To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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What does Atticus say motivated Mayella to accuse Tom Robinson of rape?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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During Atticus's closing remarks, he says that Mayella broke a time-honored code of their society by tempting a Negro. Mayella knew the gravity of her actions and attempted to destroy the evidence. In her case, Tom Robinson was the evidence and served as a daily reminder of her offense. Atticus then mentions that the social code came crashing down on Mayella after she broke it, which motivated her to accuse an innocent black man of assaulting and raping her, in order to save face. Mayella had faith that the prejudiced jury would take her word over Tom's because the jurors ascribe to the "evil assumption" that all Negroes lie, cheat, steal, and are immoral beings. Towards the end of Atticus's closing remarks, he urges the jurors to judge the case without prejudice. 

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mrwickline eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” Mayella was called to the witness stand and told Judge Taylor that she asked Tom Robinson if he could help her chop up an old “chiffarobe.” When she went into get money to pay him, Tom supposedly attacked and raped her. When Atticus questioned Mayella about the day of the alleged crime and whether Tom Robinson hit her in the face, she responded by saying yes, then no, and finally crying. Atticus points out that Tom Robinson could not have raped her due to his physical disabilities after a cotton gin injury. Atticus knows Mayella’s motivation to accuse Tom Robinson of rape is the product of fear that the Maycomb community would know she had sexual relations with an African American. In the eyes of the community, this would tarnish Mayella’s name and reputation forever. Interracial relations in 1930s Alabama were more than frowned upon, so much so that her father, Mr. Ewell, beat her after seeing her kiss Tom.

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