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Atticus thinks that Jem stabbed Bob Ewell at first.
When Scout and Jem head back from the Halloween play, they are accosted by Bob Ewell. He attacks them with a knife. Scout is dressed as a ham, so she is uninjured. Jem's arm is badly broken. At the end of the scuffle, Bob Ewell is dead.
When Atticus hears what happened, he assumes that Jem killed Bob Ewell defending Scout.
Atticus pushed up his glasses and pressed his fingers to his eyes. "Jem's not quite thirteen... no, he's already thirteen- I can't remember. Anyway, it'll come before county court-" (ch 30)
Atticus describes it as a clear-cut case of self-defense. He still thinks that Jem is going to be arrested though. Heck Tate thinks differently. He is convinced that Boo Radley killed Bob Ewell to defend the children.
Boo Radley is a sensitive and shy man, and would not like anyone to know what he did. Heck Tate is aware of this, and decides to say that Bob Ewell fell on his knife.
This incident brings the book full circle, and ties together the two main plot lines. It also ties up two of the loose ends. It dispatches with Bob Ewell, and the threat he made to Atticus. It also clears up Boo Radley’s situation and verifies that he was watching the children and he is a good person.
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