Characterize Mayella on the witness stand in To Kill a Mockingbird.

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mayella is portrayed as a frightened, overwhelmed teenager who confuses and contradicts her testimony several times. As soon as Mayella takes the witness stand, she bursts into tears and claims that Atticus frightens her. Mayella attempts to draw sympathy from the judge, jury, and crowd by crying, as she proceeds to tell her fabricated story to Mr. Gilmer. After reciting her story, Scout mentions that Mayella seems confident and notices that she has "something stealthy" about her disposition.

Whenever Atticus begins his cross-examination, Mayella immediately takes offense to how he refers to her as "Ma’am." Mayella acts hostile as she tries her best to stick to her story as Atticus continues to question her. When Atticus begins asking specific questions concerning how Tom Robinson assaulted her, Mayella begins to confuse her story and contradict herself. She then attempts to cry, as a way to sway the court in her favor, but is rebuffed by Judge Taylor. Mayella then becomes furious when Atticus asks how it is physically possible that Tom assaulted and raped her considering that Tom is crippled. Atticus then unleashes a series of questions at Mayella, which catches her off guard. Mayella initially contradicts her story once again before refusing to answer any more questions. Mayella's final words reveal her frustration and hate and reflect her rude personality. Mayella says,

"I got somethin‘ to say an’ then I ain’t gonna say no more. That nigger yonder took advantage of me an‘ if you fine fancy gentlemen don’t wanta do nothin’ about it then you’re all yellow stinkin‘ cowards, stinkin’ cowards, the lot of you. Your fancy airs don’t come to nothin‘—your ma’amin’ and Miss Mayellerin‘ don’t come to nothin’, Mr. Finch." (Lee, 191)

As Mayella is leaving the witness stand, she bursts into tears. Overall, Mayella is portrayed as an ignorant, overwhelmed teenager who is shaken, embarrassed, and angry with Atticus Finch.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mayella Ewell reveals herself to be a poor, friendless, naive and frightened young woman during her stint on the witness stand during the trial of Tom Robinson. Scout even wonders if she is mentally unbalanced.

     I whispered to Jem, "Has she got good sense?"
     Jem was squinting down at the witness stand. "Can't tell yet... but she might just be--oh, I don't know."

She believes Atticus's sincere politeness to be mockery, and she exudes a sense of bewilderment throughout her testimony. She is fully out of her element, a teenager who rarely leaves the Ewell house or has social interaction with anyone but her family. Her confused testimony, much of which is untruthful, is barely rehearsed: She contradicts herself when Atticus asks if Tom has hit her, and she later admits, by a nod of her head, that her father isn't always "tollable," especially when he has been drinking. She fears Atticus, but her fear of her father is greater, and it is apparent that she has gone along with his story. When the questions become too much for her, she simply refuses to speak any further.

I guess if she hadn't been so poor and ignorant, Judge Taylor would have put her under the jail for the contempt she had shown everyone in the courtroom... I never saw anybody glare at anyone with the hatred Mayella showed when she left the stand and walked by Atticus's table. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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