What does Mayella think of Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mayella Ewell gives her testimony in chapter 18. She has just witnessed Atticus Finch make a complete idiot out of her father in chapter 17 as Bob Ewell took the stand. As a result, she's feeling like she can't trust Atticus as she takes the stand. She breaks down sobbing before anything can actually happen! They ask her what is wrong and she says, "Don't want him doin' me like he done Papa" (179). The judge calms her down and Mr. Gilmer starts with questioning her. After that, Atticus gets to cross-examine her and he respectfully calls her ma'am, which she isn't used to because she's never been called that in all her life. Mayella threatens not to answer a word as long as Atticus is mocking her. Atticus is confused, so she clarifies by saying, "Long's you keep on makin' fun o'me" (182). Mayella then explains to the judge that calling her ma'am is how he is mocking her and she won't take Atticus's "sass" (182). 

Mayella struggles with Atticus for the duration of the cross-examination because she doesn't trust him and she thinks he is disrespecting her. She sees him as an enemy rather than a man simply doing his job as an attorney. For her, this case is about saving her face in the community and avoiding her father's wrath. In addition, Atticus Finch is someone who could prove her to be the liar she is, so she doesn't like him one bit. Eventually, she says she will say one more thing for the case and then she won't say anything else. After crying again, she says the following:

"I got somethin' to say an' then I ain't gonna say no more. That ni**** yonder took advantage of me an' if you fine fancy gentlemen don't wanta do nothin' about it then you're all yellow stinkin' cowards, stinkin' cowards, the lot of you. Your fancy airs don't come to nothin'--your ma'ammin' and Miss Mayellerin' don't come to nothin', Mr. Finch--" (188).

Thus, Mayella thinks they are cowards merely if they don't side with the Ewells against a black man. She finalizes her speech, though, by calling out Atticus's name specifically; which suggests that she is actually calling him the coward.

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mayella thinks that Atticus is teasing her, or even that he is treating her with extreme disrespect, due to the formal language and politeness with which he treats her in the courtroom. She is antagonistic towards him, and feels like he is persecuting her. She also lumps Atticus in with a general feeling of being mistreated by life, and glares at him in hatred as she steps down from the witness stand.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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