In Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, as her father cross-examined Mayella Ewell during the trial of Tom Robinson, Scout observes "that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world." What are her reasons for thinking this?
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When Atticus begins his cross examination of Mayella, he begins by establishing an overall picture of a horrific existence. Through his questions, the jury learns that Mayella Ewell's mother is dead, that the family lives in dire poverty on the edge of Maycomb's garbage dump, that the children don't attend school, that Mayella is in charge of her "seb'm" (seven) brothers and sisters, that Bob Ewell is a drunk who vanishes for days and weeks on end sometimes, and most likely beats, and possibly sexually assaults, Mayella. As Atticus continues his questioning, it becomes apparent that Mayella, a girl of nineteen, had saved nickels for months to send her brothers and sisters into town for an ice cream cone, so that when Tom Robinson came by to assist her, as he regularly did on his way home, she could attempt to kiss him. It's a pitiful situation, really, and Scout's observation about Mayella's loneliness underscores the fact that this girl has turned to what Maycomb County considers the lowest of the low, a black man, for companionship. Furthermore, the girl was clearly experiencing feelings that every young person experiences, but had absolutely no clue how to express them appropriately, hence her awkward attempt to kiss Robinson. Her lack of education extended to even the most basic of human needs, the need for love and friendship, as played out in the debacle with Tom Robinson.
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