Literary Gardeners: Mayella Ewell and Maudie Atkinson

This weekend my son accompanied me to the garden center and wanted to choose his “very own” little pot of flowers.  I let him browse around the annuals section and take his pick.  He chose this:

It will look cheerful out on our sunny back patio, but honestly, I cannot look at a red geranium without thinking of one of the most wretched and pathetic characters in all of American literature.

That would be Mayella Violet Ewell.

Remember her?  Mayella stars in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird and is the primary witness for the prosecution in the trial of Tom Robinson, the black man whom Mayella and her despicable father falsely accuse of rape. 

All through the novel, the Ewells are characterized as the worst kind of  “white trash” — dirty, drunken, wretched, illiterate trash.  Author Harper Lee describes the yard of the Ewell cabin as “the playhouse of an insane child,” with random car parts, broken tools, and other detritus strewn about.  But then there’s this:

Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson…people said they belonged to Mayella Ewell.”  Continue reading