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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, what about Tom's escape attempt does Maycomb think was typical of a "n-word"?

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Chapter 25 opens with Scout playing with a roly-poly bug. She gets bored and decides to "end things." She explains that her "hand was going down on him" to kill the bug when Jem tells her, "Don't do that, Scout. Set him out on the back steps." This opening shows that Jem has learned his lesson about protecting the innocent. Atticus recently tried to protect Tom Robinson, an innocent man. Jem wants to protect the innocent as well.

Next, the scene changes. Atticus drives to Tom Robinson's house to tell his family that he was killed. The family reacts with great sadness.

Finally, the focus changes to the townspeople's reactions toward Tom Robinson's death. Rather than viewing Tom as an innocent person (though Atticus has given great amounts of evidence about his innocence), they choose to judge him by his skin color. Their interest in his death is small and short-lived:

Maycomb was interested by the news of Tom's death for perhaps two days; two days was enough for the information to spread through the county.

Not only is their interest small, but they also claim that they are unsurprised that he tried to run away. Their view is explained as follows:

Tom's death was typical. Typical of a n—— to cut and run. Typical of a n——'s mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind first chance he saw. Funny thing, Atticus Finch might've got him off scot free, but wait . . . You know how they are. Easy come, easy go.

Not only do they claim that Tom made a poor decision, throwing his life away when he supposedly had a real chance of making it out, but they also insult his character. The people claim that even though he was married and he went to church (showing his goodness on the outside), "the veneer's mighty thin," and on the inside he still had the negative characteristics that they believe come with being black. This prejudiced, stereotyped view of African Americans continues after Tom Robinson's death.

Though Jem and Scout learn important life lessons (largely through Atticus's conversations with them) about guilt, innocence, and the wickedness of judging someone merely by their outer appearance, the townspeople of Maycomb do not immediately redeem their thoughts and actions.

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Unfortunately, many in Maycomb assume Tom was running away.  They believe that it is typical of blacks to run away from their problems.  Some just assumed that Tom was stupid, because he knew he could not get over the fence.

It should be noted that if Tom had not been crippled, he would have made it.  Tom was not running away from his problems, he was committing suicide.  By doing so, he was sparing himself and everyone else months and years of pain.  It is true that Helen was left a widow, but Tom likely figured that it would be easier on her to have him dead than to have him in prison for life or executed.

Tom ended things on his own terms.  He had little control over his life, but he was able to take control over his death.  No one could take that from him.


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