In Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, why does Mayella blame Tom Robinson for raping her?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 20 of Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, defense attorney for the defendant, calls Mayella Ewell the guilty party in his closing arguments. He declares that his client is not guilty because not only did Mayella lie about what happened to her at the hands of Tom Robinson, but she did it to cover up the fact that she kissed a black man. In 1930s Maycomb, Alabama, a white woman who kissed (or became otherwise romantically involved with) a black man violated social mores. Mayella invited a black man into her home to do chores for her without her father's knowledge and decided to kiss him one day. Her father, disgusted and furious, beat her up to make it look like Tom Robinson raped her. Atticus declares Mayella's guilt in the following passage:

"She has committed no crime, she has merely broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society, a code so severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our midst as unfit to live with. She is the victim of cruel poverty and ignorance, but I cannot pity her: she is white. She knew full well the enormity of her offense, but because her desires were stronger than the code she was breaking, she persisted in breaking it" (203).

When Atticus refers to breaking a code, he means that their society doesn't believe in interracial relationships. The community is completely segregated by prejudice and racism. Therefore, Mayella claims that Tom Robinson raped her so her reputation, what little of it there might have been, would be saved. The only way to save her reputation was to blame the crime on a black man rather than take responsibility for it herself. As a result, Tom is convicted of a crime he never committed.

mster27 | Student

She used Tom as an easy scapegoat and played on the existing prejudices of her fellow white Americans to avoid taking responsibility for her actions.  

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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