In Atticus' final speech to the jury in To Kill a Mockingbird, what does he identify as Mayella's and Tom's crimes?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to Atticus, Mayella "committed no crime." Instead, she is guilty of:

  • Lying to the jury. Atticus questioned Mayella's and father Bob's testimony: Their damning accusations against Tom "has not only been called into serious question on cross-examination, but has been flatly contradicted by the defendant."
  • Tempting a Negro.  Mayella's loneliness led to her seeking out the only man she knew would come to her aid: the married Tom Robinson. Atticus explained that the only way she could alleviate her guilt was to "destroy the evidence of her offense... her daily reminder of what she did."
  • Being poor and ignorant.  Atticus sympathizes with Mayella's terrible situation in the Ewell home--"She is the victim of cruel poverty and ignorance--but "cannot pity her" because of "the enormity of her offense."

As for Tom, he is guilty of

  • Feeling sorry for Mayella. It was in Tom's nature to come to a person's assistance--he had helped Mayella before--but a black male feeling sympathy for a white woman was not acceptable in the eyes of Maycomb's white population.
  • Being a black man.  Tom's skin color was at the root of the problem, since Atticus knew no jury would accept the word of a black man over the word of a white man.
handbooktoliterature eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mayella's crime is said to be going against the societial norm of being a white woman who is attracted to and then tempts a black man, Tom, even though she knew what the consequences would likely be.

Tom's crime was simply to feel sorry for Mayella and show her some compassion.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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