How does the external conflict between the Finches and Bob Ewell develop the theme the loss of innocence in a world filled with good and evil in To Kill a Mockingbird?
The Finches and the Ewells are in conflict as a result of the trial of Tom Robinson, and the experience demonstrates to the Finch children that the world can be a dangerous place because not all people are good.
Bob Ewell accused Tom Robinson of raping his daughter Mayella. Atticus Finch was tasked with defending Robinson. The problem was that Mayella was white, and Tom Robinson was black. The Finch children discover that this makes the case very controversial.
Scout and Jem learned about racism through Tom Robinson’s case. First of all, many people were angry at her father for defending Robinson and insulted the family. Scout got into fights at school and with her cousin, and was harangued by her neighbor Mrs. Dubose. She didn’t understand what the big deal was. Her father told her that it was not a big deal. Defending Tom Robinson was important to him, and it was something he had to do no matter the outcome.
During the trial, Scout and Jem get another lesson about the cruelty of the world. Atticus sufficiently proves that Mayella wasn’t raped, and that the injuries to her face were caused by her father. Robinson had a lame arm, and physically could not have committed the crime, even if it had occurred. However, a guilty verdict was still returned. Jem could not understand this.
I shut my eyes. Judge Taylor was polling the jury: “Guilty… guilty… guilty… guilty…” I peeked at Jem: his hands were white from gripping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each “guilty” was a separate stab between them. (Ch. 21)
Jem really did believe that To Robinson would be acquitted. The extent of people's racism had not really sunk in for him yet. He still had a child's naive view of the world.
The trouble did not end at the trial. Bob Ewell’s vendetta against the Finches was a result of the shame he felt at his personal life being put on display, and also the fact that the jury deliberated a while before returning the guilty verdict. Bob Ewell’s pride was hurt.
Ewell spit in Atticus’s face, but Atticus said he was too old to fight. Scout and Jem were worried. They thought their father should carry a gun. He told them he was convinced Ewell was just words.
“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. …” (Ch. 23)
Ewell later made additional threats. When Tom Robinson was killed trying to escape prison, Ewell was heard stating “it made one down and about two more to go” (Ch. 25).
Ewell acted on this threat. He attacked Scout and Jem, and Boo Radley saved them. It was the end of their childhood in many ways. The children were glad to finally meet Boo Radley, and Boo showed he was not the monster of their childhood. However, the lost innocence comes both from the realization of racism so ingrained in society and the threat to their lives due to the anger of Bob Ewell.