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Why Tom Ran

Tom Robinson’s decision to run from the prison and try to escape confounds Atticus. “We had such a good chance,” (Lee 269) he says in reference to the appellate case after learning Tom was shot and killed trying to escape. Atticus had assured Tom of this as they were leaving court after the verdict had been given. The black community in Maycomb rallied behind Atticus and trusted him when he said there was still hope, so why didn’t Tom? Why would Tom Robinson with one good hand try to escape from prison knowing his chances were slim and that he would be shot if caught? Simply, he knew that his slim chance at escape was his only hope.

              The day Mayella and Bob Ewell uttered Tom Robinson’s name to the sheriff was the day he was arraigned, tried, and convicted of rape and sentenced to death by electrocution. “This case is as simple as black and white,” (Lee 231) Atticus says during the trial, and indeed it was, at least in the eyes of the jury. While Atticus may have truly had some hope in the appeal, it was easier for him to trust a legal system he was familiar with and that he fit into. Atticus, despite being a well-respected lawyer, a reputable man, and treating all people with dignity, was still white. The jury, court, lawyers, and entire legal system was also white, and as long as it was completely white-washed, Tom saw no chance at him regaining his life through the court. The value of his word and his life did not matter as much in the 1930s American legal system when compared to the white prosecution. Tom knew this and decided that while others, including Atticus and other blacks in Maycomb, thought there was hope in an appeal, that hope may be easier to have when the verdict does not cost one their own life. Tom tried to take the decision of his life out of the hands of the white court and into his own matters, even though his odds were slim to none. He figured trying to escape from prison was more feasible than the courts acquitting a black man in his case. Ultimately he failed at the cost of his life as he was set up to do from the beginning.

One thought on “Why Tom Ran”

  1. Nice reflections here on the novel’s indication of Tom’s total lack of trust in the justice system. Another possible interpretation of Tom Robinson’s fate is that the story of his attempted escape itself can’t be trusted. I wonder what you think of that, though really what I’m keenly aware of is just how many layers of distance there are between us readers and these actual events. Scout has seen the prison exercise yard, but did bear witness to Tom’s death. In fact, none of the characters in the novel did. What does it mean that this information has to get reported through so many separate channels?


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