Why doesn't Atticus focus on Mayella's mental capacity and the possible molestation by Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird?
During the trial, it is obvious that Mayella Ewell is not of sound mind. Atticus feels that Mayella is a victim of poverty and ignorance. If this case was shown in 2011, things would be different
This is an excellent question! First, there was no modern rape kit available duing the 1930s and no medical evidence was taken at the scene. Today, this would work in Tom Robinson's favor; no proof, no witnesses, and only Mayella's conflicting statements. However, at the time of the story, the most important factor was a simple one: A black man's word was NEVER taken over that of a white person--even if they were a Ewell. Atticus did not attack Mayella's mental state for several reasons: For one, she was probably the brightest of the Ewell family, and it was not unusual to have not received a proper education. (Remember, Atticus never went to school himself.) More importantly, Atticus would probably have turned the jury completely against him had he suggested that Mayella was mentally unfit. He had no medical proof, and it would have been socially unacceptable to treat a woman (even Mayella) in such an ungentlemanly manner. As for the possible molestation by Bob (and there are undercurrents of this possibility in the story), neither of the Ewells would have admitted the truth even if it had occurred. Mayella feared her father, and this secret would probably have been confined within the family.
Obviously, a case such as this in the 21st century would have probably never gone to court. The extreme racial bias would not have been evident--by either the prosecutor or the jury--and some sort of medical exam would have been necessary. Even if Tom had been brought to trial, which was unlikely, a conviction would probably have been overturned on appeal (as Atticus hoped it would). The Ewells' reputation would have worked against them, whereas Tom's relatively clean background would have trumped the word of the Ewells.