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In chapter 18 of "To Kill a Mockingbird," we learn that Mayella Ewell is a sad, lonely, and abused girl. She is also illiterate and uneducated.
She is solely responsible to care for the large family. Although she lives a sad life, she tries to make it a little better for her siblings and herself by attempting to decorate their home and buying the children ice cream.
We also learn that Mayella is afraid of her father and is of weak character when she lies to save her reputation, putting Tom's life on the line.
Chapter 18 of To Kill a Mockingbird focuses on the trial of Tom Robinson due to the accusation of rape by Mayella Ewell, the daughter of the town drunk, Mr. Bob Ewell.
Mayella is described as "a thick-bodied girl accustomed to strenuous labor" who somehow also manages to look fragile. Between bouts of sobbing, Mayella claims that Tom attacked her after she offered him a nickel to break up a chiffarobe for kindling.
Through his examination of Mayella, Atticus reveals that she is the oldest of seven siblings, her mother is long dead, she only went to school for two or three years, she has no friends, and (despite her claims) she's often the target of her father's rage after his drinking binges.
By painting a portrait of the pathetic, uncivilized home life that Mayella is forced to dwell in, Atticus demonstrates that the girl was looking for companionship in the form of Tom Robinson. Mayella is a vulnerable, defensive product of her environment, and her accusation of rape was only a response to her father's violent reaction to seeing her with Tom.
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