How does Atticus treat Mayella during his cross-examination? Why do you think he responds in the manner in which he proceeds? What does he gain from this approach? Think of Mayella’s reaction near the end of her time on the stand.
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Atticus questions Mayella, but first asks her some background questions to show the jury what kind of family she comes from. At first, Mayella takes exception to Atticus calling her "Miss Mayella," and the judge has to explain that Atticus is imply being polite. He treats everyone on the stand with the same respect, no matter who they are or where they come from. In her cross-examination, we learn Mayella is nineteen and her family receives relief checks, but there isn't enough food to go around; her father seems to be a drunkard. Mayella went to school for a few years but none of her eight siblings go, and their mother is dead. Mayella doesn't seem to have any friends. Atticus asks if Mr. Ewell is a loving father, and with hesitation, Mayella says that he is "tolerable" except when he has been drinking. However, she insists that he never lays a hand on her or beats her. Atticus asks if this was the first time Tom Robinson has been invited into her house, and she jumps a little before she says that it was the first time. He asks Mayella if she remembers being beaten in the face, and Mayella first says no, but then yes. Atticus asks her to identify the man who raped her, and Mayella points to Tom, who Atticus asks to stand. Everyone in the courtroom notices that Tom's left arm is twelve inches shorter than his right, due to an accident in his youth when the arm got stuck a cotton gin. Atticus asks for more details about the struggle, then he asks many questions which Mayella doesn't answer: Why didn't the other children hear her screaming? Where were they? Why didn't they come running? Did she start screaming when she saw her father in the window? Did she get beaten up by her father, not Tom Robinson?
Mayella just says that she was taken advantage of, and if the upper class gentlemen won't prosecute Tom, they are cowards. Atticus appears to have found his exchange with the young woman distasteful. The court rests for ten minutes, but no one leaves the courthouse.
Mayella's reaction and failure to answer the final question leaves her testimony under scrutiny.