Who killed Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tom Robinson was shot while trying to escape from prison.

In a way, Bob Ewell killed Tom Robinson.  He was the one who accused him of raping Mayella.  Since Tom didn’t really do it, but the jury convicted him anyway, Tom Robinson’s death was partly Ewell’s fault.  It was also partly the jury’s fault. They convicted an innocent man.

Tom Robinson had already been in jail for a while when he was convicted, awaiting trial.  He believed that the trial was his one shot at justice.  When he was convicted, he was devastated.  Atticus tried to tell him that they could appeal the decision, but Tom didn’t believe they would succeed.  He felt that his life was over.

“They shot him,” said Atticus. “He was running. It was during their exercise period. They said he just broke into a blind raving charge at the fence and started climbing over. Right in front of them—” (Ch. 24)

With two good arms, Tom Robinson would have made it over the fence.  He was that strong.  However, he only had one good arm and he didn’t make it. The guards didn’t want to shoot him.  They shot some warning rounds into the air.  He didn’t listen.  He kept going, and they shot him.  It was what is called "suicide by cop."  He wanted to end his life on his terms, since he couldn’t control it.

Tom Robinson’s death was a tragedy.  Even Mr. Underwood, a blatant racist, thought that his death was a travesty.  He wrote about it in the paper.

Mr. Underwood didn’t talk about miscarriages of justice, he was writing so children could understand. Mr. Underwood simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping. He likened Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children … (Ch. 25) 

Tom Robinson never hurt anyone.  He was a kind man, and he was trying to help Mayella because he felt sorry for her.  For his troubles he got a rape trial, and lost his liberty.  His death is a tragedy because he was a scapegoat in his society.  Like Mr. Underwood said, it was like killing a mockingbird.

schulzie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Tom Robinson's conviction, he was sent to jail.  He had been sentenced to death for raping Mayella.  Atticus was appealing the conviction,

"We had such a good chance......I told him what I thought, but I couldn't in truth say that we had more than a good chance.  I guess Tom was tired of white men's chances and preferred to take his own." (pg 235-236)

Atticus tells Aunt Alexandra, Calpurnia,Miss Maudie, and Scout that while Tom was in jail, he decided to attempt an escape. He didn't see that he had much of a chance in a white man's justice system.   It was during an exercise period at the prison.  He suddenly, right in front of the guards, went running toward the fence and started climbing it. The guards called for him to stop, but he just kept climbing.

"They fired a few shots in the air, then to kill.  They got him just as he went over the fence.  They said that if he'd had two good arms he would have made it, he was that fast.  Seventeen bullet holes in him.  They didn't have to shoot him that much." (pg 235)

Aunt Alexandra is stunned and says that this killing is the last straw, but Atticus disagrees with her.

"What was one Negro, more or less, among two hundred of 'em?  He wasn't Tom to them, he was an escaping prisoner." (pg 235)

Tom was shot by prison guards while he was awaiting an appeal of his conviction and while he was trying to escape from jail.


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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