In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, why does Tom Robinson help Mayella Ewell?
In chapter 19 of Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson testifies for himself on the witness stand. First Atticus gives Tom time to speak freely about the events on the night in question. It is during this time that Tom explains how he often helps Mayella with a few chores around her home on his way home from work. He testifies as follows:
"She'd call me in, suh. Seemed like every time I passed by yonder she'd have some little somethin' for me to do--choppin' kinlin', totin' water for her . . ." (191).
Atticus asks Tom if Mayella ever paid him for his services, and he says she offered once, but after that, he refused payment because he is glad to help her out. Tom also says that Mayella's father and the children never help her out, so he felt inclined to help. When Mr. Gilmer cross-examines him, though, Tom admits that he feels sorry for Mayella because "she seemed to try more'n the rest of 'em" (197). Basically, Tom sees Mayella doing her best to take care of her home and younger siblings without much help, and he assists her out of the goodness of his heart. Unfortunately, his kindness is not returned, and he is repaid with lies and false accusations.
Tom helps Mayella because he feels sorry for her. This was his downfall, for a black man to feel sorry for a white woman. In that era, racism upheld that prohibition. This statement by Tom is probably what got him convicted. The Ewell household looked like a pigsty. That is, except for the red flowers Mayella had so lovingly planted. Despite the multitude of Ewell children, Mayella was the only one who seemed to do any work. She kept herself clean in spite of the grinding poverty and the location of the house, next to the dump. Mayella was a hard worker who did the chores her brothers should. Every day when Tom walked by to his job, she would speak to him as a civilized person would. For all these reasons, Tom felt sorry for her and agreed to help her "bust up a chiffarobe" for fire wood. His kindness cost him his life.