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Living without a mother for longer than she can remember, Mayella has the responsibilities of the home completely upon her since the father reportedly drinks away the government check that the family receives. Occasionally, Bob Ewell will shoot a squirrel or rabbit and Mayella can cook it in order to feed her seven siblings--although no one is sure how many children are in the Ewell family.
In Chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout describes the habitat of the Ewells where no truant officers
could keep their numerous offspring in school; no public health officer could free them from congenital defects, various worms, and the disease indigenous to filthy surroundings.
Mayella and her siblings "gave the dump a thorough gleaning every day," and they scatter the refuse of this scavenging promiscuously around their bare plot of ground. But, at the corner of the yard, against the fence, there are six chipped slop jar lined up; these contain"brilliant red geraniiums," for which Mayella obviously cares tenderly--hence, her middle name of Violet. This action of Mayella suggests that she possesses a womanly attraction to things of beauty and would like to have pretty things of her own.
When Mayella testifies in a later chapter of the novel, she says that what her father does with her does not "count," so inferences can be made that Bob Ewell subjects his oldest daughter to sexual abuse as well as physical abuse, abuses, it seems, that she accepts as part of her life. Obviously, she is very lonely as she asks Tom Robinson to help her often when he walks down from his shack and passes the Ewells' on the road.
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