On the Humanity of Mayella Ewell
Scout and Jem Finch, Tom Robinson, and Dill Harris: all foreground characters who while in
the "spotlight" of the book are all deemed equally worthy of compassion, and of understanding.
However, there are others which seem to fade into the woodwork; forgotten in the flurry of events
following the climactic Robinson trial. Miss Mayella Ewell, for example nineteen; stuck in the miasma
of poverty and abuse; more than worthy of the compassion of each and every one of the book's 15
million readers around the globe. Her resilience in the face of years of abuse, destitution, and sheer
loneliness are all apparent within her character despite of her last name as a Ewell, or perhaps if I may
muse because of her last name as a Ewell.
When some people take the time to examine the word loneliness, they might be reminded of
hermits in the woods, reminded of criminals exiled to the very far reaches of the Earth where the tendrils
of the sun struggle still to pierce the shadows of primal jungles. What nobody takes the time to consider
is the great loneliness that one can find within the "company" of others: the kind of lonely that Mayella
Ewell has been almost her whole life. This is the kind of loneliness that causes bitterness to cling like
barnacles to someone's psyche. "'Miss Mayella,' said Atticus, in spite of himself, 'a nineteenyearold
girl like you must have friends. Who are your friends?' The witness frowned as if puzzled. 'Friends?'"
(Lee, pg 183). Even the simplest of social and developmental necessities are foreign subjects to
Mayella, even enough make her hostile. After the latter quoted segment, it should be noted that she
lashed out: accusing Atticus of making fun of her by simply suggesting that she have such a thing of
friends. Like her kin, she doesn't have much of an idea of what companionship is romantic, platonic,
or otherwise. On the other hand, (much unlike her kin) Mayella seems to follow an anomalous path of
behaviour that the rest of her unfortunately circumstanced family does not: she tries. "'Yes, suh. I felt
right sorry for her, she seemed to try more'n the rest of 'em'" (Lee, pg 197). Noted both by Scout and
Tom Robinson, it would seem that Mayella had an acute yet masked want for relationships: "...it
came to me that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world." (Lee, pg 191).
Forged amid sociopathic beliefs and tendencies, she certainly could be better at reaching out, but
perhaps it's the little things in her character that really show who she is. For example, her washing.
While she says that, "...it was everybody for himself as far as keeping clean went: if you wanted to wash
you hauled for own water…" (Lee, pg 183), Scout queries that it would seem Mayella at least
attempted to stay washed, "Mayella looked as if she tried to keep clean, and I was reminded of the row