How does Harper Lee show the treatment of Tom Robinson is cruel and unfair in To Kill a Mockingbird?I would really appreciate strong quotes and certain literacy techniques used by Harper Lee. Thank...

How does Harper Lee show the treatment of Tom Robinson is cruel and unfair in To Kill a Mockingbird?

I would really appreciate strong quotes and certain literacy techniques used by Harper Lee. Thank you.

Asked on by bowser123

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Long before the trial begins, Harper Lee allows the reader to understand that it will be an uphill battle for Tom. Atticus recognizes that Tom has little chance of being cleared of the charges, telling his brother Jack that

"The jury couldn't possibly be expected to take Tom Robinson's word against the Ewells." (Chapter 9)

The verdict has actually been decided in the minds of the jurors before the trial starts, since the fact that a white man's word is always accepted over that of a black man's holds true in the 1930s Deep South. Although the Ewells are the "disgrace of Maycomb," they are white, and their word will be accepted over that of Tom's.

Atticus will provide plenty of evidence to support Tom's innocence: Mayella's injuries must have been inflicted by a left-handed man (Tom's left arm is crippled); she never saw a physician to corroborate her charge of rape; Bob's and Mayella's testimony often were in conflict; and Mayella changes her story several times on the stand. But, as Atticus knew beforehand, Tom's testimony--as honest and forthright as it seemed to Scout and Jem--was not believed by the jury.

Tom suffers further indignities when he is nearly taken from the jail and lynched shortly before the trial; while he is being cross-examined, the prosecutor repeatedly refers to him as "boy;" and Bob and Mayella both call him "nigger" while on the stand. For Tom, the worst part is being imprisoned following the trial. Although Atticus believes he has a great chance of freeing Tom on appeal, Tom is unable to deal with being caged like a bird, and when he attempts to escape, he is riddled with bullets--seventeen of them--from the rifles of the guards. Tom is memorialized in an editorial by B.B. Underwood, who likens his death to the sinful and "senseless slaughter of songbirds." 

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