Harper Lee does a wonderful job demonstrating that through ignorance and prejudice, evil can be a long-lasting result that plagues generations. Human nature tends to jump to conclusions first and ask questions later. Sometimes people don't even ask questions later, they simply jump to conclusions and spread false information to neighbors through gossip or down to their children who blindly believe their parents. Once the evil is passed down from one generation to another, it is very difficult to root it out. Stephanie Crawford, local children mimicking parents, and Mr. Ewell are a few examples of how evil is spread through ignorance and prejudice.
Stephanie Crawford - The Gossip - She is ignorant because she doesn't gather all of the facts first before spreading information to children like Jem. She tells Jem what happened to Boo Radley in his past, but she also doesn't teach him to be kind to others who are different. Rather, she goes and tells a fantastic tale about Boo looking in her window at night. This creates more prejudice and fear that eventually demonizes the poor man.
"So Jem received most of his information from Miss Stephanie Crawford, a neighborhood scold, who said she knew the whole thing" (11).
Stephanie only tells stories to make herself look important to others--that's her ignorant motivation. People like that shouldn't be taken honestly for their word because she sure helps to spread the ignorance.
The Children - Jem Finch, Cecil Jacobs and Cousin Francis are both good examples of children who listen to the ignorance and prejudice they hear at home (or in the neighborhood), believe them, and then go spread the same around. Jem spreads the Boo Radley ghost stories (11-12), Cecil tells everyone at school that Scout's dad "defends" N--s (74-75), and Francis tells her that Atticus is a "N-- lover" (83). Incidents like these just perpetuate the problems we see in society. Luckily, Atticus, Maudie, and others do their best to teach and lead by example so that some of the ignorance and prejudice can be stopped.
Bob Ewell - This man represents evil in many forms because his laziness, ignorance, and prejudice rule his life. Everything this man does is selfish and self-serving. He spreads ignorance by not having his children get a good education, by teaching them that whites are better than blacks, by teaching them that lying is alright, and that hurting other people is fine if they've hurt your pride. Notice that Atticus never calls Bob his friend like he does Walter Cunningham. There's just something twisted about Bob. It's as if his poverty, lack of education and trashy status in the community are also consequences fueled by his ignorance and prejudice; and, he is a product of generations of Southern philosophy in many ways. Even after Bob spits in Atticus's face, Atticus still finds a way to understand him by saying the following:
"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. 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" (218).
Thus, ignorance and prejudice seem to motivate bad behavior in people, which perpetuates more ignorance and prejudice. It's a vicious cycle that hopefully ends with good people like Atticus, Miss Maudie, and others like them standing up for what is right.