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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What is your impression of Mayella Ewell? On what are you basing it? What role does Atticus' questions play in forming this impression?

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Mayella Ewell is portrayed as an angry, hostile young woman who is a product of her troubled environment. When Mayella testifies in chapter 18, Atticus begins by courteously referring to her as "ma’am" and calmly asking her questions about her background. Mayella immediately takes offense to Atticus's display of courtesy and reluctantly answers his questions, which illustrate her terrible living situation. The audience initially sympathizes with Mayella because she is solely responsible for raising her siblings, lives with an abusive alcoholic, and has no friends. Mayella also displays her hostility toward Atticus by claiming that he is mocking and disrespecting her by the way he asks his questions.

When Atticus begins to question Mayella about the events that took place on November 21st, Mayella gives false testimony and contradicts her previous statements when Atticus begins asking her precise questions regarding Tom's attack. She attempts to avoid Atticus's questions by crying and criticizing his approach while refusing to answer the barrage of questions he asks her at the end of the cross-examination. When Atticus finishes asking questions, Mayella bursts into tears and yells at Atticus, Judge Taylor, and the jury for doing nothing. Overall, Atticus's questions reveal that Mayella is a product of her terrible environment. She is an angry, hostile, ignorant person who is willing to harm a black man in order to protect her reputation.

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Mayella Ewell is definitely a young woman deserving of some pity in To Kill a Mockingbird. She is stuck with an evil drunkard of a father who beats her and possibly even takes advantage of her sexually. With her mother dead, she is forced to raise the remainder of the Ewell clan herself. She has no friends, no money and no prospects for the future. She asks Tom to come to her house out of loneliness, and she later tells him that she has never been kissed, so "she might as well kiss a nigger."

Of course, Mayella is still guilty of framing Tom for her supposed rape. No doubt it was her father who did the beating after catching her with Tom, but she still bears the responsibility for going along with the story that her father has concocted. Her fear of her father left her with little choice.

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