It is suggested that Mayella was beaten by her father. Despite this Mayella insists that Tom is responsible and he is convicted of the crime.
The Ewell family lives on relief checks, which Bob "drank up anyway," and the home has no running water. The younger children are perpetually sick and dirty. They made their shoes out of strips of old tires salvaged from the dump. She does not stay in school because "with two members of the family reading and writing, there was no need for the rest of them to learn -- Papa needed them at home" (Lee 183).
Mayella is a lonely girl with has low self-esteem. This is demonstrated when she believes Atticus, the defense attorney is mocking her when he addresses her as Miss Mayella, and is offended when Atticus asks if she has any friends, believing that he is making fun of her. "White people wouldn't have anything to do with her because she lived among pigs; Negroes wouldn't have anything to do with her because she was white" (Lee 192). She doesn't believe she is worthy of friendship.
It is intimated that the relationship between Bob and his daughter...
Tom testifies that Mayella told him "She never kissed a grown man before an' she might as well kiss a nigger. She says what her father papa did to her don't count" (Lee 194).
It is easy to understand why Mayella would accuse Tom of rape when she was caught kissing him by her father. She had broken a "rigid and time honored code" by initiating a liaison with a black man. This transgression was viewed as so reprehensible that one who broke this code would be "hounded from our midst as unfit to live with" (Lee 203).
It is also understandable why she would defend her father under even though she is physically and emotionally abused. She has no real connection with the white community and she has no reason to trust in the outcome should she reveal the truth. Furthermore, as surrogate mother to her brothers and sisters she must have realized that such action would break-up the family, the only security she knows.
Mayella's attitude toward her father may be explained as a manifestation of the Stockholm Syndrome, a strategy for survival for victims of abuse and intimidation where the abused person emotionally bonds with an abuser (Carver). She appears to be psychologically unable to change her situation. Her economic condition and lack of self-esteem and education limits her capacity to display empathy or even comprehend the consequences of her actions.
Carver, Joseph M. "Love and the Stocholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser." PsychForums.com. (2010). 29 November 2010.
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