During a trial, the lawyers must base their questioning on facts. In the novel To Kill A Mockingbird, compare the statements made by Bob Ewell, Mayella and Tom Robinson. How do the facts change in each statement?
Obviously, someone is lying here, and although neither the author nor Scout's narrative ever specifies the true guilty party, most readers will believe that Tom's story is the truth. Of course, prosecutor Horace Gilmer assumes that the Ewells are telling the truth since he sides with the white majority who always takes the word of a white man over the word of a black man. Atticus sees things differently, recognizing that Tom is an honest man and that the lowly Ewells have been "the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations." The facts never really change here; instead it is the testimony of the Ewells that conflict with Tom's truthful testimony. Bob claims to have seen Tom "ruttin' on my Mayella," but he never clarifies what "ruttin' " actually means ("rape?"), nor does he admit to seeing Tom actually hit Mayella. Mayella isn't sure what happened:
"No, I don't recollect if he hit me. I mean yes I do, he hit me."
"Was your last sentence your answer?"
"Huh? Yes he hit--I just don't remember... it all happened so quick." (Chapter 18)
Only Tom's testimony seems clear, and his additional statements make it appear likely that Bob is the actual assailant. When Mayella tells him that "what her papa do to her don't count," it implies that there may be an improper (incestuous?) relationship between father and daughter. Bob's threat to Mayella--"you goddam whore, I'll kill ya"--suggests that it was he who delivered the actual beating.