Mayella Ewell Testimony

What are the three main points in Mayella Ewell's testimony in To Kill a Mockingbird? Provide direct quotes with page numbers.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Mayella testifies that Tom Robinson attacked her on the porch and sexually assaulted her after she had asked for his help break down a chiffarobe. She claims to have woken up to her father standing over her. Mayella also answers Atticus's questions regarding her home life, which is lonely and impoverished, as well as his questions concerning her father's drinking and abuse.

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Through tearful and angry testimony, Mayella Ewell testifies that she asked Tom Robinson to help her, that he used this opportunity to attack her, and that she couldn't escape because he held her firmly by the neck.

The entire town is aware of the tragic plight of the Ewell children. Their father, Bob Ewell, is an angry drunk, and his children live in a state of dire neglect. Mayella is tasked with assisting the younger kids as best as she can, and it's believable that she would turn to Tom Robinson to help her do some of the heavier tasks around their home:

I said come here, n*****, and bust up this chiffarobe for me, I gotta nickel for you. He coulda done it easy enough, he could.

Mayella thus begins her testimony from a believable situation. She is a young girl in need of assistance with some household chores, and her father certainly isn't ever around enough to help out. Unfortunately, she follows this claim with testimony that later becomes evident is a clear lie:

So he come in the yard an’ I went in the house to get him the nickel and I turned around an ‘fore I knew it he was on me. Just run up behind me, he did. He got me round the neck, cussin’ me an’ sayin’ dirt—

Although Tom's testimony (which follows Mayella's) presents him as a kind and meek man, Mayella exploits the town's racial prejudices in this claim. It is easy for the jury and the courtroom to believe Mayella's lies because she is white and Tom is Black.

Anyone who knows Tom will realize in Mayella's next statement that she is lying:

I fought’n’hollered, but he had me round the neck. He hit me agin an’ agin—

In order for Mayella to be unable to escape from a man who held her firmly "round the neck," the man would have to use both hands to hold her. In his cross-examination, Atticus has Mayella point out her assailant to the courtroom. When she does so, it becomes clear that Tom could not have held Mayella "round the neck" with both hands:

He looked oddly off balance, but it was not from the way he was standing. His left arm was fully twelve inches shorter than his right, and hung dead at his side. It ended in a small shriveled hand, and from as far away as the balcony I could see that it was no use to him.

It simply isn't possible for Tom to do the things Mayella has accused him of, but Mayella never wavers in her testimony. She admits that she "don't know how he done it," but she insists that Tom victimized her.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 2, 2020
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Mayella has accused Tom Robinson of sexually assaulting her.  In Chapter 18, Mayella testifies.  She is young and unsophisticated.  She is described as “somehow fragile-looking” and “a thick-bodied girl accustomed to strenuous labor.”  Her fragility is mostly mental.  When she first begins testifying she starts crying because she is afraid Atticus will be mean to her.

The premise of Mayella’s testimony is that she was on the porch and asked Tom Robinson to break up a Chiffarobe when he attacked her.  Then she screamed and when she woke up her father was standing over her.

“I said come here, nigger, and bust up this chiffarobe for me, I gotta nickel for you. He coulda done it easy enough, he could. So he come in the yard an‘ I went in the house to get him the nickel and I turned around an ’fore I knew it he was on me. Just run up behind me, he did. He got me round the neck, cussin‘ me an’ sayin‘ dirt—I fought’n’hollered, but he had me round the neck. He hit me agin an‘ agin—” (chapter 18).

She gets sweaty and nervous testifying.  When Atticus cross-examines her, he first asks her how old she is to remind the jury that she is young, uneducated, and scared.  He then proceeds to ask her to describe her life, to demonstrate that she was lonely and the only one in her family that worked, and they were very poor.

Atticus was quietly building up before the jury a picture of the Ewells’ home life.  The jury learned the following things: their relief check was far from enough to feed the family, and there was strong suspicion that Papa drank it up anyway. (Chapter 18)

Atticus continues to show that  Mayella’s father  was abusive when drunk, and Tom Robinson was a friend of hers.  He puts these two things together to prove that it was Mayella’s father and not Tom who hit her.

“It’s an easy question, Miss Mayella, so I’ll try again. Do you remember him beating you about the face?” Atticus’s voice had lost its comfortableness; he was speaking in his arid, detached professional voice. “Do you remember him beating you about the face?”

“No, I don’t recollect if he hit me. I mean yes I do, he hit me.”

“Was your last sentence your answer?” (chapter 18)

Atticus takes care to describe where Mayella was hit, and what hand had to have been used.  When he asks her to identify the man who raped her and she points to Tom, he has Tom stand up and everyone realizes that he is crippled so he could not have hit her as she described.

 

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