How does Lee create conflict for the reader with respect to seeing Mayella as a sympathetic character by the end of her testimony in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lee creates conflict for the reader by making the reader see Mayella as a sympathetic character by the end of her testimony because the reader does not want to sympathize with Mayella, since our sympathy is with Tom.

Mayella Ewell is Tom Robinson’s accuser.  Throughout the entire book, the reader has been led to not like the Ewells, and to like Tom.  Therefore when the trial brings out Mayella’s condition and we feel sorry for her, we are not expecting it.

Scout feels empathy for Mayella when she hears Tom Robinson testify about what her life was like.

As Tom Robinson gave his testimony, it came to me that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world. (ch 19)

By this time, we already know about the flowers Mayella keeps on the property.  We are beginning to feel sorry for her.  When we find out she has no friends, she spends all of her time at home taking care of her brothers and sisters.  She kept calling Tom Robinson over not to be mean, but because she was lonely.

Ironically, Mayella Ewell is not really a racist.  She liked Tom Robinson, and enjoyed his company.  She even tried to kiss him.  She may have been in love with him.  She only accused him because her father saw them together and she had no other way out.  Even Atticus acknowledges that she is young and lost, and caught on the wrong side of the social code.

The reader realizes with Tom Robinson’s testimony that Mayella is not a bad person.  She just got caught up in a situation she could not control.  This makes the reader feel conflicted.  At the same time, the reader cannot excuse Mayella’s behavior because it cost an innocent man his freedom.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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