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Tom's death was only news in Maycomb for two days, and was regarded as "typical," since prevailing opinion was that black men tend to run away without any plan. Maycomb's reaction to the news of Tom's death demonstrates how willingly the citizens interpret the actions of one black person negatively in order to maintain their social construct of subjugating the black population. Scout realizes that the decision to see the world fairly can only occur within each individual's heart, and that there is no way to reach a person who has not become personally convinced of the equality of all races and the virtue of following a moral course of action.
However, for the black community, the news of Tom's death is devastating, as exemplified by Helen's collapse. Atticus could not promise Tom that he would eventually go free, because he did not want to promise anything he couldn't be sure of. Unable to live an indefinite existence, Tom lost his courage and determination, and chose to run for freedom. Possibly, like Jem, Tom lost hope that people would listen to the voice of reason. Given all the injustices he had experienced in his life, Tom did not think it possible that his case would be appealed or that the outcome would be favorable.