Why does Mayella Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird deserve both condemnation and pity?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mayella clearly deserves condemnation. She accused an innocent man of rape, and persisted in the lie throughout the trial, thus committing perjury and sending him in effect to his death. So in a very real sense, she has Tom's blood on her hands. But on the other hand, we can sympathize with Mayella, even as we condemn her actions. Her father Bob is an abusive drunkard who is unwilling to care for his family. As the oldest daughter whose mother is dead, Mayella is thus given the responsibility of taking care of the seven children. They live in desperate poverty, near starvation, and are viewed by contempt by most of the town. Tom agreed to help Mayella, in fact, because he took pity on her and thought she could use a helping hand. It says much about the realities of race in To Kill a Mockingbird that his sympathy for Mayella, who is white, got him in trouble in the first place. Even more tragic, the fact that he says he felt sorry for a white person is probably a major factor leading to his unjust conviction. But Mayella, like many other characters in To Kill A Mockingbird, is complex.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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