To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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How does Atticus respond when Bob Ewell spits at him? Why does he respond that way?

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Atticus's response is great, because it is likely the way that most people in this world would not have responded. Bob Ewell spits in Atticus's face, berates him verbally, and tries to incite a street fight. Atticus does nothing. He simply wipes the spit off of his face and begins walking away. Bob Ewell accuses Atticus of being too proud to fight, and Atticus responds that he is too old to fight.

“Too proud to fight, you nigger-lovin‘ bastard?” Miss Stephanie said Atticus said, “No, too old,” put his hands in his pockets and strolled on.

Jem and Scout want to know why Atticus didn't attempt to fight back. Atticus gives a couple of reasons. One reason is that Bob Ewell needed to vent his frustrations, because he had been embarrassed in court. Atticus figured he was, in a way, helping Bob out.  

“Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does."

The more powerful reason that Atticus gives for his actions, though, is about Mayella. Atticus tells Jem and Scout that if he takes the brunt of Bob's anger, then Mayella won't have to.

"So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that houseful of children out there."

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When Bob Ewell spits in the face of Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird, we see the kind of man Atticus is. He is spit on and ugly accusations are thrown at him. Bob Ewell even threatens him, but Atticus doesn't react the way Bob, or most people for that matter, would react. Atticus calmly wipes his face and leaves. Jem and Scout, however, are afraid for their father. They take the threats seriously.

Atticus tells the kids that he would rather take the brunt of Bob's anger, rather than have Mayella have to face another beating from her father. Atticus is always trying to think of other people, and teaches his children a valuable lesson. Atticus didn't realize just how serious the threats from Bob Ewell would turn out to be.

The one thing about Atticus that stands out is the fact that he tries to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. He tries to explain Bob's behavior with respect to all that he had been through and how Atticus had made him feel. The reality is that there is no excuse for Bob Ewell's reaction. There are some people that are just mean, and Bob is one of those people. Luckily for Atticus, Jem and Scout, they all have someone special watching out for them.

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It is important to note that along with the spit came a death threat, a barrage of insults, and an invitation to fight.  Atticus, however, refuses to step down to Bob Ewell's level.  He simply wipes the spit out of his eyes and stands there enduring Ewell's insults.  When Ewell realizes he failed to lure Atticus into a fight, he says, "too proud to fight..." to which Atticus responds, "No, too old."

The only comment Atticus oringally has about the altercation is, "I wish Bob Ewell wouldn't chew tobacco."  However, later the kids press him about the incident further because they fear for his life and what their life would be like without him.  He explains that Bob Ewell is not a danger.  He says Ewell meant it at the time when he said he would get Atticus, but he was just expressing his anger because Atticus had taken away the last bit of credibility the man had and, therefore, he had to have a comeback of some kind.  Atticus also said he was happy to let Ewell vent his anger on him if it would spare Mayella Ewell another beating.

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