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Chapter 19

Professor Bradley Greenburg from Northeastern Illinois University explains Chapter 19 in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird | Chapter 19 | Summary

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Summary

Atticus calls Tom Robinson to the stand. Through his questioning Atticus reveals what most everyone knows to be true: Tom is a gentle and caring man who occasionally helped the Ewells because he lived near them. Tom tells the court Mayella had invited him inside the fence of her yard several times to do small tasks for her. On the day in question he reports that he was assisting her when she kissed him and made sexual advances toward him. When Bob Ewell saw them, Tom fled.

Tom's testimony remains solid—even Mr. Gilmer's cross-examination can't shake it. When Mr. Gilmer asks Tom why he would do so much for the Ewells without getting paid, Tom responds honestly by telling the court that he feels sorry for Mayella. For people like the Ewells there's nothing more insulting than being pitied by a black man.

Scout doesn't hear all the cross-examination because Dill suddenly begins crying and can't stop. Jem tells her to take Dill out, and the two go into the square. Although Scout suggests it was the heat that got to Dill, Dill tells her it was the way Mr. Gilmer was grilling Tom Robinson that upset him.

Analysis

If the mockingbird symbolizes innocence and vulnerability, then it becomes apparent in Chapter 19 that Tom Robinson is the story's mockingbird. Before this not much has been known about him. Calpurnia and the people at her church think he is a decent, hard-working man who comes from good people. During his testimony it becomes clear what a kind and selfless person Tom really is.

The clarity and sincerity of Tom Robinson's statement makes the Ewells' statements look all the more suspect and weak. In terms of the narration of the story, Lee has chosen appropriate dialogue for her characters so that their personalities and honesty, or lack thereof, are self-evident. By the very simplicity of Lee's details and presentation, she makes the trial excruciating; there is a sense that the truth, despite its clarity, will not win out in the end.

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