The ‘Victim’: Mayella Ewell

Mayella Violet Ewell, a 19 ½ year old girl, made one of the most widely known accusations in Maycomb. She accused a black man, Tom Robinson, of raping her. Mayella first appears in chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird when Tom Robinson’s trial occurs. She pours out a sob story to the court that consists of Tom following her into the house, jumping on her, and raping her innocent self. Throughout her questioning in chapter 18, Mayella is depicted as a deceptive, fragile, and somewhat cheeky young lady by the answers she responds with and her behavior in the courtroom.

The first occasion where readers can infer a personality trait of Mayella Ewell is when she first confers with Atticus, she could easily be perceived as a cheeky, disrespectful girl. There were multiple occurrences when he asked Mayella a question she had previously answered from another authority, and instead of answering for a second time, she became aggravated and was hesitant to answer again because it was unnecessary in her opinion. She would first point out that she had already given that answer and then reanswer after argument. One more instance of Mayella being cheeky was the time Atticus referred to her as “ma’am” or her name, “Mayella”, she accused him of making fun of her. Atticus would assure her he did not mean to be disrespectful, but she insisted he was. “Won’t answer a word you say long as you keep on mockin’ me” she replied to Atticus after calling her Miss Mayella (243). He responded with, “Ma’am?” out of confusion, then which she replied, “Long’s you keep on makin’ fun o’ me.” (243)

Some might accuse Mayella of stalling to get off track when she doesn’t answer the question if asked for a second time, or when she accuses Atticus of disrespecting her when he clearly did not mean to. By thinking of ways to prolong the questioning so she wouldn’t have time to go in full detail, Mayella could be distinguished as deceptive. Atticus’ tactic to repeat questions helped his case.

Mayella would often forget an answer she had previously replied with, so when he repeated the question, sometimes she would have a different answer (248). “No, I don’t recollect if he hit me. I mean yes I do, he hit me.”(248) Another time when she was deceptive was when Atticus asked her a series of questions, she remained silent, not answering any (251). This indicated that she couldn’t come up with a truful-sounding answer or that the questions were too sensitive to answer. This leads to another trait she holds: she can be fragile. As a questioning technique, Atticus started off by asking Mayella broad, easy to answer questions like how many siblings do you have, where do you live, etc. Not to be rude in any manner, he asked her about her social life and her friends, then which she immediately became sensitive about the topic and replied with “What friends?” (245).

At some times, Atticus asked her a question and she burst into tears on the spot. “Mayella sniffed wrathfully and looked at Atticus.” (248). In Mayella Ewell’s testimony, she portrays herself to be cheeky to authority, deceptive to Atticus and the jury, and fragile when it comes to a sensitive subject.

Although she shows many different attributes, these three are most evident. She fooled the jury well enough to send Tom to jail and to get her dad out of trouble (for the time being). With these traits, Mayella was able to be believed and send Tom Robinson to his death in jail.