Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus--three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a wh...
The film adaptation was released quickly, in 1962, and was nominated for eight Academy Awards. The screenplay was written by Horton Foote who also wrote the 1992 screenplay for Of Mice and Men, and it was directed by Robert Mulligan who was nominated for the Best Director Oscar for To Kill a Mockingbird. Gregory Peck won the Academy Award for his portrayal of Atticus Finch.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960
Mayella Ewell is in most ways the opposite of Scout Finch except for one critical similarity—they both are motherless and being raised by their fathers. As a Ewell, Mayella has lived her entire life in desperate poverty under the watchful eyes of her drunk father and numerous brothers. She is the oldest of the children and is clearly expected to take on the responsibilities of raising the children and keeping the home. Though by far the greatest victim of the story is Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping Mayella, Mayella herself, when viewed through a gendered lens, certainly becomes a more sympathetic character, her power and powerlessness is firmly situated between Southern womanhood and white supremacy. Her accusation only serves to maintain her modicum of power in a racist society, yet, at the same time, it also solidifies the gender hierarchy that keeps her from any real control over her life. It is in Atticus’ cross- examination where race, class, and gender overlap in ways that show the complexities of intersectionality. The values placed on Tom and Mayella’s racial differences made the act of sexual relations a social crime. In order for Mayella to regain membership in white society, she had to claim rape to fit the assumption that the only way a black man and white woman would have sex was by force. Mayella benefitted from the social construct of gender in Southern white society that demanded the protection of white womanhood. Yet, that very assumption limited her ability to advance in society and be seen as an equal member. Finally, in Atticus’ cross-examination, he uses Mayella’s social class to confer a lesser status on her and thereby to assume a morality different from his own and others of his social status. Mayella is both oppressor and oppressed.