Why can't Helen Robinson get work in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Helen Robinson, Tom's wife, can't get work because no white employers want to have anything to do with Tom or his kin, due to the circumstances of the charges (that Tom, a black man, raped a white woman). Although Reverend Sykes explains to the congregation that Helen can't leave her children alone while Tom is in jail, Scout realizes this is not necessarily true. She knows that many field workers take their children with them, putting them "in whatever shade there was" while the parents worked (usually the cotton fields). Calpurnia finally explained that

"Folks aren't anxious to have anything to do with any of his family."

mlsldy3's profile pic

mlsldy3 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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In a town like Maycomb, Helen finds it almost impossible to find work. Helen needs to take care and provide for her children while her husband, Tom, awaits his court date. Most of the people in Maycomb don't want anything to do with his family. People in the town believed that he was guilty. Being a black person in this town was hard enough, but adding that your husband is going on trial for raping a white woman makes it impossible. Being accused of this type of crime means everyone is looking at Helen as if she is guilty as well.

Scout is starting to realize the way the town works. She knows that Helen is a good person, yet she is seeing people treat her as if she has committed a crime. Atticus has taken Tom's case, he believes that his innocent, but he is about the only one in town willing to help. People want to hold Helen accountable for what her husband is accused of doing. When Jem and Scout go to church with Calpurnia, they see the church taking up a collection for Helen. Scout knows these people don't have any money, yet here they are, coming together as a community, trying to help this poor woman. It is a great show of the differences between the town. The white folks don't want anything to do with Helen, yet the black community comes together to show their support of her and Tom. It is a great learning lesson for Scout.

price7781's profile pic

price7781 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Because Helen Robinson’s husband, Tom, has been accused of raping Mayella Ewell, the town doesn’t want anything to do with Helen because it would look as if they were sympathetic to Tom Robinson’s plight. Appearance is very important in Maycomb, and even Aunt Alexandra disagrees with Atticus for taking Tom’s case because of how it “looks." She is afraid of tarnishing the family name with Atticus’ heroic act. Scout and Jem also have to worry about Atticus, who is called derogatory names for his participation in the trial. Citizens of Maycomb do not want to be thought of as “nigger lovers," and therefore will not consider hiring Helen even though she and her family are desperate for work. 

Bob Ewell is also harassing Helen Robinson. He follows her around town and calls her names. People in Maycomb may also fear Bob Ewell and what he is capable of doing.

It’s unfortunate that Tom’s assumed “guilt” trickles down to affect his family in the racist society of Maycomb.

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