Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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How old was Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, and how many children did he have?

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There are a few of places in the book where Scout receives insights into the life of Tom Robinson. Atticus tells her about Tom Robinson for the first time in chapter 9 after Cecil Jacob informs her that her father is defending him. Atticus explains that Tom lives near the...

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dump; he's a member of Calpurnia's church; Cal also knows his family; and they are "clean-living folks" (75). Telling Scout that Calpurnia knows the Robinsons should help her identify them with goodness and strength.

Then, Scout learns more details about the Robinson's situation in chapter 12 when she goes to church with Calpurnia. Reverend Sykes just happens to be doing a collection for Tom's family on the day Jem and Scout attend the black community's church. Scout learns that Tom's wife is Helen and they have children. Helen can't get work because no white person will hire her on account of her association with Tom. Since Tom is charged with raping a white woman, the white community refuses to show mercy to his family. 

It isn't until chapter 18 that Scout discovers that Tom's left arm is crippled, too. When he stands up for Atticus during the court scene, Scout and Jem are amazed. Reverend Sykes tells them that Tom "got it caught in a cotton gin...when he was a to bled to death...tore all the muscles loose from his bones" (186). So, another part of Tom's life is the fact that he suffered a disabling accident in his youth. 

Finally, in chapter 19, when Tom is called to the witness stand, his current life situation is clarified. He is twenty-five years old, married, has three children and has had one previous problem with the law. The other run-in with the law was when another man tried to cut Tom and he defended himself. Other than that, Tom has been a good citizen and a hard worker. Link Deas even verifies his goodness by yelling in court the following:

"I just want the whole lot of you to know one thing right now. That boy's worked for me eight years an' I ain't had a speck o'trouble outa him. Not a speck" (195).

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There is not much told to us in To Kill a Mockingbird about Tom Robinson's life. We know that he is a black man accused of raping a white woman, and that Atticus takes his case. We know that Helen Robinson is Tom's wife. The Robinsons seem to be upstanding citizens in their community in Maycomb. When the trial comes, we finally learn a little more about Tom Robinson. In chapter 19, Atticus brings to light more facts about Tom's life.

     Tom took the oath and stepped into the witness chair. Atticus very quickly induced to tell us (sitting in the courtroom):
     Tom was twenty-five years of age, he was married with three children; he had been in trouble with the law before; he once received thirty days for disorderly conduct.

Atticus goes on to tell us that Tom had severely damaged his left arm in a cotton gin as a child, and has no use of his arm to this day. This is a very important piece of information for the jury. 

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Tom Robinson was 25 years old.  He was married to Helen and had some children, although I am not sure how many, but certainly more than one.  He had a disabled left arm from an accident with a cotton gin as a boy.  He worked picking Cotton for Mr. LinK Deas who liked him very much.  He was most likely a member of  Reverend Sykes church where Calpurnia attended since the Reverend was so determined to raise money for his family.  Overall, it seems that Tom had as pleasant of a life as could be expected for a Negro in the South at the time of the story.  This is why he could feel sorry for Mayella who had about as unpleasant a life as could be expected for a white woman in the same society.

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It has to be mentioned as well that the text suggests that as a black man Tom "knew his place," which is partly implied in the characterization of him as "honest and decent." Scout tells us (in her adult voice--without irony) that "He seemed to be a respectable Negro, and a respectable Negro would never go up into somebody's yard of his own volition" (Chp 19). The novel was written in 1962, and while it surely dramatizes racism as a disease that ruins society, it is also a product of its cultural moment that did not go beyond a black person "having a place"--a place that is respectable, but a place nevertheless.

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