Who is Mayella Ewell afraid of in the courtroom? 

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This simple question calls attention to a very complicated situation happening in the courtroom in Chapter 18 of To Kill a Mockingbird. Mayella claims to be scared of Atticus, and she is right to be scared of him, as Atticus has the power to expose her as a poor white woman who has attempted to seduce a black man.

If Atticus is successful, the truth will set off a chain reaction that can only create more problems for Mayella. It is this possiblity that scares Mayella the most: she will be cruelly punished by her father and she will humiliated when the public realizes that her need for kindness and touch drove her to try to seduce Tom.

If the truth about what happened comes to light, Mayella will likely have to endure the wrath of her father, Bob Ewell, whose reputation for viciousness is widely known. Bob will be angry with her for bringing humiliation on his name, for breaking unspoken rules around the interactions between blacks and whites in Maycomb, and for making the truth about his abusive behavior obvious.

As well, Mayella will be seen by the community as a sad victim of her circumstances, a pathetic and needy woman who wants physical affection so badly that she makes a move on a married black man. She has misjudged her power as a white woman and she has misjudged Tom; both of these mistakes have led her to where she stands now, and she is fearful of the consequences.

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In Chapter 18, Mayella takes the witness stand. Mr. Gilmer begins his questioning and Mayella bursts into tears. The judge allows her time to compose herself and asks her who she is afraid of. She points to Atticus. She is afraid Atticus will make her look like a fool. Or worse, she is afraid that Atticus will expose the truth. The truth is that she seduced Tom, Bob Ewell caught her in the act, and then Tom ran off. The logical assumption (probable truth) is that Bob beat Mayella himself and made Mayella accuse Tom of the beating.

So, while Mayella is afraid of Atticus for reasons stated above, she is really afraid of her father. She does not come right out and say this, but it is the truth. She is testifying against Tom because her father put her up to it. She is afraid that Atticus will expose the truth. The real threat in her life is her father. It is generally acknowledged in Maycomb that Bob is a drunk, abusive father. Atticus almost gets Mayella to admit this. Atticus asks if Bob is easy to get along with. Mayella says he is tolerable "'cept when--" and she does not finish her sentence. Atticus replies with what everyone knows, "Except when he's drinking?" Mayella nods in the affirmative, essentially saying 'yes.' Atticus presses her and asks if Bob has ever beaten her. She denies it, but she says this because she is afraid of Bob. Had she been questioned in private, without her father present, who knows what she would have revealed.  

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