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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What kind of flowers does Mayella grow in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?

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In chapter 17, when Bob Ewell is called to the witness stand during the trial, Harper Lee provides a page-long description of the Ewell property. The place is behind the town garbage dump and looks like an extension of the dump. The yard contains various types of junk, from an old car on blocks to a dentist's chair to an old icebox. Smaller items are strewn around the place. But there is one part of the yard that contrasts with the ugliness of the rest of the property:

Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums.

Surprisingly, these flowers, though planted in old "slop jars" rather than flower pots, were well-cared-for. Everyone assumed that Mayella was the one who had planted and meticulously tended the geraniums. As the oldest daughter in the motherless family, she would be the only one of the unruly children likely to take on such a task.

These geraniums give an important insight into Mayella, making her a more sympathetic character than she might otherwise be. Her conduct during the trial could cause readers to despise her, but knowing that she had tried to make her ugly corner of the world more beautiful despite such daunting obstacles helps readers respond to Mayella with greater forbearance. She needed someone to tend her as lovingly as she tended her flowers, but she only had a vicious and abusive father.

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Is it not curious that the daughter of the dissolute and dissipated reprobate, Bob Ewell, is named Mayella Violet Ewell?  There is clearly an indication that one of the parents--probably the mother--had a sensitive and artistic side that appreciated flowers.  But, having no mother, Mayella can only grow the geraniums, a sturdy flower that emits a strong scent, much like a rose.  Her geraniums are red, too, the color of passion and desire.

Mayella's pitiful attemps to beautify their trashy yard, as well as cover the odor with the scent of the geranium, indicate her search for some beauty in her ugly and lonely existence.  Furthermore, her attempt to come into contact with someone--anyone--in her lonely and barren life is equally poignant.

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The answer to this is that she grows geraniums.  You can find this in Chapter 18.  There, Scout is watching Mayella testify in the trial.

She says that Mayella looks like she tries to keep clean and be decent.  Scout thinks that Mayella looks like she takes baths often.  This is very different from how her dad looks.  He looks like he just took his first bath in a long time so he could come to court.

When Scout sees this, she thinks of the red geraniums that she has seen in the Ewell's yard.  These are the flowers that Mayella grows.

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