Atticus rarely has a bad word to say about anyone, but even he has little good to say about the Ewells, "the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations." The father, Bob, is a drunkard who pays little attention to his children. His wife is dead, and "there was strong suspicion that Papa drank" up their relief check. Bob is a little "bantam cock" of a man--"smug" and virtually illiterate. He spends most of the time drinking in the local swamp and prowling about town at night. His daughter, Mayella, serves as the seven other children's surrogate mother: She has no friends and no social life, stuck in the Ewell's old "Negro cabin" on the edge of the town dump.
The varmints had a lean time of it, for the Ewells gave the dump a thorough gleaning every day... (Chapter 17)
Mayella is so lonely that she lures Tom Robinson, a crippled Negro man, into the house in the hopes of seducing him. Bob's son, Burris, is a chip off the old block: He comes to school filthy and lice-ridden before threatening the instructor, Miss Caroline, with violence and calling her a "snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher." The Ewells are the epitome of "poor white trash," yet they still remain a step higher on the Maycomb social ladder than the Negroes who live nearby in the Quarters.