How does Sheriff Heck plan to explain Bob Ewell's death in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In an attempt to protect Boo Radley from the public limelight in the wake of saving Jem and Scout 's lives, Heck Tate covers up Boo's heroics by stating that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife and accidentally stabbed himself. Sheriff Tate also retrieved Bob's switchblade from the scene...

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In an attempt to protect Boo Radley from the public limelight in the wake of saving Jem and Scout's lives, Heck Tate covers up Boo's heroics by stating that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife and accidentally stabbed himself. Sheriff Tate also retrieved Bob's switchblade from the scene and lies to Atticus by telling him that he took the switchblade off of someone earlier that night. Although the kitchen knife belonged to Boo Radley, Sheriff Tate claims that Bob attacked the children using the kitchen knife and accidentally stabbed himself between the ribs when he stumbled during the altercation.

In reality, Sheriff Tate knows that Boo Radley must have wrestled the switchblade from Bob Ewell and stabbed him in the ribs with the kitchen knife during the fight. Sheriff Tate's decision to conceal Boo's heroics from the community aligns with the theme of protecting innocent beings, which is metaphorically represented by Atticus's lesson regarding the treatment of mockingbirds. Scout recognizes Sheriff Tate's intentions and metaphorically applies her father's earlier lesson by asking, "Well, it’d be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?" (280). Overall, Sheriff Tate plans on explaining Bob's death by stating that Bob stumbled during the altercation and accidentally fell on his own kitchen knife.

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It is important to understand that Atticus puts together a bunch of details and believes Jem must have killed Bob Ewell. This is Atticus' righteous character coming through and even though he is almost accusing his own son, he believes it needs to go to trial. Heck wouldn't have had to explain much if he didn't have the need to correct Atticus.

In correcting Atticus, Heck (the reader knows) is actually protecting Boo Radley. Radley killed Bob Ewell in defense of the children and rescued the kids. There was a struggle between Bob and Jem, Boo intervened. Bob Ewell must have had a knife on him with the intention to kill the children and Boo must have wrestled it away and shoved it up under Bob's ribs. Then, he carried Jem to the house as Bob was left, dead body, laying in the street.

None of this is told directly to us reader, Scout reports the sounds she hears because it was dark.

Heck put togther what happened and decided it best to report that Bob tripped and fell to protect Boo from the town bringing him gifts and praising him for getting rid of the bad guy. On the flip-side, even though Boo did something morally right in protecting the children, it is indeed legally wrong to kill. Who knows what could have happened if that went to trial.

So, does Heck Tate lie? Yes, in that he didn't tell the truth that he figured out. But also NO, because he didn't see the crime. He can't for sure know exactly what happened.

 

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At the end of Chapter 28, Sheriff Tate has discovered the body of Bob Ewell

"... lyin' on the ground under that tree down yonder with a kitchen knife stuck up under his ribs."

He is not sure at that moment how Bob has died. After Scout tells her story, her father comes to the very un-Atticus-like assumption that it is Jem who has stabbed Bob. Sheriff Tate finally convinces Atticus that there is no way

"... any boy Jem's size with a busted arm had enough fight in him to tackle and kill a grown in the pitch dark."

Once Boo Radley steps from the darkness of the corner in Jem's room, Sheriff Tate realizes what must have happened, even if the befuddled Atticus does not. It was not Jem who had stabbed Bob, but Boo. Tate is faced with a moral dilemma: to face the truth and investigate the murder properly, which would force Boo to publicly testify; or come up with another story. Although Boo would probably have been cleared since it was a case of self-defense, the recent verdict against the innocent Tom Robinson probably made Tate realize that Boo might suffer the same fate as Tom. So, the sheriff decids to call Bob's death a self-inflicted wound.

"Bob Ewell fell on his knife. He killed himself."

Tate claims that the second knife--the switchblade he was waving--was taken off a "drunk man",  earlier in the evening. The switchblade probably belonged to Boo (or possibly Bob).

     "There's a black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for it's dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch...
     "To my way of thinkin', Mr. Finch, taking the one man who's done you and this town a great service an' draggin' him with his shy ways into the limelight--to me, that's a sin... If it was any other man, it'd be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch...
     "I may not be much, but I'm still sheriff of Maycomb County, and Bob Ewell fell on his knife." 

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