In To Kill a Mockingbird, what is the peculiar detail about the Ewell house?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The Ewells have been known for generations in Maycomb as poor white trash, living in extremely rundown conditions. The present crop of Ewells are no different, living in a hovel which Scout describes in some detail. However, she then goes on to mention one aspect of the house which seems quite out of keeping with the rest:

One corner of the yard, though, bewildered Maycomb. Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell’s.

The peculiar detail about the Ewell house, then, is this row of beautiful flowers which seems so out of place in such poor and dingy surroundings. Although referred to only this once, these flowers are significant. They symbolize Mayella Ewell’s attempt to brighten up her sordid environment, to bring some beauty into her life. This makes the reader feel some sympathy for her, and even more so at Tom Robinson’s trial, when her social isolation is made quite clear. Scout realizes that Mayella must have been 'the loneliest person in the world .... even lonelier than Boo Radley, who had not been out of the house in twenty-five years'. Mayella is seen to be even more cut off from society than Boo Radley, the recluse.

As Mayella is poor she is shunned by white society at large, while the blacks also refuse to mix with her because of the racial difference. She has no friends at all, and a violent, abusive father. It is certainly easy to feel pity for her, therefore. We can also understand why she behaves as she does in falsely accusing Tom Robinson, as she is so cowed by her father who beat her up for daring to reach out to Tom and forced her to shift all blame onto Tom instead. However, this does not mean that we should condone her actions in getting an innocent man put on trial.

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