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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

THE STORY

PART TWO

CHAPTER 17

The children have arrived in time to hear Heck Tate testify about the basic charges against Tom Robinson. Sheriff Tate was called to the house of Bob Ewell one night, where he found Bob's nineteen-year-old daughter Mayella badly beaten. Mayella accused Tom of raping her.

You may remember the Ewell family from Chapter 2 of the story. It was Burris Ewell who showed up on the first day of school with lice, and then threatened the teacher when she ordered him to go home and take a bath. The Ewell family lives near the Maycomb town dump, adjoining the black section of town. They receive public assistance, but everyone knows that Mr. Bob Ewell spends most of his relief checks on whiskey, letting his children go hungry much of the time. The Ewells are the town outcasts, and it is most unlikely that anyone would take their word against any white citizen in town. Today, however, Bob Ewell has been cast in the role of the hero. Most of the local citizens crowding the ground floor of the courtroom feel that it would be a disgrace for a black to win in a dispute with any white, so they are prepared to take Bob Ewell's side.


Bob Ewell makes the most of his temporary celebrity. He annoys the judge by making wisecracks on the witness stand and then throws the entire courtroom in an uproar by announcing in a booming voice that he actually witnessed Tom Robinson in the act of raping his daughter.

Atticus is the only calm person in the room. He has already gotten Heck Tate to testify that Mayella was bruised on the right side of her face. Now he tricks Bob Ewell into signing his name in front of everyone: Bob Ewell is left-handed.

Jem, seated in the balcony, immediately sees the significance of this piece of evidence. If a left-handed person had beaten up Mayella, that would account for the fact that she was bruised on the right side of her face. Jem is elated, thinking that his father has uncovered the proof of Tom's innocence. Scout is more realistic. She has by now figured out that it will take more than a good piece of detective work to save Tom Robinson.  

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