Explain what the reaction of the spectators toward Tom Robinson's saying that he felt sorry for Mayella reveal about life in Maycomb?To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 19 of To Kill a Mockingbird, as Tom Robinson is on the witness stand, he is asked by the prosecutor Mr. Gilmer why he helped Mayella, and Tom replies that there never seemed to be anyone around to do anything for her, so he tried to assist her,

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

"You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?"  Mr. Gilmer seemed ready to rise to the ceiling.

Scout narrates that below her and Jem in the balcony, "nobody liked Tom Robinson's answer."

In his candid remark, Tom Robinson has crossed the boundaries of race in the Jim Crow South of the 1930s.  Although as Scout reflects earlier in the chapter, white 

Maycomb gave them Christmas baskets, welfare, and the back of its hand,

and considers the Ewells as common "white trash," it is, nevertheless, presumptuous for any black to feel sorry--to place himself above--any white, no matter the situation. Besides his apparent presumption, the white audience beneath the colored balcony is appalled to think that a Negroe would be a better Christian that any of them because he lives his faith and does not just practice during the Christmas season or because the government demands a payment from them.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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