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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What evidence indicates Tom Robinson's guilt or innocence in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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The evidence in To Kill a Mockingbird overwhelmingly points to Tom Robinson's innocence. Accused of rape and assault, Tom's physical disability, a shrunken left arm, makes it impossible for him to have committed the crime. However, due to racial prejudice in Maycomb, this substantial evidence is ignored and he is convicted. The trial is more about maintaining white supremacy than achieving justice, illustrating the deep-seated racial bias of the era.

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Well, first of all Tom isn't guilty; he's entirely innocent of the crimes for which he's been charged. The only reason he's been hauled in front of a court on these trumped-up charges is because of the color of his skin. A white woman has accused him of rape and assault, and as far as most people in Maycomb are concerned, that's enough "evidence" to show that he's guilty.

Even when Atticus demonstrates that it was physically impossible for Tom to have committed the crimes for which he's been charged, the jury—with one exception—still votes to find him guilty. Due to an injury sustained when he was a child, Tom's left arm is twelve inches shorter than his right arm. Because of this, he can't use his injured left arm, and his left hand is shriveled.

Yet Mayella Ewell claims that this was the hand that Tom used to beat her up. But when Atticus asks Tom to stand up in court and show everyone his hand, it's obvious to anyone with eyes that he couldn't have done anything with it. But because the trial of Tom Robinson is more about maintaining white supremacy than securing justice, none of this matters in the final analysis, and an innocent man ends up being convicted of a crime he not only didn't commit, but couldn't have committed.

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As the other answer has observed, the overwhelming majority of the evidence proves that Tom Robison is innocent of the rape and beating of Mayella. Literally no circumstantial evidence pointing to the possibility of Tom's guilt exists. In fact, much suggests that Bob Ewell is the one beating and even sexually abusing Mayella.

The only thing that makes Tom guilty in the eyes of the court is his race. They assume black men are all no good, little better than animals. It was a common fear among white southerners that black men sought to prey upon white women, so the very accusation of a black man hitting on a white woman, let alone sexually assaulting her, could put a black man in danger of being lynched or imprisoned. All the evidence in the world could not penetrate this prejudice.

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In the chapters relaying the trial scenes of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus's cross-examination of the witnesses reveals several points of circumstantial evidence that point to Tom Robinson's innocence, not his guilt.

The first piece of crucial evidence is revealed during Sheriff Heck Tate's testimony, who confirms that Mayella Ewell had been bruised on the right side of her face. This proves to be a crucial point because Mayella also testifies that she had been attacked from the front, which means that only a man who could use his left hand could have hit her on the right side of her face while facing her. Heck Tate's second point of crucial evidence is that Mayella had been strangled by a man gripping her neck with both hands, which was evident due to the fact that she had bruises all around her neck. Again, only a man capable of using both hands could have bruised her entire neck.

Atticus's cross-examination of Bob Ewell, Mayella's father, is even more revealing. While on the witness stand, Atticus asks Ewell if he is literate, and when Ewell answers in the affirmative, Atticus asks him to write his name. Interestingly, Ewell writes before the court using his left hand. When asked by Judge Taylor if he is ambidextrous, Ewell responds with the very intelligent answer, "I most positively am not, I can use one hand good as the other. One hand good as the other," which shows that Ewell was very capable of having bruised Mayella on the right side of her face and of having strangled her with both hands (Ch. 17).

The most irrefutable evidence is revealed during Mayella's cross-examination. At one point, Atticus asks Mayella to point out the man in the courtroom she is charging with having attacked her. Mayella points to Tom Robinson, and Atticus has Robinson stand before the court. As he stands, he reveals that, as Jem points out, "he's crippled!" (Ch. 18). Scout further describes in her narration that Robinson's left arm was a whole foot shorter than his right and "hung dead at his side" (Ch. 18). His left hand was also shriveled and appeared to be completely useless. In fact, his left arm and hand are so useless, Robinson finds it impossible to keep his left hand on the Bible long enough for him to be sworn into the witness stand. Reverend Sykes explains to the children that Robinson had caught his left arm in Dolphus Raymond's cotton gin when he was a boy and nearly "bled to death" (Ch. 18). Robinson's physical status serves as undeniable proof it would have been impossible for him to have bruised Mayella on the right side of her face or to strangle her, which makes him look completely innocent of all he is being accused of.

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Based on all the testimony presented at the trial, what facts prove that Tom Robinson has been falsely accused in To Kill a Mockingbird?

The main facts that prove that Tom Robinson has been falsely accused in To Kill a Mockingbird are that Bob Ewell did not call a doctor for Mayella and there is no proof the crime was committed, Bob Ewell is left handed, and Tom Robinson’s left hand is crippled.

First of all, Atticus goes to great pains to establish the inconsistencies in both Mayella and Bob Ewell’s stories.  Clearly they are both lying.  First of all, Ewell says he saw Tom Robinson rape his daughter, but he never called a doctor.  No one did.

"Well I can tell you why I didn't. It wasn't necessary, Mr. Finch.  She was mighty banged up. Something sho' happened, it was obvious." (ch 17)

If Mayella had really been attacked by someone other than her father, her father should have called a doctor.  He didn’t call a doctor because he didn’t want too many people asking questions.  A doctor would have revealed that Mayella had not been raped.

Second, Atticus also demonstrates that Mayella was beaten up on the right side of her face, and Bob Ewell is right handed.  Heck Tate testifies that the right side of Mayella’s face was beaten.

"'Mr. Finch. I remember now she was bunged up on [the right] side of the face.'" (ch 17)

For a person to be hit on the right side of the face, the person who attacked must be left handed.

If her right eye was blacked and she was beaten mostly on the right side of the face, it would tend to show that a left-handed person did it. (ch 17)

This is important forensic evidence.  Jem is quite convinced that there is no way that Tom Robinson can be convicted, since Bob Ewell is left-handed.

Finally, Tom Robinson’s left hand is crippled, so he could not have attacked Mayella on the right side of her face.

His left arm was fully twelve inches shorter than his right, and hung dead at his side. It ended in a small shriveled hand, and from as far away as the balcony I could see that it was no use to him. (ch 18)

In the end, it does not matter that there was no proof that the crime Tom Robinson is accused of was ever committed, that Bob Ewell beat his daughter, or that Tom Robinson is crippled.  Robinson is convicted because he is a black man accused by a white woman.

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