To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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From To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Tom's running away from the Ewells' house suggest?  

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When someone runs away from a crime scene, it usually suggests that he or she feels guilty about something, doesn't want to get caught, or both. But being black in the South in 1935 doesn't award any benefit of the doubt in any criminally difficult situation--especially the one Tom finds himself in on the night of the alleged rape. In other words, no matter what Tom decides to do, run or stay to face the consequences, he would have ended up arrested, in jail, and standing trial for rape anyway. This topic is discussed between Tom and Mr. Gilmer in chapter 19. Mr. Gilmer asks Tom if Mr. Ewell ran him off of his property that night. Tom says that Mr. Ewell could not have run him off because he ran away before Ewell could do anything other than yell. The following passaged shows Mr. Gilmer posing the standard question in most people's minds when someone runs from the scene and Tom answering:

"'If you had a clear conscience, why were you scared?'

'Like I says before, it weren't safe for any ni**** to be in a--fix like that. . . I's scared I'd be in court, just like I am now.'

'Scared of arrest, scared you'd have to face up to what you did?'

'No suh, scared I'd hafta face up to what I didn't do'" (198).

Tom reveals the paradox that black people face when getting caught in a sticky situation with white people. It only takes one white person to accuse a black man of villainy to be believed and the offender arrested without question. Therefore, if Tom stays to face Bob Ewell, he's bound to wind up in a worse situation! At best, Ewell would have waltzed Tom into the sheriff's office, but Tom would still have been arrested. Tom's natural instincts told him to run and not look back, but that doesn't mean he is guilty, it only looks like it.

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