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

2 Answers

bullgatortail's profile pic

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

Posted on

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's profile pic

handbooktoliterature | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

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.