In To Kill a Mockingbird, who does Scout compare Mayella to? Why does she feel sorry for her?

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price7781 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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The trial of Tom Robinson became a very enlightening time for Scout as she sat in the balcony of the courthouse listening to the testimonies and cross-examinations by her father, Atticus.  As she was watching the trial, she realized something very sad—Mayella Ewell and Boo Radley have had the same life experiences in many ways.  Scout commented that Mayella must be the “loneliest person in the world” after learning about her life and listening to her recount the circumstances of the supposed rape.  Mayella Ewell has been abused by her father and has given up her life to take care of her younger brothers and sisters.  She never experienced the “happy-go-lucky” childhood we see Scout living at the beginning of the novel.  Mayella’s life was full of oppression and fear.  She grew up fast and learned what she must do to survive.  In this legal case, she knows that she must lie about Tom Robinson in order to survive her father’s brutal hand and keep some sort of respect in the community. 

Boo Radley has also led a lonely, sad life.  Locked up in his house by a controlling father after a minor altercation with the law, Boo has been deprived of the life he might have led.  He remains a recluse and is lonely and ostracized like Mayella.

This scene is a major rite of passage for Scout as she empathizes with Mayella and Boo and really learns what it’s like to “walk around in another person’s skin.” 

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dbrooks22 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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In Chapter 19, as Tom Robinson is giving his testimony, Scout thinks that Mayella “must have been the loneliest person in the world” (Lee, Ch 9). Scout compares Mayella Ewell to Boo Radley because Boo has been secluded from society and in a way so is Mayella. Scout realizes that Mayella doesn’t really have a life of her own. Mayella was made to quit school, so she could take care of her father and her younger siblings. She doesn’t have any friends with whom to socialize. Therefore when Tom Robinson walks by her house, she asks him to help her with chores. She does this because she is desperate for someone to notice her. Tom is the only “sympathetic soul” who recognizes her loneliness. And through Mayella's and Tom Robinson's testimonies, Scout recognizes it, too.

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