In To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 19, when Atticus asks Tom Robinson why he ran from the Ewell's house, what is his reply?
At this stage of the trial Atticus has reached a critical point in his questioning of Tom. How well Tom can testify to his version of events will have a major bearing on the jury's and the courtroom's sympathy for the defendant. Atticus specifically asks Tom such key questions about whether he had resisted Mayella Ewell's advances, whether he had harmed her in any way and indeed had he raped her. Tom's answers to all these key questions is an emphatic know, and clearly Atticus has helped him to build what seems to be a very credible version of events. However, some real doubt remains about Tom's innocence owing to the fact that he ran away from the house after the return of Bob Ewell. The jury and courtroom may well think that running away is not the action of an innocent man. Atticus is compelled to ask Tom about this,
"Then you ran?"
"I sho'did, suh."
"Why did you run?"
"I was scared, suh?"
"Why were you scared?"
"Mr Finch, if you was a nigger like me, you'd be scared, too." (p.215)
Atticus asks no more questions after Tom's reply; he obviously feels there is no need to do so. It must be self-evident to those in the courtroom that a black man living at that time in that community would indeed be in an intolerably perilous position if faced with the set of circumstances Tom Robinson found himself in. The unspoken implication is that if Tom had not run he would almost certainly have been shot or lynched on the spot. The reader is once again reminded of the powerless position of the coloured folk of 1930s Alabama.
In chapter 19, Tom Robinson takes the witness stand, and Atticus asks him to explain what happened on the evening of November 21. Tom tells Atticus that Mayella called him inside her home to help her put a door back on its hinges. When Tom enters the home, he discovers that the door is fine and wonders where Mayella's siblings are. Mayella then tells Tom that they went to go get ice cream. As Tom goes to leave, Mayella asks him to get a box down from the top of a chiffarobe. When Tom stands on a chair to retrieve the box, Mayella begins to hug his legs. Startled, Tom hops down from the chair, and Mayella starts hugging Tom and kissing the side of his face. Tom then shoves Mayella out of his way, hears Mayella's father threaten to kill her, and runs as fast as he can out of the house.
When Atticus asks Tom why he ran, Tom responds, "I was scared, suh" (Lee, 199). Atticus then asks Tom why he was scared, and Tom says, "Mr. Finch, if you was a nigger like me, you’d be scared, too." (199)
Essentially, Tom knew he was in a difficult situation the second Mayella made advances towards him. Tom knew that the racist community members of Maycomb would blame him for Mayella's actions and ran because he was scared for his life.