To Kill a Mockingbird Sympathy for Mayella

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How is sympathy created for Mayella Ewell?

Lee creates compassion for Mayella Ewell by describing her life at home. In this chapter, Atticus progressively builds an image of Mayella’s life at home: «’you the eldest? The oldest?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘How long has your mother been dead?’ ‘Don’t know- long time.’» In this extract, Lee demonstrates the role of Mayella in her family and how hard it is for her, especially since she is only nineteen and has seven brothers and sisters. She is like their mother: therefore like her father’s wife. Mayella needs to make a decision between being beat up by her father and losing the family’s honour or telling the truth and preventing Tom Robinson’s death. In the end she chooses to remain loyal to her family although it is clear that she is lying. When Atticus asks Mayella how her father treats her, she stumbles: « ‘He does tollable, ‘cept when-‘ […] ‘Except when he’s drinking?’ asked Atticus so gently that Mayella nodded. »

Sympathy is not only created through a description of her family, but also by a portrayal of her character. Mayella acts almost like a child, as though she were only Scout’s age; this softens Atticus’ as he feels pity for Mayella, who is a young innocent girl born in a less fortunate family: «Mayella stared at him and burst into teas. She covered her mouth with her hands and sobbed […] Mayella said something behind her hands. ‘What was that?’ asked the judge. ‘Him,’ she sobbed, pointing at Atticus». Mayella acts young and makes the audience empathize as she pretends to timidly denounce Atticus to the court by accusing him of scaring and intimidating her. In that extract, she also shows her vulnerability and pretends that men take advantage of her easily, especially when she is susceptible.

The reader or spectators of the court scene, may also pity Mayella because she is lonely and miserable. When she is asked who her friends are, her reaction is unusual: «the witness frowned as if puzzled. “Friends?”». Mayella...
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