How did Helen respond to Tom's death in Chapter 25 of To Kill a Mockingbird?
Chapter 25 is when Helen Robinson gets the news about her husband's death. Atticus comes home from work early to pick up Calpurnia so she can accompany him to Helen's home to break the news. On the way out there, Jem and Dill are coming back from swimming, so Atticus picks them up, but tells them to stay in the car. Dill reports back to Scout what happened when Helen got the news, and it was something he probably won't forget.
" . . . she just fell down in the dirt. Just fell down in the dirt, like a giant with a big foot just came along and stepped on her" (240).
Dill's simile uses amazingly descriptive imagery to show how quickly grief strikes Helen. One can just imagine a giant stepping on her and crushing her along with all her hopes and dreams for a future with her husband. She must have had high hopes for the appeal process that Atticus so highly believed in. Both she and Atticus thought that Tom had a good chance to go free after appealing the verdict. Unfortunately, Tom wasn't as hopeful.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Helen does not take well the news about her husband. Helen had been supportive of her husband and trusted Atticus to defend him. Helen also knew that Tom was going to be found guilty because he was black. When Atticus and Calpurnia go to tell Helen that Tom has been killed, Helen reacts the way one might imagine if they had just found out their husband had been killed.
"Scout," said Dill, "she just fell down in the dirt. Just fell down in the dirt, like a giant with a big foot just came along and stepped on her. Just ump-" Dill's fat foot hit the ground. "Like you'd step on an ant."
Helen just completely broke down with despair when she heard what had happened to Tom. Helen was a strong woman, though, and even after all she had been through, she still got up and went to work and took care of her kids. Helen broke down with grief because she lost her husband, but she also remembered who she was and what she had to do, and she did it.
According to Dill, when Sam (Helen's son) returned with Helen from Sis Steven's, she asked Atticus if he wanted to sit down. Neither Atticus nor Helen said another word, so Helen must have understood from the look on Atticus' face that Tom was dead. Helen suddenly fainted, completely passing out. As Dill told it to Scout, Helen was immediately and completely overcome with grief:
“Scout,” said Dill, “she just fell down in the dirt. Just fell down in the dirt, like a giant with a big foot just came along and stepped on her. Just ump—” Dill’s fat foot hit the ground. “Like you’d step on an ant.”
Atticus and Calpurnia helped Helen to her feet and stayed inside her house with her for a while, evidently trying to calm her down and commiserate with her. Dill and Jem remained in the car. Atticus came back out to the car a while later to go home. Calpurnia remained inside with Helen, probably for moral support.