How does Harper Lee use language and imagery (in the description of the Ewell property in Chapter 17) to convey a sense of the Ewell family life?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee employs words that denote poverty and other words and images that connote slovenliness and dirt as she describes the Ewell dwelling. 

That the Ewell home is a "former Negro cabin" situated near the town dump indicates the lowly lives of the Ewells. There are no panes in the windows to keep out the bad weather or any of the "varmints" that might wander inside. In the summer the Ewells put "greasy strips of cheesecloth" to keep these varmits out. The exterior of the building is covered with corrugated iron, and the roof is formed out of tin cans from the dump, cans that have been hammered flat by hand. There is no foundation; the house sits merely on "lumps of limestone."

The debris from the dump makes the yard, a mere plot of bare ground where no grass will grow, look "like the playhouse of an insane child." To denote the appearance of the yard, Lee employs images such as "snaggle-toothed rake heads"and all sorts of broken garden tools, and from around all this some "scrawny orange chickens pecked hopefully." Most noticeable, however, is one corner of the yard where bright red geraniums  sit. These geraniums evince a tender hand having cared for them, one as experienced as Miss Maudie. Rumors in town are that these anachronistic beauties belong to Mayella Ewell.

The children of Bob Ewell are neglected. No one knows how many children Ewell has; some say six, others nine. Social pariahs, no one has occasion to go to their shack by the dump except after Christmas when they discard their Christmas trees. In contrast to this slovenly house and yard, the "small Negro settlement" is neat and comfortable with pale smoke billowing from their chimneys and delicious odors emanating from their doorways.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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