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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee
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Who raped Mayella Ewell? 

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During Atticus's cross-examination of Bob and Mayella Ewell and Tom Robinson in chapters 17 to 19, it becomes apparent that Mayella had not been raped. Both Mayella and her father provide inconsistent testimony and repeatedly change their versions of events on that fateful day, November 21. Mayella, for example, cannot initially remember if Tom hit her or not, and when she is pressed by Atticus to recall what happened, she changes her story. Her testimony is, therefore, unreliable. Tom Robinson, on the other hand, provides a precisely detailed and more authentic account of events. 

The physical evidence presented by Mr. Tate makes it apparent that Mayella had been beaten and choked on that particular day. Tom Robinson also testifies that when Mr. Ewell saw his daughter embracing him, Mr. Ewell shouted that she was a "goddamn whore" and that he was going to kill her. Mr. Ewell was, therefore, more interested in punishing Mayella than apprehending Tom. This response suggests, furthermore, that Mr. Ewell did not see anything wrong with what Tom did. His outrage was directed at his daughter and not at Tom. Mr. Ewell, more than likely, physically assaulted his daughter on this particular occasion and later blamed Tom for her bruises. 

There are further suggestions that Mr. Ewell not only physically and verbally abused his child but that he may also have sexually mishandled her. Mayella, according to Tom, told him that she had never kissed a grown man and that "what her papa do to her don’t count." It is also apparent that she had carefully planned to lure Tom into the house and attempt to seduce him. She had saved up money to send her brothers off for ice cream so that they would not be around at the time. Tom, ironically, innocently complimented her for having saved up the money and giving her siblings a treat.  

Many of Maycomb's residents hold deep racist beliefs and think it an abomination that a white person can have any relations with someone of a different race. The sad truth is that Mayella Ewell sought closer contact with another human being and she tried to create such an engagement by carefully planning a liaison with Tom. Tom's reticence and her father's intervention put paid to her plan, and she turned against Tom and accused him of rape instead of admitting the truth. Mayella's thinking was informed not only by racial prejudice but also by her father's abuse. She most probably feared not only being rejected by her family and the community but also feared for her life. Also, her prejudice was a product of the beliefs that had been inculcated into her since birth.

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Tom Robinson did not rape Mayella Ewell on November 21st. There is no evidence to suggest that Mayella was raped by Tom, or anybody else, on that specific day. While Tom Robinson is on the witness stand, he accurately describes the events that transpired that day. Tom says that Mayella grabbed him around his legs, and he hopped down from the chair. He says that Mayella hugged him around the waist and kissed him on the side of his face. Mayella told Tom that she never kissed a grown man before so she might as well kiss a "nigger." Tom then comments, "She says what her papa do to her don't count" (Lee 260). This comment indirectly suggests that Bob Ewell raped his daughter before. It is clear from Bob and Mayella's conflicting testimonies, as well as Tom's handicap, that Mayella was not beaten or raped by Tom Robinson. Mayella's despicable father had raped his daughter before, but there is no evidence to suggest he raped her on the particular day (November 21st) he caught Mayella kissing Tom Robinson. Mayella and her father fabricated their entire stories and claimed that Tom raped her as a way to justify her extensive injuries. A black man raping a white woman was racially inciting in 1930s Alabama, and the Ewells were sure the jury would believe their story.

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