What are the main points in Heck Tate's evidence?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, what are the main points in Heck Tate's evidence, and what does Atticus show in his cross examination of Sheriff Tate?

The main points Sheriff Tate's testimony makes in To Kill a Mockingbird are that no one called a doctor for Mayella Ewell and that the bruises on her face indicate being hit by someone who was left-handed. These two facts arise suspicion, as Tom Robinson cannot use his left arm, but Mayella's father is left- handed.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In To Kill a Mockingbird, the main points in Sheriff Heck Tate's testimony in Tom Robinson’s trial are that Mayella Ewell was badly beaten and claimed that it was Tom who beat and raped. When he was called to the Ewell house, he:

“Found her lying on the floor...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In To Kill a Mockingbird, the main points in Sheriff Heck Tate's testimony in Tom Robinson’s trial are that Mayella Ewell was badly beaten and claimed that it was Tom who beat and raped. When he was called to the Ewell house, he:

“Found her lying on the floor in the middle of the front room, one on the right as you go in. She was pretty well beat up...I asked her who hurt her and she said it was Tom Robinson—”

Heck says that he then “went down to Robinson’s house and brought him back” so that Mayella could identify Tom as the man who raped and beat her. Heck then arrested Tom.

When Atticus cross-examines Heck, he asks whether the sheriff called a doctor after seeing Mayella. The answer is no. Atticus then asks the logical question, which is why did no one call a doctor if Mayella had been raped and beaten?

Mr. Tate replies that calling a doctor was not necessary because it was obvious that Mayella was “mighty banged up. Something sho‘ happened, it was obvious.” Atticus continues to drive home that no one called a doctor, asking Tate this question three times until finally the judge tells Atticus to move on.

Atticus asks Mr. Tate to describe Mayella’s injuries. Mayella “was beaten around the head” and had bruises on her arms and had the beginning of a black eye. Atticus wants to know which eye. Uncertain at first, Heck says it was her right eye. This is important because it implies that she was struck by a left-handed person. When her father, Bob Ewell, takes the stand, the judge says:

“You’re left-handed, Mr. Ewell,” said Judge Taylor. Mr. Ewell turned angrily to the judge and said he didn’t see what his being left-handed had to do with it, that he was a Christ-fearing man and Atticus Finch was taking advantage of him. Tricking lawyers like Atticus Finch took advantage of him all the time with their tricking ways.”

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sheriff Heck Tate's evidence contradicts later testimony given by the Ewells.

When the solicitor Mr. Gilmer questions Sheriff Tate, he asks basic questions about what has happened.  Sheriff Tate testifies that as he was leaving his office, he was accosted by an "excited" Bob Ewell who wanted him to hurry to his house because "some n****r'd raped his girl." When he arrived, the sheriff testifies, he found Mayella "pretty well beat up," and he lifted her to her feet. After Mayella washed her face, the sheriff asked her who had hurt her, and she told him that it was Tom Robinson. She also told Sheriff Tate that Robinson "took advantage" of her. Mr. Gilmer says a mere "thank you," and he sits down.

As Atticus begins his cross-examination, he asks the sheriff if he called a doctor. Mr. Tate says, "No sir," and Atticus asks, "Why not?" Atticus repeats his question twice for effect. Then, Atticus asks for specific details about Mayella's injuries. Sheriff Tate describes the bruises that were on Mayella; he adds that the girl had a black eye.

"Which eye?"
"Her left."
"Wait a minute, Sheriff,"said Atticus. "Was it her left facing you or her left looking the same way you were?"
Mr. Tate said, "Oh yes, that'd make it her right. It was her right eye, Mr. Finch. I remember now, she was bunged up on that side of her face...."

At this point, Sheriff Tate realizes why Atticus asks him about which side of Mayella's face is blackened. He turns to look at Tom Robinson, who raises his head.

"Sheriff, please repeat what you said."
"It was her right eye, I said."

Atticus corrects him, saying "No." He walks over to the court stenographer and has Tate's exact words repeated:  "Mr. Finch, I remember now she was bunged up on that side of her face." Atticus then asks Tate to specify again which side of Mayella's face that was. So, the sheriff reiterates, "The right side, Mr. Finch." The sheriff also adds that Mayella's throat and arms were severely bruised, as well.  

By questioning Sheriff Tate in such a detailed manner, Atticus illustrates the impossibility of Tom Robinson's having been able to inflict the injuries on Mayella Ewell. That Mayella's right eye is blackened suggests that her attacker was left-handed, and Tom's left arm and hand are completely useless. Also, the throat bruises on each side of Mayella's neck appear to have been made by someone who had the use of both hands.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Heck Tate testifies first that Mayella was not examined by a doctor. He then testifies that she had been beaten mostly around her head and that "she had a black eye comin'." Atticus' questions lead Heck to realize that it was Mayella's right eye that had been injured and that most of the injuries to her head occurred on the right side. This is enormously significant because Heck's testimony establishes that Mayella's injuries would have been inflicted by a left-handed person.

Atticus understands the importance of Heck's testimony. When Bob Ewell testifies after Heck Tate, Atticus establishes clearly that Ewell is left-handed. Atticus later establishes that Tom Robinson's left arm is crippled, making his left hand useless. Because of Heck's testimony, it becomes very clear that Bob Ewell most likely attacked Mayella, and that Tom Robinson could not have inflicted the injuries to her head and right eye.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In his cross-examination of Sheriff Tate, Atticus establishes two things. First, that the bruises and wounds on Mayella's face after the incident were on the right side of her face. Sheriff Tate then volunteers that she had bruises elsewhere, especially around her throat, as if someone had grabbed her around the neck and choked her. Later, we see the significance of these facts. As it turns out, Tom Robinson's left arm is essentially crippled, shriveled up and largely useless. Because a blow to the right side of Mayella's face would have likely been delivered by someone's left hand and because it was very unlikely that Tom, with his crippled left arm, could have put both hands around Mayella's neck to choke her, Atticus begins to establish a more-than-reasonable doubt that Tom was responsible for the crime. As it turns out, of course, these facts don't really matter. Tom, a black man, is convicted by the all-white jury.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After Mr. Gilmer is finished questioning Sheriff Tate about the events that transpired on the evening of November 21st, Atticus asks him if he called for a doctor. Tate tells Atticus that he felt like there was no need to call a doctor even though Mayella was "mighty banged up." Atticus repeats the question by asking Heck Tate why he didn't call a doctor. Later on, Atticus asks Bob Ewell the same questions concerning why he didn't call a doctor. Atticus was attempting to emphasize the fact that without an examination from a doctor, there is no evidence to suggest that Mayella was a victim of sexual assault, highlighting the fact that the prosecution's arguments are strictly based on the testimonies of the Heck Tate and the Ewells.

Atticus then begins to question Sheriff Tate regarding the specific location of Mayella's injuries and Tate tells Atticus that she was beaten around her head. Sheriff Tate says,

"...she was pretty bruised up when I got there, and she had a black eye comin’" (Lee 104).

Atticus asks Tate which eye was beginning to bruise, and he says,

"It was her right eye, Mr. Finch. I remember now, she was bunged up on that side of her face....” (Lee 104).

The significance of the location of Mayella's bruises suggests that an individual who led predominately with their left hand was responsible for inflicting her injuries.

Atticus then asks Heck Tate to describe Mayella's other injuries. Tate tells Atticus that Mayella had excessive bruises encircling her neck. Atticus then asks, "All around her throat? At the back of her neck?" (Lee 105). Tate confirms that the bruises were around her entire neck. This information is also significant because it reveals that only an individual with two functioning hands would have been capable of choking Mayella's neck all the way around. Atticus understands that Tom Robinson is crippled and is physically not capable of punching Mayella with his left hand, nor is he able to choke her using both hands. His line of questioning reveals that there is essentially no evidence to convict Tom Robinson and that Mayella's injuries were possibility inflicted by a left-handed individual who also had two functioning hands capable of choking her.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Gilmer simply asks Heck basic questions. He wants the jury to hear what Mayella said when Heck got to the crime scene. She claims that Tom is the one who had hurt and taken advantage of her. This was already established because these accusations are what led to the trial. Gilmer stops his questions because all the evidence he has is Mayella's word against Tom's. 

Atticus asks Heck why a doctor was not called. Heck has no logical answer for this. Heck concludes that it is Mayella's right eye and right side of the face that was injured. She also had finger marks all around her neck. The fact that Mayella's right side was injured will prove to be extremely important. Later, Bob Ewell is questioned and he agrees with Heck's description of Mayella's injuries. Atticus also shows that Bob is left-handed. When Atticus questions Mayella, he asks Tom to stand up. The court sees that Tom's left hand is useless: 

His left arm was fully twelve inches shorter than his right, and hung dead at his side. It ended in a small shriveled hand, and from as far away as the balcony I could see that it was no use to him. (Chapter 18

Atticus shows that it is unlikely that Tom could have caused the injuries to Mayella's right side because Tom's left hand is useless. Atticus also shows that it is more likely that the historically abusive Bob Ewell, a left-handed man, is the one who harmed Mayella's right side. 

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As explained in the previous answer, we learn from Tate's evidence that the nature of Mayella's injuries would appear to suggest that she was attacked by someone who mostly used his left hand, and that he also put both hands around her throat. In the light of this evidence, the fact that Bob Ewell, Mayella's father, is left-handed takes on great significance. Atticus emphasizes Bob's left-handedness in court, although Bob, who appears decidedly dim-witted at this point, fails to see the implications.

Jem is excited; he exults that 'we've got him' (referring to Bob Ewell). However Scout at this stage is more sceptical; she thinks Tom might be left-handed too and that 'Jem was counting his chickens'. But then when Tom's cross-examination begins, she sees him clearly for the first time and realizes that he has a badly crippled left arm - as the result of catching it in some machinery when he was young. To any impartial jury, this would rule out Tom Robinson as a suspect. Of course, the point is that it is not an impartial jury, but rather one blighted by racial prejudice who goes on to convict Tom simply because he is black. Had he not been black, he likely would not even have been charged.

Tate's evidence on the nature of Mayella's injuries, then, goes right to the heart of the matter, and appears to point to Mayella's own father Bob as being her attacker; yet this evidence still proves insufficient to acquit Tom Robinson.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The trial of Tom Robinson is one of the most significant moments in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. In fact, nearly everything in the novel leads to this moment, and Heck Tate is the first witness in the trial. 

Mr. Gilmer, the prosecutor, is the first to ask the sheriff about what he knows about the accusations of rape against Tom Robinson. Tate answers the questions he is asked, and here is what we learn from him after Gilmer's questioning:

  • Bob Ewell came to get Tate one night, accusing Tom Robinson of raping his daughter, Mayella.
  • He was concerned, of course, and drove to the Ewells' house as quickly as he could.
  • When he arrived, Mayella was lying on the floor in the middle of the room.
  • When Mayella saw him, she got up, went to the corner, and washed her face in the bucket of water.
  • Mayella claims she is fine, but when Tate asked who hurt her, she said it was Tom Robinson.
  • She admitted that it was Tom Robinson who "took advantage of" her.
  • Tate brought Tom to the house and Mayella identified him as her attacker.

That's the information Heck Tate gives when he is questioned by the prosecutor; then it is Atticus's turn to question the sheriff. This is when things get interesting.

Atticus asks if Tate--or anyone else--called a doctor to examine Mayella. No. He is surprised that, as beaten up as Mayella appeared, no one called a doctor, but all Tate adds is that it did not seem necessary.

Then Atticus asks Tate to describe the girl's injuries, and we learn that she had a black eye. After a slightly confusing discussion, Tate establishes that it was Mayella's right eye which was "bunged up." This is an interesting revelation, and the sheriff offers even more information about the injuries he saw on the girl.

He described them this way:

“…her arms were bruised, and she showed me her neck. There were definite finger marks on her gullet—”
“All around her throat? At the back of her neck?”
“I’d say they were all around, Mr. Finch.”

Though this is something Atticus did not expect to hear, he knows Heck Tate is telling the truth and he knows this is a good addition to the case he is about to make.

Though it does not seem like much, in this cross examination Atticus was able to establish three important things. First, Mayella was bruised on the outside, but she was apparently not damaged in ways one would expect a rape victim to be; if she had been, someone would have made sure that she saw a doctor. Second, it was Mayella's right eye that had been damaged, which means that the person who hit her there had to have been left-handed. Third, someone put both his hands around Mayella's neck and apparently tried to strangle her. 

All three of these facts will become much more significant as the trial continues. 

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

    Maycomb Sheriff Heck Tate was the first man to take the witness stand in the rape trial of Tom Robinson, the focal point of Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. After Bob Ewell came in person to his office to report that "some nigger'd raped his girl," Sheriff Tate drove to the Ewell house. There he found Mayella Ewell "lying on the floor" and "pretty well beat up."

"I asked her who hurt her, and she said it was Tom Robinson."

After a short round of questions from the prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer, it was Atticus's turn.
    After determining that Sheriff Tate had not called a doctor, Atticus asked which eye had been blackened.

"... It was her right eye, Mr. Finch. I remember now. She was bunged up on that side of her face."

Atticus also determined from the sheriff that there were other bruises on her arms and "all around" her neck. Then Atticus took a seat, and Judge Taylor dismissed Sheriff Tate from the stand.
    Sheriff Tate's testimony would be the shortest of the four main characters who testified. His statement about the bruises on the right side of Mayella's face would later prove to be a key to Atticus's defense; Tom, whose left arm was crippled, could hardly have caused them. Additionally, it would have taken two strong hands to have caused the bruises "all around" Mayella's throat.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Mr. Gilmer examined Heck Tate, Heck told the jury that Bob Ewell had "fetched" him, and he went as quickly as he could to find Mayella lying on the floor.  She was beaten pretty badly.  He asked her who beat her, and she said Tom Robinson did. 

When it's Atticus' turn, he asks the same question 3 times to make a very valid point.  "Did you call a doctor, Sheriff?"  He does this point out that there was no evidence of Mayella being raped.  Tom was on trial for raping her, not beating her.  She did not go to the doctor; therefore, there was no evidence of rape.  The second piece of information that was so important was how Mayella was beaten.  It was her right side that was beaten so badly.  Atticus made sure that Heck was certain of that side.  Heck repeated this several times as well.  They were making it as simple as they could for the jury.  This is significant because Tom has no use of his left hand.  That means he could not have been the one to beat her, either.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on