Tom Robinson of To Kill a Mockingbird is a disabled African-American man who, out of charity, does some odd jobs for Mayella Ewell, the oldest of Bob Ewell's neglected brood. As she is the only one who stays home and does any work, Mayella has some tasks that require a man's help. However, when she asks Tom to break up a chifforobe, a type of armoire, and he must come into the house to do so, she wraps her arms around him. Unfortunately for both of them, a drunken Bob Ewell witnesses this through the window. Tom flees in terror and Mayella is given a beating by her enraged parent. But, lest any of the truth be revealed that Mayella has asked a "n****r" into the house, Tom and Mayella bring charges of rape against Tom, just as a white woman tried to excuse her own behavior by charging the Scottsboro Boys of rape in 1931.
Because he is innocent of the charges but is convicted, Tom Robinson is the main "mockingbird" of the novel. Terrified that he will be put to death, Tom tries to run from his prison, but is shot several times by guards. His senseless death awakens some of the Maycomb community, especially Mr. Underwood of the local newspaper who writes an eloquent editorial in which he
...figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping. He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children....