Is Mayella Ewell a victim or villain in To Kill a Mockingbird? I am writing a paper on why I think Mayella is more victim than villain. I need help brainstorming for some topic sentences and...

Is Mayella Ewell a victim or villain in To Kill a Mockingbird?

I am writing a paper on why I think Mayella is more victim than villain. I need help brainstorming for some topic sentences and quotes I could use.

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One argument for Mayella Ewell's being more a victim than a villain is the fact that she has been hopelessly imprisoned in an unhealthy environment.

Living in abject poverty without a mother and with an unsupportive and dissolute father who is rarely home, Mayella has had no moral education. In addition, the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings falls upon Mayella, a responsibility that robs her of her youth. She has little or no opportunity to make friends with anyone since she is poor and lives on the outskirts of town near the section where the black people reside.

That she yearns to have some beauty in her life is evinced by the red geraniums that she raises in the desolate and disheveled yard. And, that she may have been sexually abused by her father is suggested by Tom Robinson:

"She says she never kissed a grown man before....She says that what her daddy do to her don't count" (Ch. 19).

All of these factors contribute to the argument that Mayella is a victim.

Yet, despite this neglect and suggested abuse, Mayella's false testimony deprives Tom Robinson of his family and his hope, which is ultimately inexcusable. Mayella and her father know that a black man will never be acquitted after being accused of assaulting a white woman. Tom's guilty sentence ends up leading to his death, and Mayella has undoubtably played, at least partially, a villainous role in this condemnation of an innocent man. However, her bruises suggest that she has been beaten severely and possibly coached under duress to say what she has.

Thus, while she plays the role of a villain, Mayella is also a victim as she appears to have been beaten and coerced into supporting her cruel father. 

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In some ways, she's both. She's lied through her teeth about Tom Robinson, making a completely false accusation of rape and assault. Mayella's lies lead eventually to the death of an innocent man. At the same time, Mayella's the unwitting pawn in a game. Her negligent father is incredibly abusive toward her, and as a result, Mayella is absolutely terrified of him. We only have to see her behavior on the witness stand to confirm this.

The devious Bob Ewell sees the trial of Tom Robinson as a golden opportunity for a universally despised person like himself to become a kind of hero in Maycomb. For the first time in his miserable existence, Bob's going to present himself as a knight in shining armor, valiantly defending his daughter's honor from its violation at the hands of a predatory black male. In all this, there's no doubt that Mayella's being used, abused, and exploited, as she has been throughout her whole life.

At the same time, Mayella's old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. She still could have made the choice to do the right thing, but she didn't. As such, she must be held responsible for her actions, despite the appalling abuse she's suffered at the hands of her revolting father.

In some respects, Mayella displays characteristics common not just to the people of Maycomb, but to people in general. Very few people are wholly good or wholly bad, and Mayella's no exception. And her complex and nuanced portrayal in To Kill a Mockingbird is another fine example of Harper Lee's remarkable skill at characterization.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although Mayella is deceitful, she is also a character to be pitied as well. Her decision to falsely accuse Tom Robinson of rape is certainly a horrendous act, but she no doubt was forced to do so by her father, Bob, to cover the fact that he beat her himself. Mayella has been mistreated before by Bob, and there are overtones in the story that Bob may have had sexual relations with her himself at some point. Her extreme loneliness prompted her to invite Tom inside her home, and as she told him, since she had never been kissed before, it may as well be by him. Although Tom took off as soon as he realized he wasn't actually invited to "bust up a chiffarobe," Bob arrived before he could disappear. Bob then took out his anger on Mayella. Certainly, she is more of a villain than a victim; her accusation sent an innocent family man to jail and got him killed. However, she is also a victim of her father's own violent temperament.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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