What was Mayella's account of the incident with Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mayella Violet Ewell bears false witness against Tom Robinson when she takes the witness stand.

While she admits to Mr. Gilmer that she asked Tom to break apart an old chiffarobe, she alters the truth after this statement by saying that when she went to get the nickel she had offered Tom for the task, he came behind her and

Just run up behind me. . . He got me round the neck, cussin' me an' sayin' dirt--I fought'n'hollered, but he had me round the neck. He hit me again an' agin.

When Mr. Gilmer does not ask her another question immediately, she volunteers that "he chunked me on the floor an' choked me'n took advantage of me."

Mr. Gilmer then asks, "Did you scream and fight back?" and Mayella responds that she "hollered for all I was worth" as she struggled against Tom. Further, she responds to Mr. Gilmer's question, "You are positive that he took full advantage of you?" by answering with a contorted face, "He done what he was after."

When Atticus questions her, Mayella tells him that she will not answer any of his questions if he continues to "make fun" of her. Judge Taylor interjects, explaining that Mr. Finch is not making fun of her. "What's the matter with you?" he asks. She replies that as long as Mr. Finch keeps calling her "ma'am and saying 'Miss Mayella,'" which she refers to as his "sass," she will not answer. 

At this point, Judge Taylor must clarify to her that Mr. Finch is simply being polite, and Atticus continues by asking Mayella if she remembers Tom beating her face, but he must repeat his question twice before she answers:

No, I don't recollect if he hit me. I mean yes I do, he hit me."
"Was your last sentence your answer?" [Atticus asks.]
"Huh? Yes, he hit--I just don't remember, I just don't remember. . . it all happened so quick."

Suddenly, she starts to cry, and when Atticus asks her how Tom raped her, she replies that she does not know because "it all happened so fast." As Atticus questions her further about what she has already said, Mayella finally comprehends the direction of his questions about what has happened to her face. After having had Tom stand up and have her identify him, Atticus also intends for everyone to see Tom's withered right arm. Atticus then asks her, "He [Tom] blacked your left eye with his right fist?" and Mayella replies, "I ducked and it--it glanced, that what it did."
After Atticus asks why she did not scream so that her siblings would come running, Mayella makes no answer, nor does she answer when Atticus asks, "Who beat you up? Was it Tom Robinson or your father?"

Atticus turns from Mayella, whose face reflects her "terror and fury." She lashes out, insisting that she was taken advantage of and if the "fine gentlemen don't want to do nothin' about it, then you're all yellow stinkin' cowards."

From this point on, Mayella refuses to speak. When she steps down, Mayella glares at Atticus as she walks past the table where he sits.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

    Mayella follows her father's lead when she accuses Tom Robinson of assault and rape in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. It was Bob Ewell who first reported the incident to Sheriff Heck Tate.

"Mr. Ewell came in, very excited he was, and said get out to his house quick, some nigger'd raped his girl."

Mayella told the court that Tom had taken advantage of her after she offered him a nickel to "bust up this chiffarobe."

"... an fore I knew it he was on me... He got me round the neck, cussin' me and sayin' dirt--I fought 'n' hollered, but he had me round the neck. He hit me agin and agin."

But this is Mayella's longest statement, and most of her other testimony comes in short answers to questions. Later, Atticus gets her confused.

"Do you remember him beating you about the face?"
    "No, I don't recollect if he hit me. I mean yes I do, he hit me."
    "Was your last sentence your answer?"
    "Huh? Yes, he hit--I just don't remember, I just don't remember... it happened so quick."

Mayella continues to contradict herself to most of Atticus's questions, and she finally appears tongue-tied, failing to answer a series of queries until Atticus suggests that it was her own father who beat her, rather than Tom. Then, she lashes out at the court, bursts into tears, and refuses to answer any more questions.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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