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To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 18 Summary

  • Mayella Ewell is called to the witness stand.
  • Unlike her father, who looked like he had prepared for his appearance in court by bathing for the first time in months if not years, Mayella looks like she actually has an ongoing acquaintance with soap and water.
  • Mr. Gilman asks Mayella to describe what happened that night in her own words, but she doesn't answer, so he switches to more specific questions.
  • Her answers are still minimal, so the judge asks her to just tell the court what happened, and she bursts into tears.
  • Judge Taylor tells her that she has no cause for shame or fear, so long as she tells the truth.
  • The judge asks Mayella what she's scared of, and she points to Atticus.
  • When the judge asks Mayella how old she is, she says nineteen and a half.
  • The judge tells Mayella that Mr. Finch isn't going to scare her, and that his job as judge is to stop him if he tries.
  • Mayella, soothed, finally gets going on her testimony.
  • What she says: she was on the porch when Tom Robinson came by, she asked him to chop up an old piece of furniture for kindling, and when she went inside to get a nickel to pay him he attacked her from behind.
  • Did she scream and fight back? Yes.
  • What happened next? She can't really remember, but eventually her father and Mr. Tate were there.
  • Mr. Gilmer asks again if Mayella tried to fight off her attacker, and if he took "full advantage" (18.38) of her, and she answers yes to both questions.
  • Now it's Atticus's turn.
  • Mayella takes offense to Atticus's calling her "ma'am" (she thinks he's making fun of her), and Scout wonders what her life is like that she thinks normal courtesy is rudeness.
  • Some facts about Mayella: she's the eldest of seven kids, her mom's been dead for a while, she can read and write but she only went to school for two or three years.
  • Does she have any friends? Again, she thinks Atticus is making fun, since the idea seems so absurd.
  • Atticus asks Mayella about her father (who's still in the room), whether he's ever beaten her, and she says, after a hesitation, that he's never touched her.
  • Yeah, we're not so sure we believe that.
  • Finally Atticus's questions turn to the day of the alleged crime. Mayella says that Tom passed the house every day, but this was the first time she had asked him to come into the yard (though she jumped when he asked that question), but she might have asked him to do odd jobs before, she can't remember.
  • We're getting the picture that this testimony isn't exactly going to hold up.
  • Atticus quotes Mayella's previous testimony and asks her whether the defendant hit her face; she says no, then yes, then that she can't remember, then cries.
  • When asked to identify the man who raped her, Mayella indicates Tom, but Atticus tells him to stand up so that Mayella can have a good look at him.
  • Tom stands up, revealing that his left arm is a foot shorter than his right and his left hand is shriveled.
  • Booyah!
  • Up in the balcony, Reverend Sykes tells Jem and Scout that Tom caught his hand in a cotton gin when he was a boy.
  • Atticus asks how this man could have raped her, and she says she doesn't know how it happened but it did.
  • Mr. Gilmer objects that Atticus is browbeating the witness.
  • Judge Taylor replies that if anyone's doing any browbeating it's Mayella, but he's the only one laughing at his joke.
  • Does Mayella want to reconsider any of her testimony? Nope. She even adds some new details to try to make it make more sense.
  • Atticus asks a series of questions that Mayella simply refuses to answer: why the other children didn't hear her screams, if she screamed when she saw her father in the window instead of at Tom, if her father was the one who beat her up.
  • After meeting all these questions with silence, Mayella makes her final statement: "That nigger 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" (18.167).
  • After that Mayella bursts into tears and refuses to answer any more questions, whether from Atticus, from Mr. Gilmer, or from Judge Taylor himself.
  • Scout thinks that somehow Atticus had wounded Mayella in a way Scout doesn't understand, and that it made Atticus sick to do it.
  • Mayella leaves the witness stand, directing a dagger-look of hatred at Atticus on the way.
  • Time for a break.
  • Scout wonders what nuances of the case she might be missing, since it all seems fairly straightforward to her, and remembers that Atticus told her that Judge Taylor is a good judge.
  • The judge and the lawyers return to restart the case.
  • Jem, Scout, and Dill are pleased to see that the Judge has brought a cigar with him, which he proceed to begin eating, spitting out the bits once he chews them up.
  • It's now almost 4 p.m., and Judge Taylor asks Atticus if they can finish the case up this afternoon.
  • Atticus says he thinks they can, and he has just one witness to call.

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