Mayella Ewell Quotes

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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An interesting glimpse into the character of Mayella Ewell occurs in Chapter 17 of Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The story's young narrator, Scout Finch, is describing the Ewell family in less-than-flattering terms, emphasizing the clan's primitiveness and sloven ways. Scout's description proceeds as follows, beginning with a recitation of the artifacts found on the Ewell's lawn, before seguing into an observation regarding the possible influence on the surroundings of Mayella:

" . . . the remains of a Model-T Ford (on blocks), a discarded dentist’s chair, an ancient icebox, plus lesser items: old shoes, worn-out table radios, picture frames, and fruit jars, under which scrawny orange chickens pecked hopefully. . .One corner of the yard, though, bewildered Maycomb. Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell’s."

The reader can surmise from the above passage that Mayella represents the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal scene. Bob Ewell, it is revealed, is the town's most bitter and and among the most virulently racist citizens. There is nary a good word word to be said about this pathetic figure. The presence of a young woman who possibly dreams of more, however, is felt in the above reference to the geraniums. 

As Chapter 18 begins, Mayella is called to the witness stand, presumably to testify against Tom Robinson, the poor and physically disabled African American accused of raping her. As Mayella is introduced to the reader, Scout provides the following description:

" . . .she seemed somehow fragile-looking, but when she sat facing us in the witness chair she became what she was, a thick-bodied girl accustomed to strenuous labor."

And, as importantly, and with reference to the earlier passage noting the presence of carefullly-tended flowers on the Ewell's otherwise trash-strewn lawn, Lee's young narrator goes on to observe:

"Mayella looked as if she tried to keep clean, and I was reminded of the row of red geraniums in the Ewell yard."

Mayella, the reader is lead to conclude, has been forced to accuse Tom Robinson of a rape that didn't occur by her physically-abusive "white trash" father. She is, in her own way, as pathetic a figure as her father, but one excused because of the nature of her dismal existence with a man as contemptuous as her father, who, Atticus points out for the jury, was almost certainly the individual who inflicted the injuries on his own daughter. Atticus suggests as much when, early in Chapter 23, he explains to his children the good may have come out of Bob Ewell's having spat in Atticus' face:

" . . .if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take."

Mayella, then, is portrayed as a victim of her father's brutality and demeanor. That said, it is left clear that Mayella, while a victim of an exceedingly bad upbringing, is complicit in Tom's conviction and eventual death. Late in Chapter 25, contemplating the editorial in the town's newspaper by the paper's editor, Mr. Underwood, Scout summarizes the meaning of the article within the context of her father's ultimately unsuccessful efforts at saving an innocent black man: "Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed." In other words, had Mayella not been a desperate, pathetic 19-year-old adult, none of this ever would have happened.

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amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In Chapter 18, when Mayella is being questioned by Atticus, he calls her ma'am as a way of being polite. Mayella, schooled by her father to be skeptical of Atticus, thinks Atticus is mocking her. Scout thinks:

I wondered if anybody had ever called her "ma'am," or "Miss Mayella" in her life; probably not, as she took offense to routine courtesy. What on earth was her life like? I soon found out. 

Atticus is demonstrating how poor and lonely Mayella's life had been with her irresponsible father. She was forced to quit school to help raise the children and Bob often used the family's relief check to buy alcohol. It was alsipresumed that Bob would become violent when he would drink. By the end of the questioning, it is clear to Scout that Atticus hads compassion for Mayella even though she is lying: 

Somehow, Atticus had hit her hard in a way that was not clear to me, but it gave him no pleasure to do so. 

In Chapter 19, when Tom Robinson is being questioned, Scout begins to understand even more about Mayella: 

As Tom Robinson gave his testimony, it came to me that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world. She was even lonelier than Boo Radley, who had not been out of the house in twenty-five years. 

This feeling was even shared by Tom who said (same chapter) that he felt sorry for Mayella "Looked like she didn't have nobody to help her . . . " 

Mayella is most certainly lying about Tom Robinson. But Atticus and Tom are sympathetic towards her because they both know how awful Mayella's life must be. Scout picks up on this. 

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Mayella Ewell is a character whom we are first introduced to in Chapter 18. Interestingly, she is a character that the reader hears a lot about before actually meeting her, and it is therefore very important to focus on how she is presented and described. The first impression that Scout seems to have of her suggests a somewhat contradictory impression:

A young girl walked to the witness stand... she seemed somehow fragile-looking, but when she sat facing us in the witness chair she became what she was, a thick-bodied girl accustomed to strenuous labour.

Scout continues to describe how Mayella is a character who keeps clean, and it is clear from Scout's memory of the red geraniums in the Ewell's yard that appearances are important to her. In addition, Scout mentions that when Mayella begins to gain her confidence, there was something "stealthy" about her account of what happened, "like a steady-eyed cat with a twitchy tale." These quotes from pages 196 and 198 in my edition suggest that she is a character who is somehow vulnerable beneath her rough exterior, and also present her as a somewhat calculating and deceitful character.

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