What do Mayella's geraniums symbolize in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Ewell family dwelling, the trash, waste and disorder mirror the personalities of its inhabitants; the cast-off family that is so notorious in Macomb. However, even among the chaos and ugliness of daily life, beauty can find a place to flourish. In the case of the Ewell's, the slop jars holding red geraniums dramatically contrast with the unsightly surroundings that make the family so unpopular. 

"Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell's."

The fact that Mayella finds pleasure in tending to something aesthetically pleasing, despite of her daily, unappealing environment, denotes that she wishes for something entirely different than what she is used to. By bringing some form of beauty into the chaotic Ewell home, Mayella is inadvertently demonstrating a need to see "something" better, something of quality, happening in her life.

She wants to experience beauty. She is, after all, a typical young woman trying, unbeknownst to her, to exist under unpleasing circumstances. 

In the language of flowers, the geranium is a symbol of esteem and gentility. This is very telling, considering that, by keeping these rare and beautiful flowers, Mayella shows a want for a genteel, more pleasing, lifestyle. Even those whom are considered "less fortunate", can still harbor dreams of a better reality. We all have the same right to hope and wish for that. Mayella shows her own desire of a better existence through her flowers. The geraniums represent that dream: Her dream of wanting something better for herself. 

mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mayella Ewell had the unfortunate luck of being born into the Ewell family. She was a lonely girl who was left alone in the house and forced to raise her siblings and be whatever her father wanted her to be to him. She was abused and had nothing for herself. She was mistreated and misused by just about everyone in her life. The only thing she had were her geraniums.

"against the fence, in a line, were six chipped enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson."

The flowers represent hope for Mayella; even in her ugly life, she has something that she can look at that shows her some kind of hope. She was a young girl who I am sure had hopes and dreams for her future, but knowing who she was, realized that her future was a bleak one. The geraniums give her a reminder that no matter how ugly your life is, there can be beauty found. Unfortunately, Mayella didn't see that beauty. She was beaten horribly and taken advantage of. She wanted so badly for someone to show her some kind of attention that she accused Tom of a horrible crime when he refused her. All the hope the flowers represent is nothing compared to her dismal reality.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mayella's life is anything but glamorous, or even normal.  She is the eldest daughter, the substitute mother to all of her siblings, and the mistress to her own father.  She can't be anything but miserable, but that doesn't keep her from hoping--hope is what keeps the human spirit afloat.  The geraniums symbolize her hope for a lovelier future, a future of some normalcy and beauty.  The flowers are the only thing of beauty and color in the yard.  They are the only thing in the yard and home that seem to be meticulously cared for.  They are red, the color of love--heat--passion--hope.

cybil eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mayella endures a harsh, lonely life as Bob Ewell's daughter. As the oldest girl, she becomes responsible for the other children. The geraniums seem to represent her own need for some beauty in her miserable life and her desire to brighten the lives of her siblings as well as her nurturing capacity.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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