"Somehow Atticus had hit her hard in a way that was not clear to me, but it gave him no pleasure to do so." Explain the implication of this sentence in Chapter 18 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Being a Southern gentleman, Atticus did not relish his cross-examination of Mayella. He knew she was lying about what actually happened in her house with Tom Robinson, and Atticus must have realized that Bob was the one who had actually beaten his daughter. Somehow, Atticus had to get to the truth of the matter, and that meant trying to disprove all of Mayella's testimony. After Atticus "had a good visit" with Mayella, he got down to business:

     Atticus reached up and took off his glasses, turned his good right eye to the witness, and rained questions on her.

His interrogation questioned every aspect of her encounter with Tom, and he even suggested that it was Bob who had beaten her. When Mayella finally broke down for the final time, lambasting everyone in the courtroom as "yellow, stinkin' cowards," Atticus must have realized he had done his best: He had gotten Mayella to contradict her own testimony; shown that she was ignorant and desperately friendless; opened up the possibility that Bob had actually beaten her; and broken Mayella down into a sobbing, insulting mess. But it gave Atticus "no pleasure to do so," browbeating a pitiful young woman as no gentleman ever should be forced to do.

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gmuss25's profile pic

gmuss25 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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At the beginning of Mayella's cross-examination, Atticus politely gives Mayella a chance to tell her side of the story with relative ease. However, Atticus understands that he has to disprove Mayella's false testimony by getting her to contradict her earlier statements. Towards the end of his cross-examination, Atticus rapidly asks Mayella a series of questions that reveal the inconsistencies in her testimony. Atticus pulls no punches as he intensely interrogates Mayella on the witness stand. Atticus's rapid questions overwhelm Mayella, who ends up contradicting her earlier false statements. Atticus's questions reveal the truth as he suggests that Mayella's father assaulted his daughter. Mayella feels shocked, upset, degraded, and ashamed at the end of Atticus' cross-examination. Scout says, "Mayella's face was a mixture of terror and fury." Mayella then accosts Atticus before bursting into tears. Scout then says,

Somehow, Atticus had hit her hard in a way that was not clear to me, but it gave him no pleasure to do so.

Atticus is a morally upright, decorous individual, who does not lavish in causing other people pain. His line of questioning clearly aggravates Mayella, but Atticus understands the importance of revealing the truth. His aggressive cross-examination brings him no pleasure as he exposes Mayella for lying on the witness stand.

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