To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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What are three examples of why Tom Robinson is innocent in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Three pieces of evidence that prove Tom Robinson's innocence are: Tom has a crippled left arm that couldn't have inflicted Mayella's specific injuries (additionally, Bob Ewell is left-handed); Mayella's story changes throughout the trial and suggests that it is fabricated; and whereas Tom had no apparent motive for the accused crime, Bob Ewell had an identifiable motive for the assault, seeing as Mayella broke the strict social code of the prejudiced South by kissing Tom.


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bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Tom the Cripple.  Tom's crippled left arm made it physically impossible for him to have committed the crime of assault or rape upon Mayella. The bruises found around her neck and the bruised right side of her face could only have been made by a man with two strong hands--a man " 'who led almost exclusively with his left.' " Additionally, no medical evidence existed to prove that Tom raped Mayella, or that Mayella was actually sexually assaulted at all.

Tom the Friend.  Tom had helped out Mayella before, and he " 'felt right sorry for her' " due to the hard life she spent in the Ewell household. Mayella also trusted Tom enough to invite him into her house, knowing that he would do as she asked. He knew that he put himself at risk entering a white man's house, but he was willing to do so in order to help out Mayella.

Honest Tom vs. Bob the Liar.  Tom's skin color prevented the jury from accepting Tom's word over that of Bob Ewell, but the innocent children had no problem accepting Tom's story over Bob's. Bob told the jury that he witnessed Tom " 'ruttin' on my Mayella,' " though Mayella's own testimony offered no specifics concerning the supposed rape. Tom's honest response about running away when Bob appeared--" 'if you was a nigger like me, you'd be scared, too' "--seemed a more likely scenario than the tale told by Bob. Tom's statements also placed the possibility of guilt upon Bob: Mayella had already admitted that she feared her father when he was drunk, and she told Tom that her father's kisses " 'don't count.' " But as Tom was leaving, he heard Bob cry out to Mayella,

"... you goddam whore, I'll kill ya."  (Chapter 19)

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are several significant reasons as to why Tom Robinson is innocent. Throughout the trial, Sheriff Tate mentions that Mayella's bruises were predominantly located on the right side of her face. He also mentions that there were bruises encircling her throat, which indicated that she was choked by someone with two strong hands. The fact that Tom Robinson's left arm is entirely useless and hangs limp by his side, indicates that he would not be able to inflict those specific injuries to Mayella.

The second reason why Tom Robinson is innocent concerns the Ewell's conflicting testimonies. When Mayella takes the witness stand, she changes her story several times, which suggests that her testimony is fabricated.

The third reason why Tom is innocent concerns motive. According to Atticus's closing arguments, Bob Ewell had a motivation for assaulting his daughter after he witnessed Mayella break a "time-honored code" by kissing Tom Robinson. The fact that Bob Ewell is left-handed also correlates with the location of Mayella's injuries. 

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