In Chapter 18, what is Atticus's method of cross examination and how does he feel about this afterwards?"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 18 of "To Kill a Mockingbird," after Atticus finishes his cross-examination, he turns away from Mayella and, as Scout describes him,

he looked like his stomach hurt, but Mayella's face was a mixture of terror and fury.  Atticus sat down wearily and polished his glasses with his handkerchief.

When Mayella speaks again, saying that she has something to say, Atticus hopes that she will tell the truth.  Instead, she retaliates against what she has perceived as Atticus's haughtiness and then false condescension to her;

Your fancy airs don't come to nothin'--your ma'amin' and Miss Mayellerin' don't come to nothin' Mr. Finch--

Scout reflects,

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

Scout continues to remark that she has never seen anyone "glare at anyone with the hatred Mayella displayed toward Atticus" as she left the courtroom.  Clearly, Atticus's method of cross-examination has backfired.  He has left Mayella rawly exposed before the jury and courtroom.

When Atticus Finch destroys the credibility of his witness with a series of quick, hard questions, and when he suggests to the witness for all to hear the questionable relationship of Bob Ewell to his daughter and the abuse that is dealt to her, she is not inclined to respond, as he has hoped.  Instead, her family pride--perverse though it may be--causes her to seek redress by striking out at Atticus and making poor Tom Robinson the scapegoat for her feelings of inferiority:  She may be "white trash," but there is still someone lower than she, and Mayella avenges her embarrassment and shame upon poor Tom Robinson.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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