During the trial scene in To Kill a Mockingbird, Mayella relies on her identity as a white woman to help her throughout her testimony and ultimately win over the jury. She is aware of her social status compared to Tom Robinson’s and is able to use this to her advantage. She also chooses to present herself as weak and fragile in an attempt to prove she is traumatized from the alleged rape.
When Mayella is asked to tell the jury about what happened during the evening of the incident, she initially sits silent. It is obvious that she knew she would be required to give her testimony, so she had plenty of time to mentally prepare for this moment. She silences herself and cries with the intentions of playing the victim.
If Tom Robinson was truly guilty, Mayella would have displayed confidence in her responses during her testimony. Instead, she presented tears, distress, and hesitance in her responses. When Atticus asks Mayella if she had asked for Tom’s assistance before, she first denies it, saying, “I did not, I certainly did not” (209) but when asked again she says, “I mighta” (209). Mayella’s inconsistent answers gives the jury little reason to believe her, but they ultimately take her side because she is a white woman.
In her last statement, she says that Tom Robinson “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” (214). She relies on her identity to save her from having to speak anymore.
Mayella plays a major role in Maycomb’s preservation of social order. Although it is clear to me that she could have presented a much stronger testimony to ensure that Tom would be found guilty, the system worked in her favor regardless. It is the social inequality and racial prejudice of Maycomb that allowed Tom Robinson to be falsely convicted of rape.