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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Empathy In To Kill A Mockingbird

How was empathy shown in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee?

Who showed empathy and how have the kids learned that and applied it to their lives? 

Expert Answers

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In To Kill A Mockingbird, Tom Robinson finds himself on trial due to his empathy for Mayella Ewell. Tom felt sorry for Mayella. He recognized that she had very little to no help from her father and siblings. In chapter nineteen, Tom Could empathize with Mayella. When Tom was questioned by the prosecution lawyer Mr. Gilmer, he admitted that he helped Mayella with chores because she had no one else to help her. Tom admitted that he felt sorry for Mayella: 

Mr. Gilmer smiled grimly at the jury. "You're a mighty good fellow, it seems - did all this for not one penny?"

"Yes suh. I felt right sorry for her; she seemed to try more'n the rest of 'em-"

Clearly, Tom Robinson had empathy for Mayella. He was such a good person. Tom was so considerate of others. Unfortunately, Tom's empathy caused him to be accused of raping Mayella Ewell. No doubt, Tom Robinson would be alive if he had not had empathy for Mayella.

As a black man in the 1930s, Tom Robinson was convicted of a crime he did not do. His empathy was received as inappropriate behavior for a black man toward a white woman. When Tom admitted his empathy for Mayella, the prosecution lawyer Mr. Gilmer is offended:

"You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?" Mr. Gilmer seemed ready to rise to the ceiling.

Mr. Gilmer is highly upset. He is furious with Tom for his empathy for Mayella. As soon as Tom had admitted that he felt sorry for Mayella, he realized his mistake. In the Southern town of Maycomb, white people did not appreciate a black man feeling sorry for a white woman. No doubt, Tom's empathy is what caused him to be convicted of a crime he did not do. Tom Robinson lost his life because he was considerate of a white woman who clearly needed his help. 

Even though Tom's empathy cost him his life, Atticus is still determined that his children will learn to be empathetic of others. Ultimately, Jem and Scout learn to have empathy for others. Atticus is determined that they will learn to have empathy for others. When Mrs. Dubose is dying, Atticus teaches Jem and Scout how important it is to be understanding of her bitter condition. Jem reads to Mrs. Dubose and brings her comfort in her last dying days. 

Again, while Tom's empathy cost him his life, Atticus still insists that his children will be empathetic of others. Atticus teaches them that it is the right thing to do--to care for others, no matter how contemptuous others may be. 

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