Why did Mayella falsely accuse Tom Robinson of rape in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Mayella Ewell falsely accuses Tom Robinson of rape in To Kill a Mockingbird because he rebuffed her advances. Mayella tried to seduce Tom, but Tom refused to play ball because of how much trouble he could get into in this racially segregated town. Mayella also accuses Tom to cover up the beating she received from her father Bob, after he saw Mayella and Tom together.

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Mayella tries to seduce Tom Robinson. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a particularly unusual occurrence. But Maycomb is far from being an ordinary town. Like just about everywhere else in the Deep South of the 1930s, it’s steeped in racial prejudice, with a society that's strictly segregated along racial lines.

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Mayella tries to seduce Tom Robinson. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a particularly unusual occurrence. But Maycomb is far from being an ordinary town. Like just about everywhere else in the Deep South of the 1930s, it’s steeped in racial prejudice, with a society that's strictly segregated along racial lines.

As Mayella is White and Tom is Black, any hint of a sexual relationship between the two could lead to serious trouble for both of them. Mayella would be even more hated and despised in town than usual, while Tom could well end up being lynched. So Tom wisely rebuffs Mayella’s clumsy advances.

Mayella feels incredibly hurt by Tom’s rejection. But she’s even more hurt, physically, rather than emotionally, by the savage beating she receives from her father Bob. Even by the standards of Maycomb, Bob is a staunch racist and White supremacist. Indeed, he clings to his White identity as it’s the only thing that keeps him above the likes of Tom Robinson in the social pecking order. Bob is disgusted to see his daughter kissing a Black man, and he punishes her severely for it.

In order to protect both her father and her reputation, Mayella comes forward and claims that she was raped and beaten by Tom Robinson. As Tom is Black and Mayella is White, such an accusation is tantamount to a conviction in the state of Alabama.

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Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird takes place during 1933-1935 in the town of Maycomb, Alabama. The town was fictional, but the novel's depictions of the relations between blacks and whites at the time are quite accurate. 

It was not long after the Civil War that the South established "Jim Crow Laws" (1877-1954). These laws were designed to keep the races separate in all aspects of society. "Colored" people had separate, and usually inferior, water fountains, swimming pools, restaurants, churches, and schools. Interracial marriage was forbidden in most places.  

It is important to understand this background when thinking about the reasons why Mayella falsely accused Tom Robinson of raping her in the novel. 

During Mayella's testimony, contained in chapter eighteen of the novel, Atticus Finch is able to point out to the court the inaccuracies of her testimonies. He asks Tom to stand up, and the court sees that he is crippled on the side that Mayella claims he attacked her from. His arm was mangled in a cotton gin. 

Atticus, catching her in the lies of her testimony, gives her a chance to recant, but she refuses. She answers him:

"I got somethin' to say and then I ain't gonna say no more. That nigger yonder took advantage of me an' if you all fine fancy gentlemen don't wanta do nothin' about it then you're all stinkin' cowards, stinkin' cowards, the lot of you." 

In chapter nineteen, Tom Robinson testifies to the truth of what happened between him and Mayella. He passed by her place every day on his way to work. He agreed that she had asked him to chop up a chiffarobe, just as she had testified, but that was all that happened that day. Mayella called him over often to do work for her, which he always did without expectation of payment. Tom Robinson testified that on the day in question, Mayella said she had work for him to do inside the house. While he was in the house, she grabbed him and tried to kiss him. Mayella's father saw this through the window and called her a whore. Being caught as she was, it was a natural way out of trouble for her to lie and say that Tom Robinson attacked her. 

In addition to the fact that it was not socially acceptable for races to mix, and Mayella's desire to avoid trouble with her abusive father, Scout identifies some other reasons for Mayella's deception. In chapter nineteen, Scout analyzes that she must have been the loneliest person in the world. She was not accepted by whites because her family was considered trash, and she would not have been accepted by black people because of the views at the time. Scout supposes that Tom Robinson was the only person who had ever been decent to her. 

The trial of Tom Robinson shows the attitudes of people in that time period toward black people. Even with all the problems and obvious character flaws of the Ewells, people were still more willing to believe their lies than the truth that Tom, a married man with three children, had been propositioned by a white girl. 

Mayella lies to save herself from her father's wrath and perpetuates the lie out of her deeply held societal beliefs that she is a higher class of person than Tom. It is also possible that she accuses Tom for another reason: spite. Since Tom spurned her advances, she exacts revenge on him.

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Mayella Ewell accused Tom Robinson of assaulting and raping her in order to protect her reputation and father. Mayella made sexual advances towards Tom Robinson, which was considered a taboo in her community. Mayella's father, Bob Ewell, witnessed her kissing Tom Robinson and violently beat her. In order to protect her father, Mayella told the authorities that Tom Robinson beat and raped her. During Atticus' closing remarks, he mentions that Mayella felt guilty about breaking a "time-honored code of society." She tried to seduce a black man and realized she had to cover up her offense. The only possible way of covering up her offense was to fabricate a story about how Tom Robinson assaulted and raped her. As soon as Mayella realized she broke the "code," she knew the only way to save her reputation was to destroy Tom Robinson. 

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