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Lydia Valentino

Mr. Taylor

English 1

10 January 2019

Borderline Personality Disorder

Picture yourself on shifting sands-the ground beneath your feet constantly changing and

throwing you off balance, leaving you scared and defenseless. In the book To Kill a

Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, the character Mayella Ewell does many crazy things and

there is a reason for it. She has a physiological condition called borderline personality disorder

(BPD): a mental disorder, marked by unstable moods, unstable self image, and unstable behavior

(Salters). It has been found that people who suffer from BPD have had significant negative

experiences during childhood (Salters). Mayella is beaten and probably sexually abused. She

has no idea of what normal looks like and accepts her abusive relationship with her father.

Mayella exhibits many of the common symptoms of borderline personality disorder.

One of the primary symptoms of BPD is having an unstable self image (Salters). People with

BPD often try to boost their confidence by blaming others for something they have done. For

example, Mayella blatantly lies under oath “‘fore I knew it he was on me. Just ran up behind

me, he did. He got me round the neck, cussin’ me an’ sayin’ dirt” (Lee 241). Another symptom

of BPD is making rash decisions (Salters). For example she makes the decision to blame a

completely innocent man, Tom Robinson, for raping her instead of the real rapist, her father.

During the trial she is questioned, “You testified that you turned around and there he was. He

choked you then?” She blatantly lies by answering “Yes” (Lee 249). Mayella also participates

in many risky and rash behaviors like when she “reached up and kissed me (Tom) on the side of
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the face” (Lee 260). Kissing a black man in Macomb during this time was very socially

forbidden. Mayella also shows symptoms of emotional instability (Elsevier). In court she can’t

control her emotions, “she burst into real tears. and Her shoulders shook with angy sobs...” (Lee


In addition to having an unstable self image and making rash decisions, people who

suffer from BPD often have poor relationships that are unstable (Salters). During the trial Mr.

Finch, the lawyer, asks “you don’t know anyone near your age, or older, or younger? Boys and

girls? Just ordinary friends?” (Lee 245). She has no real friends and the only friendships she

had in the past, she ruined by her rash actions caused by BPD. We discover that Mayella “Ain't

got no mother” and her relationship with her father is perverted and unhealthy (Lee 36). When

Mayella is asked, “Do you love your father Miss Mayella?” she answers “Love him, whatcha

mean?”(Lee 245). Her dad, “Bob Ewell is despised by Maycomb society as a shiftless

drunkyard. He is unable to keep a job, spends all of his relief money on alcohol, and traps

animals outside the hunting season. He provides little support to his large, motherless family,

and is reputed to beat his children” (Lee 31-42). Surprisingly, when the trial takes place,

Mayella does the only thing she knows how to do; she does what her father tells her to and

defends him. Mayella’s father’s abuse was the primary cause of her BPD (Elsevier).

Despite the evidence demonstrating that Mayella has borderline personality disorder,

many people believe that Mayella may actually have histrionic personality disorder (HPD):

pattern of excessive attention-seeking emotions, beginning in early adulthood, including

inappropropriate seductive behavior. People with HPD have a high need for attention make loud

and inappropriate appearances, exaggerate their behaviors and emotions and crave stimulation

(Denoon). It is thought that the lack of discipline or positive reinforcement of dramatic

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behaviors in childhood cause HPD. A child typically will exhibit HPD behaviors as way to get

attention from her parents. Although Mayella is seductive and needs attention, she generally

doesn’t make loud and inappropriate appearances, and doesn’t exaggerate her behaviors or

emotions. It is true that most of Mayella’s childhood lacked discipline and structure, but her

childhood was deficient in positive reinforcement of dramatic behaviors that is often needed to

develop HPD. Instead, it is her abusive childhood that’s the biggest factor that shapes her

borderline personality disorder.

Mayella clearly suffers from borderline personality disorder. Her abusive childhood has

created an unstable self image and unstable emotions. Mayella’s life is absent of any stable

relationships and is filled with risky behaviors and negative experiences. In the end, BDP has

the ultimate impact and gets an innocent man convicted for a crime he didn’t commit.

Works Cited

Denoon, Daniel. “Mental Health: Paranoid Personality/ Disorder.” WebMD, 2005,
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Elsevier, Reed. “Personality Disorders.” Mayo clinic, mayo foundation for Medical Education

and Research, 23 Sept. 2016,


Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1960. Print.

Salters- Pedneault, Kristalyn. What is borderline personality disorder? “Verywell Mind, potdash,

30 June 2018,