How does Atticus address Mayella when she is on the witness stand in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus addresses Mayella as "Miss Mayella" when she is on the witness stand for the trial of Tom Robinson. He also says "Ma'am" when he has not heard something, or pretends he has not heard so that she will repeat herself.

When Atticus cross-examines Mayella Ewell, he is very polite and acts professionally. Nevertheless, Mayella feels affronted by Atticus's politeness. She complains to Atticus that she "Won't answer a word you say long as you keep on mockin' me." When Judge Taylor tells her that Mr. Finch is not making fun of her, she looks from under hooded eyes at Atticus and repines to the judge,

"Long's he keeps on callin' me ma'am an sayin' Miss Mayella. I don't hafta take his sass, I ain't called upon to take it."

Judge Taylor assures Mayella that Mr. Finch is always courteous to everyone:

"He is not trying to mock you. He's trying to be polite. That's just his way."

Scout wonders what Mayella's life has been like if she takes offense when she receives courtesy. She asks Jem, "Has she got good sense?"
At any rate, Mayella is a difficult witness who is on the defensive with Atticus, suspecting that his questions are meant to discredit her statements, statements that she knows are false.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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