Tom Robinson is an innocent, vulnerable black man who was wrongly accused of assaulting and raping Mayella Ewell on the evening of November 21st. Atticus Finch is Tom's attorney, and he plans on valiantly defending his client in front of a racist jury and audience. Given the prejudiced makeup of Maycomb's small town, the majority of white citizens are upset that Atticus is defending a black man. Numerous citizens use racial slurs to describe Tom Robinson, and Atticus's children are forced to defend their father on a regular basis before the trial. In chapter 9, Cecil Jacobs uses a racial slur to describe Tom Robinson when he tells Scout,
My folks said your daddy was a disgrace an‘ that nigger oughta hang from the water-tank! (Lee, 41).
In chapter 11, Scout and Jem walk past Mrs. Dubose's home, and she offends them by saying,
Not only a Finch waiting on tables but one in the courthouse lawing for niggers! ...Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for! (Lee, 55).
In addition to the racial slurs the prejudiced citizens use to describe Tom, the prosecuting attorney Mr. Gilmer reveals his racist personality by speaking down to Tom and by openly disrespecting him during his cross-examination. When Tom testifies that he felt sorry for Mayella, Mr. Gilmer pauses and repeats Tom's words by saying,
You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her? (Lee, 105).
Mr. Gilmer knows that it is unheard of for a black man to feel sorry for a white woman and uses Maycomb's prejudiced social conventions in his favor. Mr. Gilmer also disrespects Tom by continually calling him "boy," and both the Ewells use the racial slur "nigger" to describe Tom during their testimonies. Tragically, Tom Robinson is wrongly convicted of assaulting and raping Mayella Ewell and is sent to the Enfield Prison Farm, where he attempts to escape and is shot dead. Following Tom's death, Scout recalls the prejudiced community's thoughts and feelings regarding Tom Robinson by saying,
You know how they are. Easy come, easy go. Just shows you, that Robinson boy was legally married, they say he kept himself clean, went to church and all that, but when it comes down to the line the veneer’s mighty thin. Nigger always comes out in ‘em (Lee, 128).