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

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shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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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.

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