Why does Scout think to herself that "Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world" in To Kill a Mockingbird?pg. 191

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The fact that Scout actually thinks about what it would be like to be Mayella shows that she has learned empathy.

When Tom Robinson testifies, Scout thinks to herself that Mayella must be the loneliest person in the world.  Mayella spends most of her time all alone or with the children, has no friends, and rarely leaves the house.

When Atticus asked had she any friends, she seemed not to know what he meant, then she thought he was making fun of her. (ch 19)

When Atticus treats Mayella respectfully, she thinks he is sassing her.  She has never been treated politely or called “m’am” before.

Most people in Maycomb ignore the Ewells.  They exist as a society unto themselves, by the dump on the outskirts of town.  They do not get visitors.  Their children do not go to school.

Mayella remains at home alone with seven smaller siblings that she alone takes care of.  They are dreadfully poor, and Bob Ewell drinks away their government welfare checks.

Maycomb gave them Christmas baskets, welfare money, and the back of its hand. Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her. (ch 19)

Mayella ends up betraying the only person who was ever kind to her, because her father saw her with a man—and not just any man, a black man.

In the beginning of the book, Atticus tries to teach Scout empathy.  When Scout watches Mayella and Tom Robinson testify, we realize how much she has grown up.  She is beginning to understand what it means to see things from another person’s point of view.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 19, Tom Robinson takes the witness stand and explains how he continually offered to help Mayella with her chores whenever she asked him. As Tom is testifying, Scout mentions,

"It came to me that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world" (Lee, 195).

Scout begins to think about Mayella not understanding Atticus's question when he asked her if she had any friends and recalls how Mayella thought Atticus was making fun of her by asking that question. Scout then mentions that Mayella is sad and compares her to Jem's definition of a "mixed-child." Scout proceeds to analyze Mayella's difficult life and realizes that she is different and isolated from the rest of the community. Scout surmises that Tom Robinson was probably the only person who ever treated Mayella decently. Mayella not only has no friends but is forced to live with an abusive father. The fact that Mayella finds it offensive when Atticus refers to her as "Miss" also indicates that nobody has ever formally addressed her. Scout's comment concerning Mayella's loneliness is an accurate depiction of Bob's daughter.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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