella has a well-cared for patch of geraniums. On the night in question, Bob Ewell says he was coming home from the woods when he heard screaming coming from the house. Going inside, he allegedly saw Tom Robinson raping Mayella Ewell. He then ran for the sheriff.

    Atticus then steps in for his cross-examination of Bob Ewell and asks why no medical attention was sought. Ewell asserts that there was no need and that it was too expensive to see a doctor. Then, Atticus asks Bob Ewell to write his name, which he does, and shows that he is left handed. Atticus' point here is that a left-handed man would be more likely to leave bruises on the right side of Mayella's face.

    In Chapter 18, the trial continues, and Mayella Ewell is called to the stand. Scout notes that, for a Ewell, she is a relatively clean and well-kempt individual. However, she does look terrified. She is the oldest of eight children, has no mother, and seems not to interact with any people outside her family. According to her story, she asked Tom Robinson to come onto the property in order to help her break up a dresser. This is when, she claims, that Tom took advantage of her. When Atticus cross-examines her, he asks why she didn't scream so that any of her seven siblings might come to help; he also asks how Tom managed to beat her. As Atticus points out, Tom's left hand is useless because it was damaged in a cotton gin when he was young. However, Mayella begins to cry and refuses to answer any more questions.

    Next, Tom Robinson is called to the stand. He gives a very different account of what happened. He says that he often passed the Ewell house and that, sometimes, Mayella asked for help with certain chores. He notes that he felt bad for her, a statement that gets the entire courtroom into an uproar because, in Maycomb, a black man shouldn't be feeling sorry for a white woman. Tom goes on to tell how, on the day in question, Mayella asked him inside the house to help with chores. When he noticed the children were all gone, she tells him she had been saving up enough money for all the children to go buy ice cream at once-thus she planned for them to get out of the house. Unexpectedly, Mayella hugs him and then kissed him, saying she'd never been kissed by a man before. Tom tries to get away from her, but Bob Ewell appears at the window, swearing at the both of them. Afraid for his life, Tom then ran away.

    By the end of all this, Dill has started to cry. Scout takes him out of the courtroom. Dill tells Scout he is upset by what he has seen, especially by how Mr. Gilmer treated Tom Robinson with such disrespect, while Atticus was polite to Mayella. During their conversation, Mr. Raymond approaches and interrupts them, bringing chapter 19 to a close.

    The trial that appears in these chapters is often seen as some of the most pivotal scenes in the novel. As the trial progresses, it becomes more and more clear that Tom is very likely innocent. However, very few people in Maycomb seem to believe this. Instead, they are willing to believe a white man-whom everyone knows to be lacking in terms of integrity-without question simply because of his skin color. The reader is painfully aware that Tom Robinson's fate seems sealed before he ever even sets foot in the courtroom. And yet, suspense prevails in these chapters.

    As the trial progresses, it seems that Atticus has an airtight defense for Tom Robinson. Tom Robinson himself is a likeable and trustworthy character. Despite the fact that Mayella has doomed him a likely terrible sentence, he does not criticize her. Instead, he goes so far as to say he pitied her. Link Deas, Tom's employer, even stands up to defend Tom during the trial, saying that he is a hard-working and good man. All of this is, once again, Harper Lee giving the reader a window into Maycomb and, thus, a window into the South during this era. The blatant prejudice seen in this trial is appalling, and certainly an issue that the reader cannot ignore.

    However, it also becomes apparent throughout the trial that Tom Robinson is not the only victim. Mayella Ewell is clearly very different from her father, and she has suffered a seemingly endless torrent of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse throughout her lifetime. She has no friends or family to stick up for her. When she takes the stand and gives her testimony, the reader has no choice but feel sympathy for her, even though she is most certainly lying. She is so deprived of human contact, that she is even offended when Atticus-all politeness-calls her "Miss" because she thinks he is mocking her. When Tom Robinson tells his story, which we can presume is closer to the truth, it is incredibly sad to think that she schemed and saved so long just so she could have a moment of human contact. With her, Harper Lee seems to point out that there are injustices everywhere. While Tom Robinson is being assumed guilty simply because of his skin color, Mayella Ewell is also pitiable because she was born into a family-and a society- in which she never stood a chance at success or happiness.

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