What aspects of human struggle do Mrs. Dubose, Aunt Alexandra, and Mayella Ewell display?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird is populated with various characters who exemplify the human struggle, whether it is internal or external.

  • Mrs. Dubose 

Mrs. Dubose struggles against old age; she has ailments which are so grave that there is little that can be done for her but alleviate the pain caused by these ailments through the use of morphine. But, as Atticus later informs Jem and Scout, Mrs. Dubose decided to die without being on any drugs. She stopped taking morphine and died with dignity. 

  • Aunt Alexandra

The sister of Atticus, Aunt Alexandra struggles between her personal beliefs of propriety and the proper stratum of society and her sisterly love and family loyalty. When she first arrives at the home of her brother, she makes it her mission to establish proper decorum. For instance, Scout should be addressed as Jean Louise, and she should be wearing dresses, not overalls. Calpurnia should be kept in her place of maid, not surrogate mother. Atticus should remind the children that they are not run of the mill children. Further, she is appalled to learn that Atticus is going to defend a black man in court.

However, after Alexandra learns what is at stake in Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson, she appreciates Miss Maudie's coming to his defense at the Missionary Tea when Mrs. Merriweather comments,

"I tell you there are some good but misguided people in this town. Good, but misguided."

Mrs. Merriweather makes several comments that are derogatory to her maid and African-Americans in general. To these remarks, Miss Maudie quips about Mr. Merriweather, "His food doesn't stick when it goes down, does it?" Mrs. Merriweather replies that she does not know what Maudie means. Here Mrs. Merriweather finds herself confronted with her own biases, but she does not profit from the encounter and remains fixed in them, acting as if she does not know what Miss Maudie means.

  • Mayella Ewell

Mayella struggles against her loneliness. At home she has no one to talk with; her attempts to establish a human relationship fail with Tom Robinson, who is kind to her without expecting anything in return. When she is caught by her father as she fails to detain Tom, Mayella is in the act of holding his neck, trying to get him to kiss her, but Tom breaks free as Bob Ewell sights him. Soon thereafter, Mayella is made to charge Tom with rape. And, at the trial, her struggle to retain some dignity is lost. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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