Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis

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Next, Mayella takes the stand and promptly bursts into tears. Judge Taylor has to comfort her and tell her not to be afraid of Atticus or his questions, which earns her the sympathy of the court and makes Scout wonder if she has good sense. Mayella then testifies that she was sitting out on their porch on the night in question and that when Tom walked by she offered him a nickel to break up a chiffarobe for her—that's when he raped her, she says. When Atticus starts cross examining her she accuses him of "mocking" her by calling her Miss Mayella. She's not used to being treated so politely, and Judge Taylor has to explain to her that Atticus doesn't mean anything by it. Still, the cross examination starts off badly.

Atticus then asks her a series of questions that establish how old she is (nineteen), what her home life is like (hard and lonely, spent taking care of her younger siblings), and if she has any friends (she doesn't). She insists that her father has never hurt her, but does admit that he drinks. Atticus then repeats back her prior testimony about being choked and beaten and asks her to confirm that Tom was the one who raped her. Tom stands up, and that's when Scout and the spectators see that his left arm (the one he's supposed to have beat her with) hangs lifelessly at his side, having been crushed in an accident when he was younger. Seeing this, Jem and Scout realize that Mayella has been lying about what happened. Mayella figures out that this is what Atticus was getting at, but it's too late.

Atticus begins asking her questions so pointed and incisive that Mayella stops answering—where were her siblings? Why didn't they hear her? Why didn't she run? These are the holes in her story and Atticus makes them very obvious to the court. Finally, Mayella snaps back at Atticus, saying that Tom did rape her and that she won't answer anymore questions. Afterward, the state rests its case, and Judge Taylor calls for a ten minute break before Atticus calls his first witness. Some of the spectators do some stretching, but most stay in place, waiting for the trail to start up again. It won't take long. The chapter ends with Atticus saying he only has one witness.


One example of this is Mayella accusing Atticus of mocking her with all his "Maamin and Miss Mayellerin." Atticus is, of course, just being polite.


Atticus vs. Mayella Ewell. This conflict stems from a misunderstanding: Mayella thinks Atticus is sassing her by calling her Miss and ma'am. In reality, Atticus is just being polite, and Mayella's failure to understand this is meant to indicate that she has had a hard and lonely life in which no one, not even her father, has shown her any respect.


One example of this would be Mayella twisting her handkerchief "into a sweaty rope."


Mockingbirds. Though Tom and Boo are the primary symbolic mockingbirds of the novel, an argument can be made that Atticus is also figured as a mockingbird. In this chapter, Mayella even accuses him of "mocking" her, which may be Lee's way of playing on the word and indicating to the reader that Atticus is innocent of what she accuses. He's also a mockingbird in the sense that he hasn't done anything wrong by defending Tom, whose case he was assigned, even though he's vilified in the eyes of the public.


Honesty. Midway through this chapter it becomes clear that Mayella is lying about what really happened and that Tom couldn't have possibly hurt her, because his left arm doesn't work. When Mayella hesitates to clarify how Tom beat her and in what order events occurred, it's obvious that she has made up her story, but that she hasn't prepared herself for cross examination. There are holes in her testimony, and Atticus points them out with his questions. Unfortunately, this doesn't change the fact that she's a white woman and it's her word against a Black man's.

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