In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, who do you think is the victim in the trial and why?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the most obvious victim of the trial was Tom Robinson, the uneducated African American with a crippled arm who is falsely accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell, and dies in prison.  Tom is depicted as an eminently decent individual, a church-going “clean-living” gentleman who endures a public trial the outcome of which was never in doubt.  Tom’s persecution and trial are the centerpieces of Lee’s story of a young girl, Scout, growing up in a small, economically destitute town in the American South during the 1930s at the height of the Great Depression.  The trial reveals, through Atticus Finch’s questioning of the witnesses, that Tom cannot physically have assaulted Mayella, and that the overwhelming preponderance of evidence clearly indicates that the accused is innocent. 

A question regarding the victim of the trial is certainly intended to invoke Tom’s name, which makes the question suspiciously elementary.  As such, another victim of the trial could be said to be Mayella Ewell, Tom’s accuser.  Mayella prompted Tom to step onto her father’s property so that she could entice him into having sex, using as subterfuge a request for help chopping up an old piece of furniture.  That she is caught and beaten by her father, Bob, the town’s most virulently racist man, sets the stage for the false accusation of rape that results in the trial of Tom Robinson.  After Bob Ewell has testified before the court, and with Atticus having discredited him, Mayella is summoned to testify, provoking the following scene:

Mayella stared at him and burst into tears. She covered her mouth with her hands and sobbed. Judge Taylor let her cry for a while, then he said, “That’s enough now. Don’t be ‘fraid of anybody here, as long as you tell the truth. All this is strange to you, I know, but you’ve nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to fear. What are you scared of?

Mayella said something behind her hands. “What was that?” asked the judge.

“Him,” she sobbed, pointing at Atticus.

“Mr. Finch?”

She nodded vigorously, saying, “Don’t want him doin‘ me like he done Papa, tryin’ to make him out lefthanded…”

Mayella is a simple young woman, uneducated and raised to be as racist as her vile father.  That she has been beaten by her father, the bruises blamed on the aforementioned rape that never occurred, is testament to the brutal realities of the only life she has known.  She is now thrust into the public domain, forced to lie on the witness stand, solely because of the circumstances in which she has lived.  While her false accusation against Tom is unforgiveable, she can be seen as a victim of the trial. 

Finally, the cause of justice was most certainly a victim of the trial.  Tom was clearly found to be without guilt.  All of the evidence pointed towards acquittal, with only Bob Ewell’s clearly racially-motivated testimony and the fearful statements of his daughter providing the sole basis upon which to convict.  That the jury rendered a guilty verdict under the circumstances described represented a serious blow to the cause of justice.  As such, the proverbial blind lady holding the scales of justice – Justitia, the Goddess of Justice – can be seen as a victim of the trial in Lee’s novel.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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