What quotes show what really happened to Mayella Ewell?

Mr. Tate's testimony, Mayella Ewell's confused recollections, and Atticus' closing arguments reveal what really happened to Mayella. She was never raped by Tom Robinson. Rather, she tried to seduce him and was beaten by her father as a punishment.

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Mayella Ewell claims that Tom Robinson beat her and raped her, but she is lying, and Atticus proves it in court beyond the shadow of a doubt. Mayella was never raped or beaten by Tom Robinson, but the story strongly suggests that her father has both physically and sexually abused her.

Tom Robinson has a useless left arm. Everyone knows and can clearly see that. When Atticus questions Sheriff Tate during the trial, he asks which of Mayella's eyes was bruised. Mr. Tate responds, “It was her right eye, Mr. Finch. I remember now, she was bunged up on that side of her face.” Mr. Tate says, too, that Mayella had finger marks “all around” her throat.

When Atticus calls Bob Ewell to the stand, he asks Mr. Ewell to write his name and notes that he is left-handed. Atticus has just shown that it is far more likely that Bob Ewell struck his daughter in the right eye than Tom Robinson did, for to hit someone on the right side, one must do so with the left hand. Tom cannot, but Bob Ewell most likely would, considering that he is left-handed.

When Atticus questions Mayella about Tom hitting her, Mayella first says, “No, I don't recollect if he hit me.” Then she quickly corrects herself: “I mean yes I do, he hit me.” Then she says she doesn't remember because it happened so quickly. Mayella is showing that she does not remember the story she is supposed to be telling. She is getting confused, and her recollection the events is falling apart.

When Atticus gives his closing arguments, he explains what really happened to Mayella Ewell. She has, he says, “broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society.” Then she tried to dispose of the evidence. Mayella “kissed a black man,” and broke the code. Then she tried to get rid of Tom Robinson. But her father saw her. There is, as Atticus says, “circumstantial evidence” that he beat her savagely and then blamed Tom to cover it up. Mayella, who has been abused by her father, just wanted a way out, but all she did was get an innocent man killed.

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A combination of evidence, statements, and unanswered questions point to the truth of what occurred regarding Mayella Ewell's charge of rape against Tom Robinson.

When Sheriff Tate is on the witness stand, he is asked to describe Mayella's injuries. Mr. Tate says that Mayella "was pretty bruised up" when he arrived, and "she had a black eye comin'." When asked which eye was injured, the sheriff corrects his first response and says, "It was her right eye, Mr. Finch. I remember now, she was bunged up on that side of her face...." After the sheriff makes this statement, it occurs to Atticus to look at Tom Robinson, because he knows that Tom has a useless left arm. He also knows that for Mayella to have an injured right eye, someone would have had to hit her with his left fist. Then, Atticus asks the sheriff a second time which side of Mayella was injured, and again the sheriff states that it was her right side. After this statement, Mr. Tate describes Mayella's other injuries. She was bruised on her arms, and her neck had finger marks on it. When Atticus asks which part of her neck was marked, Sheriff Tate testifies that the marks "were all around." This fact that the marks were "all around" Mayella's neck suggests that two hands were used to choke her neck, a fact that also points to the attacker's possessing two good arms and hands, unlike Tom Robinson.

Atticus makes a note of these facts but waits until he has questioned Bob Ewell and his daughter Mayella. While Bob Ewell is on the witness stand, Atticus asks Ewell to write his name. After he does so, Ewell wonders why Judge Taylor, Mr. Gilmer, and members of the jury watch him intently. "What's so interestin'?" he asks. "You're left-handed, Mr. Ewell," says Judge Taylor. With the establishment of Bob Ewell's being left-handed and Tom Robinson's left arm and hand having been rendered useless years ago, the bruises upon Mayella's right side of her face and all around her neck were probably inflicted by her father after he witnessed her advances toward Tom.

Further, when Mayella is on the witness stand, she claims that Tom Robinson sexually assaulted her, but when she also claims that she was screaming as he did so, Atticus asks her, "Then why didn't the other children hear you? Where were they? At the dump?" To this interrogation, Mayella makes no reply, even when Atticus continues to ask why her screams were not heard by any of the other children. Then, Atticus asks pointedly, "Or didn't you scream until you saw your father in the window? You didn't think to scream until then, did you?" Mayella does not answer these questions, either. Her silence incriminates her, because if what Atticus had asked was false, she would have made denials.

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There are some key quotes in the trial scene that tell us what actually happened to Mayella Ewell. In Chapter 18, Atticus questions Mayella on the stand, and his questions gradually reveal that Mayella's father, Bob Ewell, was actually the one who beat her up. Take, for instance, the following excerpt:

"Did you scream first at your father instead of at Tom Robinson? Was that it?"

No answer.

"Who beat you up? Tom Robinson or your father?"

No answer. (190)

Based on the way Mayella avoids answering Atticus' questions, we can assume that it was Bob Ewell who actually beat up Mayella, and that the man is blaming his crimes on Tom Robinson. Further on in Chapter 19, we get even more insight into what happened when Tom Robinson gives his testimony:

"She says she never kissed a grown man before... She says what her papa do to her don't count." (197) 

Based on Tom's account of the situation, we can guess that Mayella Ewell actually instigated her interactions with Tom, and we can assume that her father attacked her when he found out. More importantly, this quote suggests that Mayella has been sexually abused by her father. Thus, based on these quotes, we can assume that Mayella has been abused by her father on many levels, and that it was Bob Ewell, not Tom Robinson, who beat her up. 

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