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Patricia Nguyen

de la Torre

9th Grade Literature

22 May 2017

Power and Prejudice

In the 1930s, the majority of people held a prejudice against others if they were

considered to have less power. To determine the amount of power someone possesses, they use

race, class, and gender. During the time, such inferiorities include blacks, women, and lower

classmen. In ​To Kill A Mockingbird​, Harper Lee writes about the issues of power in a similar

time period through a character named Mayella Ewell. Mayella Ewell, who is the eldest daughter

of Bob Ewell, has a few aspects that establish her amount of power. Mayella Ewell is not a

powerful character in the novel because she is a woman and is not considered to be high class

even though she is white.

In ​To Kill A Mockingbird​, Mayella is not powerful in regards to her gender because as a

woman, she is viewed to be more untrustful than a man, leaving her with a disadvantage during

the trial. Women are seen as inferior to men because women are said to be dependent on men,

unintelligent, less respectable, and fragile. As part of the novel, Mayella is physically abused by

her father for her attempt to kiss Tom Robinson: “beaten savagely by someone who led

exclusively with his left” (Lee Document B). When Tom Robinson’s case began, Mayella was

given the opportunity to speak against the abuse but feels threatened by her father. Since she is a

woman, Mayella can not speak up against her father because the act of speaking against her
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superior would be perceived as improper and disobedient. Moreover, Mayella Ewell is a victim

of sexual abuse from her father. In ​To Kill A Mockingbird​, Tom Robinson, who is Mayella’s

supposed rapist, told the jury that “she says what her father do to her don’t count” (Lee

Document B). Mayella is taken advantage of by her father. Bob Ewell controls every aspect of of

his daughter’s life, even her body; therefore, she has less power. As a woman, she is humiliated

because she is afraid to rebel against the control her father has on her. If she reports her father,

the chance of the police believing her is low because they would take a father’s word over his

daughter. Hence, Mayella is not powerful because she is a woman that is not in control of her

own life; furthermore, the aspect of class can decrease her amount of power.

In addition to her power, Mayella is not powerful in regards to her class because she

lacks respect and resources. The Ewells, considerably, are the lowest class in the white

community of Maycomb and are not a respected family. Bob Ewell proves the lack of respect

because he believed that the town would praise him for winning the case against Tom Robinson:

“He thought he’d be a hero, but all he got for his pain was … okay, we’ll convict this Negro, but

get back to your dump” (Lee Document A). Since her father was shown disrespect, Mayella

Ewell would have been confronted with disrespect as well. Facing hardship and poverty, Mayella

and her siblings do not have resources to fix their incomplete cabin. Mayella’s house has “merely

open spaces” for her windows, and “bits of tree-limbs, broomsticks and tool shafts” put together

for a fence (Lee Document A). Her family is very poor and cannot afford to finish their cabin,

which makes them have a low class status. As a result of her low status, Mayella is not powerful

because she faces poverty and receives no respect from Maycomb; in the other hand, her race

affects her power.


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Even though Mayella’s power is lowered by her gender and class, she is considered to be

powerful in regards to her race because as a white, she is superior to blacks. During her time

period, whites were more powerful than blacks. Reverend Sykes hints to Jem that the chances of

a black man winning the case is slim: “Now don’t be so confident, Mr. Jem, I ain’t seen any jury

decide in favor of a colored man over a white man...” (Lee Document D). Mayella won the court

case, because the jury’s judgement favored a white over a black. In Tom Robinson’s case, they

favored her over him. Mayella and her father were confident that they will win over the jury with

the “evil assumption” that “all Negroes, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all

Negro men are not to be trusted around our women” (Lee Document D). Since Maycomb is

highly racist, they believe the assumption and convict an innocent black man, who did nothing

wrong. Mayella is powerful in regards to her race because her words and race can end the power

of a black man.

Even though Mayella is white, she is not powerful in regards to her gender and class. As

a woman, Mayella does not have complete control over her life, but her father holds the reins. If

Mayella went against Bob Ewell, her small act of rebellion would be seen as wrong. In regards to

her class, Mayella Ewell is low class because of the poverty and hardships she has to face. The

Ewell’s land is indirectly mentioned to be dirty and unkept in the novel, which affects her class.

Although, Mayella is white, giving her an advantage in the trial. Even if a black man has a higher

class than Mayella, he would not have more power than her because of his race. Power can be

determined by an individual’s class, race, and gender. Mayella only has one out of the three

aspects of power, causing her to be not powerful. Power can ruin or do good to another’s life.
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Works Cited

Lee, Harper. ​To Kill A Mockingbird​. Grand Central Publishing, 1960.