In "To Kill a Mockingbird," where do the Ewells live and what are their living conditions?
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The Ewells live behind the town's garbage dump in an old cabin. The cabin and the yard itself are made of scraps and odds and ends. Scout describes the yard as "the playhouse of an insane child." The plot and yard are full of junk, including a Model-T on blocks. Essentially, the only thing distinguishing the Ewell's property from the garbage dump is the fence, the cabin and the presence of the Ewells themselves. In spite of this dirt-poor, jumbled mess of a living space, there was one aspect that stood out:
One corner of the yard, though, bewildered Maycomb. 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, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell’s. (Chapter 17)
Since Bob Ewell is useless as a father (aside from hunting food), Mayella, the oldest of the children, is faced with the task of raising the children. Tom Robinson recognizes that Mayella is lonely and could use some help and this is precisely why he helps her. The geraniums are Mayella's attempt to shed at least some beauty on her poor life, if not for her, for the other Ewell children.
In the novel, the Ewells live behind Maycomb's garbage dump in what used to be a slave cabin. The small cabin is in a dilapidated state. The roof is shingled with flattened tin cans, while the walls of the cabin are reinforced by sheets of corrugated iron. The whole structure rests on four irregularly-shaped hunks of limestone. There is no glass on the windows; in the summertime, the Ewells use greasy pieces of cheesecloth to keep the dump flies out.
The Ewells live an impoverished lifestyle; they take whatever food they can find from the town dump and appropriate a confusing assortment of trash for their own use. The yard is enclosed by an array of "tree-limbs, broomsticks and tool shafts, all tipped with rusty hammer-heads, snaggle-toothed rake heads, shovels, axes and grubbing hoes, held on with pieces of barbed wire." Within this enclosure, one can find anything from a discarded dentist's chair to old fruit jars and worn-out shoes. By all indications, the Ewells live in poverty, amidst a confusion of hastily-acquired dump trash.
Basically, the Ewell property appears in no small measure to resemble the Maycomb town dump. Yet, amidst this appalling filth, red geraniums alert the human eye to the only thing of beauty on the Ewell premises. The flowers are held in "six chipped-enamel slop jars" against the fence in a corner of the yard. It is said that the flowers are tended to with great care by Mayella Ewell. Despite being forced to live in such surroundings, Mayella's flowers highlight her need to transcend the hopelessness of her daily existence.
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