What, according to atticus, is the thing that mayella has done wrong? explain, in your own words,

The trial continues, with the whole town glued to the proceedings. Mayella, who testifies next, is a reasonably clean—by the Ewells’ standards—and obviously terrified nineteen-year-old girl. She says that she called Tom Robinson inside the fence that evening and offered him a nickel to break up a dresser for her, and that once he got inside the house he grabbed her and took advantage of her. In Atticus’s cross-examination, Mayella reveals that her life consists of seven unhelpful siblings, a drunken father, and no friends.

Atticus then examines her testimony and asks why she didn’t put up a better fight, why her screams didn’t bring the other children running, and, most important, how Tom Robinson managed the crime: how he bruised the right side of her face with his useless left hand, which was torn apart by a cotton gin when he was a boy. Atticus pleads with Mayella to admit that there was no rape, that her father beat her. She shouts at him and yells that the courtroom would have to be a bunch of cowards not to convict Tom Robinson; she then bursts into tears, refusing to answer any more questions. In the recess that follows, Mr. Underwood notices the children up in the balcony, but Jem tells Scout that the newspaper editor won’t tell Atticus about their being there—although he might include it in the social section of the newspaper. The prosecution rests, and Atticus calls only one witness—Tom Robinson.

Summary: Chapter 19

Tom testifies that he always passed the Ewell house on the way to work and that Mayella often asked him to do chores for her. On the evening in question, he recounts, she asked him to come inside the house and fix a door. When he got inside, there was nothing wrong with the door, and he noticed that the other children were gone. Mayella told him she had saved her money and sent them all to buy ice cream. Then she asked him to lift a box down from a dresser. When Tom climbed on a chair, she grabbed his legs, scaring him so much that he jumped down. She then hugged him around the waist and asked him to kiss her. As she struggled, her father appeared at the window, calling Mayella a whore and threatening to kill her. Tom fled

Link Deas, Tom’s white employer, stands up and declares that in eight years of work, he has never had any trouble from Tom. Judge Taylor furiously expels Deas from the courtroom for interrupting. Mr. Gilmer gets up and cross-examines Tom. The prosecutor points out that the defendant was once arrested for disorderly conduct and gets Tom to admit that he has the strength, even with one hand, to choke the breath out of a woman and sling her to the floor. He begins to badger the witness, asking about his motives for always helping Mayella with her chores, until Tom declares that he felt sorry for her. This statement puts the courtroom ill at ease—in Maycomb, black people aren’t supposed to feel sorry for a white person. Mr. Gilmer reviews Mayella’s testimony, accusing Tom of lying about everything. Dill begins to cry, and Scout takes him out of the courtroom. Outside the courtroom, Dill complains to Scout about Mr. Gilmer’s rude treatment of Tom Robinson during the questioning. As they walk, Scout and Dill encounter Mr. Dolphus Raymond, the rich white man with the Black mistress and mixed-race children.

Analysis: Chapters 18–19

Mayella Ewell is pitiable, and her miserable existence almost allows her to join the novel’s parade of innocent victims—she, too, is a kind of mockingbird, injured beyond repair by the forces of ugliness, poverty, and hatred that surround her. Lee’s presentation of Mayella emphasizes her role as victim—her father beats her and possibly molests her, while she has to deal with her unhelpful siblings. She has lacked kind treatment in her life to such an extent that when Atticus calls her Miss Mayella, she accuses him of making fun of her. She has no friends, and Scout seems justified in thinking that she “must have been the loneliest person in the world.” On the other hand, though, Scout’s picture of Mayella as a victim is marred by her attempt to become a victimizer, to destroy Tom Robinson in order to cover her shame. We can have little real sympathy for Mayella Ewell—whatever her sufferings, she inflicts worse cruelty on others. Unlike Mr. Cunningham, who, in Chapter 15, is touched enough by Scout’s human warmth to disperse the lynch mob, Mayella responds to Atticus’s polite interrogation with grouchy snarls.

Read more about the symbolism of mockingbirds.

Pity must be reserved for Tom Robinson, whose honesty and goodness render him supremely moral. Unlike the Ewells, Tom is hardworking and honest and has enough compassion to make the fatal mistake of feeling sorry for Mayella Ewell. His story is the true version of events: because of both Tom’s obviously truthful nature and Atticus’s brilliant and morally scathing questioning of the Ewells, the story leaves no room for doubt. A number of critics have objected that the facts of the case are crafted to be—no pun intended—too black and white. But, as Atticus’s awareness of his defeat as a foregone conclusion suggests, Lee was not interested in the believability of the trial. The exaggerated demarcation between good and bad renders the trial more important for its symbolic portrayal of the destruction of an innocent by evil. As clear as it is that Tom is innocent, it is equally clear that Tom is doomed to die.

Read more about why the jury finds Tom Robinson guilty.

Link Deas represents the diametric opposite of prejudice. The fact that Tom is black doesn’t factor into Deas’s assessment of him; rather, he is particularly conscientious about scrutinizing Tom only in respect to his individual character. However, just as the court refuses to accept the undeniable implications of the evidence that Atticus presents, so too does it refuse to accept the implications of Deas’s validation of Tom’s character. The judge expels Deas because his interjection during the proceedings threatens the integrity of the formal manner in which court proceedings are run; the grim irony, of course, is that the blatant prejudice of the trial does so as well, though the judge does nothing to alleviate this prejudice.

The reader is spared much of Mr. Gilmer’s harsh cross-examination of Tom when Dill’s crying takes Scout out of the courtroom. Dill is still a child, and he responds to wickedness with tears, much as the reader responds to Mr. Gilmer’s unabashed prejudice with disgust. The small sample of his cross-examination that Scout and the reader do hear is enough. Calling Tom “boy” and accusing him at every turn, the racist Mr. Gilmer believes that Tom must be lying, must be violent, must lust after white women—simply because he is black.

Read more about how the tone of the book changes in these chapters.

Among the trash and cast-offs in the Ewell yard, there's one spot of beauty.

"Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell's." (17.64)

The geraniums suggest that Mayella desires to be better than her surroundings, to make something bright in her dull world, to aspire to higher things. But whatever Mayella's hopes and dreams are, she doesn't get a chance to express them to the reader; she appears only at Tom's trial. And there, she has to perform a role: the poor innocent white woman attacked by the evil black man, who must be protected by chivalrous white men.

Flower or Weed?

Mayella's a Ewell, and everyone knows what the Ewells are like: ugly, shiftless, and trashy—they even live by a dump. But when she takes the stand, she represents something else entirely: a flower of "Southern womanhood," an idea that itself is, according to Atticus, a "polite fiction" (15.39). But to justify sending an innocent man to death, the jury has to believe in her as a representative of "fragile" white women everyone:

A young girl walked to the witness stand. As she raised her hand and swore that the evidence she gave would be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help her God, she seemed somehow fragile-looking, but when she sat facing us in the witness chair she became what she was, a thick-bodied girl accustomed to strenuous labor. (18.2)

In order to convict Tom, the jury has to believe in, or at least pretend to believe in, the fragile, helpless girl who gets taken advantage of by Tom, rather than see her as a desperate, lonely teenager who actively desires him. It's not just ideals of women at stake, but also of men:

"I got somethin' to say an' then I ain't gonna say no more. That n***** yonder took advantage of me an' if you fine fancy gentlemen don't wanta do nothin' about it then you're all yellow stinkin' cowards, stinkin' cowards, the lot of you. Your fancy airs don't come to nothin'—your ma'amin' and Miss Mayellerin' don't come to nothin', Mr. Finch-" Then she burst into real tears.(18.167)

Mayella's comment suggests that for men to be big brave heroes, they have to believe that women are helpless timid victims in need of protection or avenging. According to this logic, proper men have to take Mayella's word over Tom's, or risk having their Man Licenses revoked, because Man has been defined as He Who Protects Women, not as He Who Listens Carefully To All The Evidence And Makes A Rational, Considered Judgment Based On The Facts.

Well, when you put it that way, it doesn't sound very manly, does it?

Daddy's Girl

When Mayella accuses a black man, she's able to access the privileges of white Southern womanhood—namely, the chivalrous protection of men, no questions asked. If she had told Heck Tate that it was her father who beat her up (and raped her, apparently—"what her daddy did didn't count"), would she be in court testifying against him?

Well, maybe, but there certainly wouldn't be the huge audience that turns out to see Tom convicted. So why doesn't Mayella tell the truth about what happened? Well, she's probably afraid of her father. And she probably has another reason: guilt at doing an "unspeakable" thing, "kiss[ing] a black man" (20.45).

"She did something every child has done—she tried to put the evidence of her offense away from her. But in this case she was no child hiding stolen contraband: she struck out at her victim—of necessity she must put him away from her—he must be removed from her presence, from this world. She must destroy the evidence of her offense. What was the evidence of her offense? Tom Robinson, a human being." (20-43-44)

In comparing Mayella to a child, Atticus brings together the two opposite ideas of womanhood: yes, he's saying, she's naïve and weak (which is almost, but not quite, the same thing as innocent and helpless), but she also feels guilty because of her desire for Tom, which is causing her to commit the crime of perjury.

Atticus's version of her character seems reasonable based on what we've seen first-hand of her testimony in court (though of course, everything is filtered through Scout's perspective; see "Narrator Point of View" for more on this). And if we agree, then we can say Mayella is dealing with her own self-hatred for having a desire that society tells her is wrong. By destroying Tom, the desire is destroyed.

Or maybe, given that she is a Ewell, she doesn't see anything wrong with what she did—she's just sorry she got caught, she's now trying to do damage control with her father by saying whatever he wants her to say. In any case, after Tom's conviction Mayella goes back to her flowers on the trash heap, and Maycomb stops caring about her. She never reappears in the novel, but perhaps her father's death will give her the opportunity to make good on the promise of geraniums.