In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does this quote create tension?
"Well I went lots of times." Judge Taylor instinctively reached for his gavel, but let his hand fall. The murmur below us died without his help.
In Chapter 19 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, one reason why Tom Robinson's response, "Well, I went lots of times," at the trial created tension is because Tom's answer completely contradicts Mayella Ewell's earlier given testimony.
Earlier in Chapter 18, Mayella testified that she had asked Tom to chop up a chifforobe, which she spells "chiffarobe," for kindle in payment for a nickle. When asked by Finch, "Was this the first time you asked him to come inside the fence [of their home]," Mayella had stated, "Yes it was." However, Tom's own testimony shows that Mayella was recounting a story that happened more than a year ago, and contrary to what she testified, she had indeed invited Tom in through the fence on more than one occasion. Hence, tension is created because Tom's testimony contradicts Mayella's testimony so strongly.
A second reason why Tom's response that he had been inside the Ewell's gate before caused tension is because, despite the innocence of the rest of his testimony, in the eyes of the prejudiced townspeople and jury, Tom's six-word response makes him look guilty. Even young Dill realizes Tom is being made to look guilty when he begins crying during Mr. Gilmer's cross examination. When asked by Scout why he was crying, Dill responds, "It was just him [Mr. Gilmer] I couldn't stand ... That old Mr. Gilmer doin' him [Tom] thataway, talking so hateful to him--." Hence, even though Tom's testimony contradicts Mayella's and makes it evident she is the guilty party, in the eyes of the jury, Tom's testimony makes him look guilty, which creates tension among the people in the courthouse.
When Atticus asks Tom Robinson about going to the Ewell's place, Tom agrees he went often. Just about the whole town of Maycomb is in the courthouse wanting to hear Tom's testimony. Jem, Scout and Dill sit with Reverend Sykes in the balcony with the black people of the town. Below them are the white people, many of whom think Tom is guilty just because of his color. The quote and the reaction of Judge Taylor can be seen as foreshadowing what is to come.
"Did you ever go on the place again?"
"Well, I went lots of times."
Judge Taylor instinctively reached for his gavel, but let his hand fall. The murmur below us died without his help.
This scene creates tension because Tom has just admitted to being on the property. The crowd is stunned into silence. Of course Tom is completely innocent and he is just being truthful, but he doesn't realize that what he said makes him look even more guilty. When Tom admits that he went "lots" of times also creates tension. The placement of the words sets this up. We begin to question what really happened because a character like Tom admits to something that is completely innocent to him, but sounds so guilty to everyone else.
The use of punctuation shows us a lot, as well. The statement is made in a very calm way. It is not screamed with an exclamation point at the end; it is said calmly with a period at the end of it. This also shows us that Tom doesn't realize what he has said and how it makes him look. After Tom makes this statement the mood in the courtroom is one of utter disbelief. The black people are not as surprised by this admission, but the white people are shocked. Most of them believe that Tom is guilty no matter what, but him saying this gives them even more reason to believe in his guilt.
The community of Maycomb as a whole believed that Tom was guilty. He was a black man accused of raping a white woman. This was a certain death sentence then. It was a remarkable feat that Tom actually went to trial and was not killed once Mayella accused him.