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This Coming of Age Imparted Onto Us

No matter how we read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird the story always at its core is a coming of age story for Scout and Jem. This trial was a grueling development in the children’s life and as such has shaped them by the end. Scout’s development is what interests me most as it revolves around her self discovery in a sense. She discovers who she is in the scale of race, class, and even as a woman. This trial has taught Scout of the distinctions and separations in all of these areas. She finally can see she is not only a white person, but a comparatively wealthy, white, female. This comes as a fulfilling ending to the novel as we have seen it grow through her actions with Boo and the gifts he brings, the contrast she finds between herself and Mayella, and the distinction between her family and that of the Ewells. All of these are major points that guide Scout into realizing who she is in this world.

I find it to be no coincidence that this novel has become a common middle and high school required reading. I can remember vividly reading this in my 7th grade ENGL classes! What this books does well is impart this coming of age onto us the reader. Reading this novel was a defining event for me and many others as we grew up. The awkward silences when vulgarities were used, the sideways glances between students when hearing of Dill’s tragic family life, or the shadow that engulfs a middle school classroom hearing that Tom Robinson was shot 17 times in his back…

These are emotional events that Scout had to face and we, the reader, must face with her. This novel forces young readers to grow with it as they read it. It allows readers to follow Scout’s path and come to the conclusion of who they are. It can highlight the class, race, and gender privilege at an early age and allow us to begin understanding these concepts so that we can know ourselves. Once we know ourselves we can begin growing and fixing our prejudices, using our privilege for fairness and equality, and reconciling our innocent past with the gritty future after what we learn from reading To Kill a Mockingbird.

Mayella’s Reliance on her Identity in her Testimony in TKAM

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.