Based on their descriptions and actions in To Kill a Mockingbird, how can Tom's family be described?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tom Robinson and his wife and three children live in the "Negro section" of Maycomb and Tom has to pass the Ewell house on his way to work. He and his wife are legally married, clean, attend church, and keep their home neat. Tom has "black velvet skin," as Scout describes it, he is twenty-five years old, and he has a disabled left arm; despite his handicap, he works for Mr. Link Deas as a laborer on his property. When he is questioned on the witness stand, he is very polite and respectful; moreover, unlike Mayella and her father, Tom tells the truth, even when it works against him, such as the explanation that he helped Mayella because he felt sorry for her with so much to do. 

As she listens to Tom's testimony, Scout observes about Mayella, "Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her." She also observes that Tom is "a respectable Negro, and a respectable Negro would never go up into somebody's yard of his own volition."

After Tom is convicted unjustly of rape based upon Mayella's ridiculous testimony, he is taken to Enfield Prison Farm, and his wife Helen goes to work for Mr. Deas. When Atticus drives to the Robinson place and she learns of Tom's tragic death, Helen collapses; Atticus and Calpurnia must help her inside.

After Tom's death, Mr. Underwood, angered at the injustice of Robinson's fate, writes a scathing editorial in which, Scout recounts, 

Mr. Underwood simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping. He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children....

Certainly, the Robinsons were decent people, far better than the dissipated and derelict Tom Ewell.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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