How does Tom Robinson show compassion and empathy towards others in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird?

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson show compassion, ironically, toward  the character that is accusing him of rape.  Near the end of the trial for the rape of Mayella Ewell, Atticus puts Robinson on the stand to testify in his own defense. When Atticus asks Tom if he had ever spoken to Mayella, Tom tells a story about a time when Mayella asked him to come inside the house to “bust up a chiffarobe.” At the end of the story he says:

She said, I reckon I’ll hafta give you a nickel, won’t I? an’ I said, No, ma’am, there ain’t no charge.

This line shows Tom, who was very poor himself, turning down money to help out Mayella.

A short while later, Tom is cross-examined by the prosecutor. When the prosecutor sarcastically says,

You’re a mighty good fellow, it seems—did all this for not one penny?

Tom responds with,

Yes, suh. I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more’n the rest of ‘em—“

This line shows that Tom, even though he is poor and victimized by a racist society, is able to care for others. Tom’s pity for Mayella, while admirable, gets him in trouble. It wasn’t considered proper for a black person to feel sorry for a white person in those days in the deep south.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the trial, the audience learns that Tom Robinson is a magnanimous individual who shows empathy toward Mayella Ewell. Tom Robinson would routinely stop to help Mayella complete household chores on his way home and refused to accept any form of compensation from her. When Mr. Gilmer asks Tom why he did not take any money for his work, Tom makes the mistake of telling the prosecuting attorney that he felt sorry for Mayella. Tom sympathizes with Mayella by realizing that she is the only person in her family who takes care of the children and their home. He goes out of his way to lend Mayella a hand by offering her help for free. Unfortunately, Tom finds himself in a compromising position when Mayella makes advances toward him. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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