Summarize the testimonies of the four main witnesses at the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird: Sheriff Heck Tate, Bob Ewell, Mayella Ewell, and Tom Robinson. How are they similar and how do they differ?

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Heck Tate takes the stand, he testifies that, as he left his office on November 21st, Bob Ewell stopped him and claimed that a Negro had raped his daughter, Mayella. Tate gets in Bob's car and the pair drive to the Ewell home. Once they arrived, Tate observes that Mayella has been beaten up. Tate asks the young woman who is responsible and she replies, "Tom Robinson." Tate leaves, finds Tom, brings him to the Ewell home and Mayella identifies him as the culprit. In addition to these details, Tate also testifies to Mayella's emerging black eye and the bruising around her arms and neck. 

Bob Ewell testifies and acknowleges that he is Mayella's father. He says that as he was returning from the woods around dusk, and arrived at the gates of his home and heard his daughter screaming. He ran to the window and saw Tom raping Mayella. He said that there appeared to have been a struggle in the home, as things were strewn about. As soon as he assessed the situation, he says he went straight to Mr. Tate to report the crimes. Ewell concurs with Tate about the locations of the bruises on Mayella's body. 

Mayella Ewell tells the court that on the night in question, November 21st, she was sitting on her porch at dusk, not doing anything but contemplating the task she was to complete, chopping up an old chiffarobe. She says she saw Tom walking by and asked him to do it instead, offering him a nickle to do so. She claims that as she went inside to get the money, Tom followed her in and it was then that he attacked her. When pressed, Mayella cannot remember if Tom had hit her in the face. 

Tom Robinson's testimony contradicts all three of the whites who are charging him. Although he agrees that he came into the gate, and Mayella had asked him inside, it was she who kissed him. Tom says he was very frightened and knocked over a chair; he tried to get out of the door but Mayella blocked him. He completely denies striking Mayella in any way. 

The similarities are in Tate and Ewell's stories. Mayella "cannot remember" if Tom had hit her, so her story begins to veer off. Moreover, during her testimony, it is revealed that Tom's left arm is considerably shorter than his right, making the locations of her bruising by his left hand impossible. Tom's story, of course, is the mirror opposite of all those who oppose him, for ONLY he is telling the truth. 

Tom makes one "mistake" in his trial. He claims he went to assist Mayella because he "felt sorry for her." 

Yes, suh. I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more'n the rest of 'em-" 

In the segregated, racist South, for a black man to "feel sorry" for a white woman was unthinkable. It suggested that he, a Negro, felt superior in even a small way to a white person, thus evoking Mr. Gilmar's incredulous response:

"You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?

It was a "crime" that even facts would not overcome. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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