To Kill A Mockingbird: Novel Summary: Chapters 19-20
Chapter 19: Mr. Gilmer rests his case and Atticus calls Tom Robinson to the stand. Tom's story about the events contradicts Mayella's completely. According to Tom, Mayella, who asked him onto her property many times before, asked Tom to help her fix the door to her house. Tom enters the property and proceeds to examine the door. Finding nothing wrong with the door he asks if there is really anything that he can do for her. She asks Tom to lift a box down from atop a high dresser. Tom notices that, oddly, no children are on the property. Mayella explains that she finally saved up enough money to send all the children to town to buy ice cream. Tom remarks how generous Mayella was to do that and proceeds to reach for the box. As he does so, Mayella grabs him around his legs. Tom steps down and faces Mayella who hugs him around his chest and kisses his mouth. Scared and confused, Tom tries to push himself away from Mayella without hurting her. Bob Ewell catches the two of them together in his living room and proceeds to yell at Mayella. Tom runs and admits that he does not know who beat her (although it seems obvious that Bob Ewell, racist and ashamed of his daughter, beat Mayella).
When Gilmer cross-examines Tom he calls him boy and treats him with blatant disrespect. He asks Tom why he had helped Mayella so many times without ever taking her money. Tom explains that he felt sorry for Mayella who always seemed to do all the work on the property and had to take care of so many children. Upon hearing that Tom felt sorry for Mayella, the people in the courtroom begin to murmur and Tom realizes that he has made a mistake. The proceeding breaks for a recess before closing arguments.
Chapter 20: Dill dashes out of the courtroom appalled and is upset by the way Gilmer treated Tom on the stand. To help him soothe his nerves, Dolphus Raymond offers Dill a sip from the bottle he carries in a brown bag with him all the time. Dill takes a sip and realizes that Dolphus drinks Coca-Cola instead of whiskey as everyone had assumed. Then the children ask Dolphus why he wants everyone to think he drinks whiskey, Dolphus responds, "It ain't honest but it's mighty helpful to folks. Secretly, Miss Finch, I'm not much of a drinker, but you see they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that's the way I want to live" (213). Dolphus and the children return inside the courthouse to hear closing arguments.
The author does not offer the prosecution's closing argument, focusing the rest of the chapter, instead on Atticus's remarks. Essentially, Atticus points out the following: there is no proof that a rape ever occurred since a doctor never examined Mayella, Tom could not have both strangled and beaten Mayella because he has only one good hand, the prosecution has not produced any concrete evidence because it assumes that a white man's word will always win over a black man's. Atticus also outlines a case for why Bob Ewell could have beaten Mayella by showing that, in the eyes of her father, Mayella had actually committed a crime. Mayella's crime, Atticus argues, was to tempt a black man and she could not allow Tom to continue walking past her property everyday as a "daily reminder of what she did" (216). Atticus pleads with the jury to consider the parties involved as equals under the law. He invokes Washington and Jefferson and reminds the jury that the courtroom is America's great "leveler" (218). His case and his closing argument are very strong.