What is Atticus's reaction to Tom Robinson's death in "To Kill a Mockingbird"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Tom Robinson's attempt at escape and death by seventeen bullets from guards at the prison, Atticus has several reactions:

His initial reaction is rather contemptuous. When he informs his sister Alexandra of the death, Atticus remarks on the excess exercised by the guards. "They didn't have to shoot him that much." Then, when Alexandra says, "This is the last straw," Atticus replies with cynicism

"Depends on how you look at it....What was one Negro, more or less, out of a hundred of 'em? He wasn't Tom to them; he was an escaping prisoner."

Further, Atticus becomes reflective as he thinks aloud, saying that he truly believed that Tom had a chance on appeal. But, again he has to recognize that Tom's race gives him only "a chance" because as Mr. Underwood explains in his editorial, Tom has been convicted in the first trial, not by justice, but in "the secret courts of men's hearts" where he had no chance.

As Atticus leans, clearly with emotional exhaustion, against the refrigerator, and rubs his eyes by pushing up his glasses with his fingers, Atticus appears very distraught and frustrated--even despairing--as he says with cynical finality, "I guess Tom was tired of white men's chances and preferred to take his own."

podunc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus comes home with the news of Tom Robinson's death in the middle of Aunt Alexandra's missionary circle meeting. He asks Calpurnia and Aunt Alexandra into the kitchen and Scout and Miss Maudie follow.

At first, he maintains an impartial tone as he relays the facts of Tom's death and asks Calpurnia to go with him and see Helen Robinson. A moment later, however, he despairs and lets his frustration show:

"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."

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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