In To Kill a Mockingbird, what question does Atticus ask Mayella that makes her furious?

Expert Answers
Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your first question is a trick question because at least three of Atticus' inquiries make Mayella furious.  First, Atticus asks, "I might ask you things you've already said before, but you'll give me an answer, won't you?" (181).  Mayella is described as "looking at him furiously" and claims she is being made fun of because Atticus is calling her "Miss Mayella" and "Ma'am" (182).  Truthfully, Atticus is just being polite.  Second, Atticus has just gotten a confirmation that Tom Robinson was the man who raped Mayella, so he asks, "How?"  In response to Atticus' question, "Mayella was raging" and admits that she doesn't know how he did it (186).  Third, Atticus asks, "Why don't you tell the truth, child, didn't Bob Ewell beat you up?"  After this question, "Mayella's face was a mixture of terror and fury."  I’m sure this is from the surprise that Atticus guessed the truth. 

Your second question refers to the lower-class white vernacular of the time.  Atticus asks Mayella, "I mean is [your father] good to you, is he easy to get along with?"  Mayella answers, "He does tollable, 'cept when'--" (183).  A bit later, she reaffirms, "Except when nothin' . . . I said he does tollable" (183).  Because there is no dictionary featuring lower class white vernacular of the time, anyone's guess is just that:  a guess.  I would venture to say, however, that Mayella means "tolerable," in other words "not the best and not the worst."  This is a lie for the simple reason that Mr. Ewell most certainly does beat his children.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question