In "To Kill a Mockingbird" how did Tom's testimony about the evening of November 21 differ from Mayella's?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During the trial, Mayella accuses Tom of having raped her. Tom denies this and refuses to plead guilty. So, their testimonies differ in that both are trying to prove mutually exclusive actions/events.

Mayella tells the court that she asked Tom Robinson to break up a chiffarobe for her on the evening of November 21st. She relates that she promised him a nickel for his trouble. Mayella also maintains that Tom attacked her as she made her way into the house to get the nickel. 

When questioned by Atticus, Mayella asserts that Tom choked her and took advantage of her (sexually) on that evening.

Tom corroborates Mayella's specific story about breaking up the chiffarobe, but disputes the timeline. He maintains that Mayella actually asked him to break up the chiffarobe in the spring, about a year ago. He also relates that he has performed a few chores for her since then. Tom tells Atticus that he never accepted payment from Mayella for any of the work; he knew that she didn't have extra nickels to spare.

Tom maintains that Mayella asked him to fix a door that had gone off its hinges on November 21st. He also relates that the door appeared to be fine when he went to check on it. While he was there, Tom noticed that no children were in sight. Apparently, Mayella had sent the children into town for ice cream.

After Tom praised Mayella for treating the children, she asked him to retrieve a box from off the top of a different chiffarobe. Tom climbed up a chair to get the box. He tells Atticus that Mayella grabbed him by the legs while he was still on the chair. Eventually, Tom got off the chair; he asserts that Mayella then jumped on him and kissed him. Mayella asked Tom to kiss her back, but Tom refused.

Tom relates that Mr. Ewell came home as he was in the process of trying to get away from Mayella. Mr. Ewell was furious at the scene before him and blurted out a sexual epithet against Mayella. Tom maintains that he ran away after that. He was too frightened to stay.

So, Tom's story differs from Mayella's in that both are trying to prove mutually exclusive actions/events.





mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mayella indicated that she asked Tom to help her break apart a piece of furniture that was outside. She went inside to get him a nickel, and he snuck up behind her, grabbed her around the neck, hit her repeatedly, and then raped her.  She kicked and screamed and then her dad was there yelling at her and she fainted.

Tom's testimony is a bit different.  He said that he had broken up the piece of furniture over a year ago, and she had offered to pay him a nickel, but he had refused and gone home.  On the actual night in question, Tom said that she asked him inside the house, and told him that there was a door he needed to fix.  So he went in and tried the door, which didn't need any fixing, and Mayella shut the door.  He asked her where everyone else was, and she said the kids went in town for ice-cream.  Then she asked him to get something that was on top of the chiffarobe, so he got on the chair to reach it, and she grabbed him around the legs, knocking the chair over.  Then she jumped on him, hugging him, kissed him, told him that she never kissed a grown man before and that "what her papa do to her down't count."  He shoved her away, and that is when Bob Ewell came on the scene.

Mayella's testimony puts her as being attacked and raped by Tom, and Tom's testimony puts her as scheming to get them alone together, and trying to seduce him.  The differences are stark, and highly significant.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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