Mayella Ewell is the oldest child of Bob Ewell, whose family has been the "disgrace of Maycomb County for three generations." Mayella's mother is dead, and she serves as the surrogate mother for the rest of Bob's six children. She is 19 years old, and apparently has no friends. Like Boo Radley, she rarely leaves the house since the children don't attend school and she has to look after them. She has little to no money, since Bob drinks up most of his welfare check and is gone for days at a time. Tom Robinson recounts how Mayella told him she had sent the children to town to buy ice creams, and it
"... 'took me a slap year to save seb'm nickels."
Mayella is virtually illiterate: She attended school for
"Two year--three year--dunno."
Jem and Scout both question her mental development, and Judge Taylor even asks "What's the matter with you?" Although the Ewell house is an eyesore that borders the town dump, Mayella does take pride in the flowers she grows.
One corner of the yard, though, bewildered Maycomb. Against the fence, in a line, were six enamel-chipped slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson... People said they were Mayella Ewells'.
Mayella is so lonely that she targets Tom Robinson, a crippled black man who walks past her house daily, for a sordid romantic tryst that eventually costs Tom his life.
Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world... When Atticus asked if she had any friends, she seemed not to know what he meant...
Mayella's father must have beaten her before, since she admitted with a nod of her head to Atticus that Bob was "tollable," when he wasn't drinking, and she is forced to go along with Bob's story about Tom's rape out of fear for her own safety. Mayella is a character who would deserve sympathetic treatment if not for the serious nature of her charges against Tom, who she had tried to seduce and then accused him of raping her.
I guess if she hadn't been so poor and ignorant, Judge Taylor would have put her under the jail for the contempt she had shown everyone in the courtroom.