Please answer this question for me from To Kill A MockingbirdIn the courtroom scene in chapter 18, Mayella Ewell is presented as both disgusting and pathetic. give some examples of both qualities...

Please answer this question for me from To Kill A Mockingbird

In the courtroom scene in chapter 18, Mayella Ewell is presented as both disgusting and pathetic. give some examples of both qualities by quoting examples of statements she makes.

Asked on by anj6996

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ajmchugh | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

I agree with auntlori's response--Mayella is a character who evokes sympathy from readers, simply because her words and actions show her to be a young woman whose isolation from society, along with the responsibilities she's been given with regard to raising her siblings, elicits pity from readers. 

With that said, we still must remember that Mayella, though she is a pitiful girl with whom readers sympathize, is still at the center of a trial in which an innocent man's life is at stake.  While she is being questioned by Atticus, she cannot keep her story straight and often changes her responses once she figures out what she "should" say to support her accusations.  (For instance, when Atticus asks Mayella if she remembers Tom hitting her face, she says "No, I don't recall if he hit me.  I mean yes I do, he hit me."  Atticus's questioning soon becomes too much for her, and she concludes her testimony with the following:

I got somethin' to say an' then I ain't gonna say no more.  That nigger yonder took advantage of me an' if you fine fancy gentlemen don't wanta do nothin' about it then you're all yellow stinkin'cowards, stinkin' cowards, the lot of you.  

Again, while we can feel sympathy for Mayella because of the situation in which she has been brought up, we cannot excuse the fact that she knowingly puts a man's life at stake to cover up what she has really done--she kissed a black man, her father saw her, and he beat her.  My guess is that this is the "disgusting" behavior you're to find in the novel.   

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I don't find Mayella disgusting at all.  She's clearly a young, frightened, lonely girl.  She's doing her best to make her house a home in the midst of the squalor her father has placed them in, and she's taking care of her younger siblings as best she can.  It's not her choice to live where she does, but she plants flowers to add beauty--a sign that she is not content to let her circumstances control her attitude.  She's poor--dirt poor--but she's not disgusting.

Surprisingly, the incident with Tom Robinson is one which causes us to sympathize with her.  How lonely must she have been to plan (for months, so she can send the kids away for ice cream) this moment of connection with the only person, apparently, who showed her any kindness.  We feel, as Tom did, sorry for her.  Add to that her courtroom plight--she's lying under oath because her father has told her to.  As her story unravels, we feel as if she's just about to fall apart, and we know her father is to blame.

To Kill a Mockingbirdis a story, in part, about racial injustice.  Without Mayella and her testimony in court, there is no story.  While she's not disgusting, she is poor and certainly uneducated.  We do sympathize with her, even though we know it's because of her story (created by her dad, obviously) that Tom Robinson loses his freedom--and eventually his  life.

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