In To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Atticus show in his cross examination of Sheriff Tate, and what are the main points in Tate's evidence?

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gpane's profile pic

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As explained in the previous answer, we learn from Tate's evidence that the nature of Mayella's injuries would appear to suggest that she was attacked by someone who mostly used his left hand, and that he also put both hands around her throat. In the light of this evidence, the fact that Bob Ewell, Mayella's father, is left-handed takes on great significance. Atticus emphasizes Bob's left-handedness in court, although Bob, who appears decidedly dim-witted at this point, fails to see the implications.

Jem is excited; he exults that 'we've got him' (referring to Bob Ewell). However Scout at this stage is more sceptical; she thinks Tom might be left-handed too and that 'Jem was counting his chickens'. But then when Tom's cross-examination begins, she sees him clearly for the first time and realizes that he has a badly crippled left arm - as the result of catching it in some machinery when he was young. To any impartial jury, this would rule out Tom Robinson as a suspect. Of course, the point is that it is not an impartial jury, but rather one blighted by racial prejudice who goes on to convict Tom simply because he is black. Had he not been black, he likely would not even have been charged.

Tate's evidence on the nature of Mayella's injuries, then, goes right to the heart of the matter, and appears to point to Mayella's own father Bob as being her attacker; yet this evidence still proves insufficient to acquit Tom Robinson.

bullgatortail's profile pic

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Questioned by the prosecutor, Harry Gilmer, Sheriff Tate testified that he was "fetched" by Bob Ewell on the "night of November twenty-first" who claimed that "some nigger'd raped his girl." Heck found Mayella "lying on the floor... pretty well beat up." Mayella told the sheriff that it was Tom Robinson who had beat her and "took advantage of her." Under cross-examination, Atticus determined that no doctor had been called to examine Mayella, and that she had been beaten on the right side of her face. Additionally, Heck claimed that there "were definite finger marks on her gullet... all around" her throat.

The two latter points were important since Tom Robinson's left arm was crippled and useless. The marks on the right side of Mayella's face could only have been made by a left-handed person's punch; likewise, the finger marks that went all the way around her throat could only have been made by a person with two good, strong hands.

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