Why did Scout pity Mayella even though she was testifying against Tom?

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Scout realizes that Mayella is a simple, scared girl caught up in events.  She feels sorry for her because she knows how hard her life is, and feels she did not intend to do Tom Robinson any harm.

Scout is maturing by the time the trial starts.  She has gotten a real education about the way the world works.  During the trial, Scout surprises herself by looking at Mayella carefully and trying to put herself in her place.  Scout describes her as “somehow fragile-looking” and notices that she is used to strenuous labor.  Scout notes that Mayella “looked as if she tried to keep clean” and is reminded of the flowers Mayella keeps.  Scout seems ready to consider Mayella’s side.

Mayella starts crying at the thought of Atticus questioning her, and the judge asks her how old she is.  Scout wonders if she has “good sense” and Jem thinks she is playing for sympathy.  She gets angry when Atticus calls her “ma’am” and it gets Scout thinking.

I wondered if anybody had ever called her “ma’am,” or “Miss Mayella” in her life; probably not, as she took offense to routine courtesy. What on earth was her life like? I soon found out. (ch 18)

Mayella describes her difficult life, and does not handle Atticus’s questioning well.

When Tom Robinson testifies, Scout reflects on Mayella’s fate.

As Tom Robinson gave his testimony, it came to me that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world. She was even lonelier than Boo Radley, who had not been out of the house in twenty-five years.  (Ch 19)

Scout’s sympathy for Boo Radley is strong.  By comparing Mayella to Boo, Scout shows that she can crawl inside Mayella’s skin and walk around in it.


Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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