In To Kill a Mockingbird, what feeling do both Tom and Atticus have for Mayella?

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lusie0520 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Both Atticus and Tom Robinson feel sorry for Mayella Ewell.  This is noticeable when Atticus cross examines her and when Tom give his testimony.  Atticus asks Mayella a number of questions about her life, such as:

“Miss Mayella,” said Atticus, in spite of himself, “a nineteen-year-old girl like you must have friends. Who are your friends?” The witness frowned as if puzzled. “Friends?” “Yes, don’t you know anyone near your age, or older, or younger? Boys and girls? Just ordinary friends?” 

This, along with other questions she has answered for Atticus, show that Atticus understands her home life very well.  She has a drunk for a father; she is expected to care for all the children on her own; they don’t have enough money; she has no friends.  Atticus is as gentle as he can be with her while also trying to suggest to the court that she is lying.  As he continues to cross examine her, the reader can see that he feels sorry for her and that he regrets having to tear her down on the witness stand. 

“When Atticus turned away from Mayella he looked like his stomach hurt, but Mayella’s face was a mixture of terror and fury. Atticus sat down wearily and polished his glasses with his handkerchief.”

Tom Robinson also feels sorry for Mayella Ewell, and that is how he ended up in this position. 

“Tom Robinson’s forehead relaxed. “She’d call me in, suh. Seemed like every time I passed by yonder she’d have some little somethin‘ for me to do—choppin’ kindlin‘, totin’ water for her. She watered them red flowers every day—” 

Through what Tom says about Mayella, we can sense that he feels sorry for her lonely position.  Scout, sitting in the audience, is quick to realize this. 

“As Tom Robinson gave his testimony, it came to me that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world. She was even lonelier than Boo Radley, who had not been out of the house in twenty-five years.” 

Both Atticus and Tom feel sorry for Mayella, but they also understand the reality  of the position, which is that Mayella is the only one who can tell the truth and save Tom.

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