The trial of Tom takes up a great deal of space in the novel because it gives Harper Lee a chance to do an in-depth exploration of characters and situations. The people involved in the case are Bob and Mayella Ewell, Tom Robinson and Atticus Finch. The alleged rape of Mayella by Tom allows Harper Lee to look in detail at issues of racial and social prejudice in Maycomb. Bob Ewell is the villain of the novel and, as a result of the trial, he tries to get revenge on Atticus and his family.
In the trial itself he is revealed as a very unpleasant character. We learn that he drinks and sometimes leaves his family for days, he is violent and he may even be committing incest with Mayella. Atticus establishes that he is left-handed and that Mayella was probably beaten up by a left-handed man – it seems that he, and not Tom Robinson, beat up Mayella after he saw Mayella trying to kiss Tom. Bob therefore lies during the trial and is prepared to sacrifice the life of an innocent man for the sake of his daughter’s reputation.
His unpleasant behaviour during the trial and his assumption that everybody will be on his side against a black man convince the reader that he is a thoroughly unpleasant character. Mayella Ewing also lies in court but for different reasons to her father. She is the only responsible member of one of the poorest families in Maycomb. She looks after herself and her brothers and sisters and even tries to bring some beauty into their lives by growing geraniums.
Her family is so poor that white people will have nothing to do with her and, at that time, it was not possible for her to be friendly with black people. Scout calls her “the loneliest person in the world”. Tom Robinson passed her house every day on his way to work and, according to Scout, he was probably the only person who was ever nice to her. Tom’s evidence at the trial shows that she had planned to make a pass at him for a long time.
It took her nearly a year to save enough money to send all her brothers and sisters into town to get ice creams. When she and Tom were alone together she tried to kiss him but she was interrupted by the arrival of her father. At that time in the 1930s there was a very strong prejudice against white women being involved with black men and if the fact that she had kissed Tom of her own accord emerged,she would have been shunned by everyone. She would rather let Tom die than let this hap