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In chapter 19, Atticus calls Tom Robinson to the stand to testify. Robinson reveals that he crosses the Ewell’s house on his way to work each day. He notices that Mayella is usually alone and working around the house doing tasks her father should be helping her with. He also knows that Bob Ewell is a drunk. He feels sorry for Mayella because he knew that she was lonely and needed help. He has stopped to help Mayella on several occasions when she asked for help with chores around the yard. The last time he stopped to help her chop up an old chiffarobe. This is when Mayella wrapped her arms around Tom. When Bob Ewell appeared, Tom ran in fear. His compassion for Mayella was misinterpreted by Mayella as affection.
The Ewells live on the outskirts of town next to the town dump and close to the black section of town. Tom Robinson must pass their house every day going to and from his work for Link Deas. Tom has helped Mayella several times do chores around the house, and he claims on the witness stand that the kids were always around and that he never took money for helping her. The incident of breaking up the chiffarobe happens months before Mayella testifies it did, and Tom tells the jury that the day he helped Mayella get a box off a cabinet was when she grabbed him and tried to kiss him. He also tells the jury that Mayella had given her brothers and sisters money for ice cream that she saved for over a year so they would be gone when he walked by the Ewell house. When Bob Ewell witnesses Mayella's advances towards Tom, he yells that he will kill her for being a whore. Tom runs out of the Ewell house but is later arrested for rape.
On the witness stand, Tom says that he helped Mayella because she is so poor, and he felt sorry for her. This statement by Tom seals his fate as he is acting too “uppity” by the racist standards in the South by feeling sorry for a white woman. Tom was only trying to help Mayella who he knew was in a desperate situation; unfortunately, his actions were considered taboo in the racist community of Maycomb.
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