How would you describe the Ewell family in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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ms-mcgregor's profile pic

ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The Ewells represent one of the lowest classes of people in Maycomb. They are what was considered "poor white trash". The only lower class in the town were Blacks. This is why Tom Ewell can be so condescending on Tom and why the jury feels it must convict Tom of a crime they probably know he didn't commit. To do otherwise would upset the balance of the social fabric of Southern society, of which Maycomb is part. To allow a Black man to go free after being accused of attacking a White woman, even one as poor and low class as Mayella, would have been unthinkable. That is why Atticus knows he will lose the trial, but has hopes for the case on appeal. He knows Tom will be convicted solely because he is Black and Mayella is White. However, somewhere in the appeals process, he and Tom might prevail. Unfortunately, Tom is killed before the appeals process can even begin. And that is why Bob Ewell attacks Atticus' children. He felt his reputation and standing in the community, even though it was low, had been made lower and he had been embarrassed because he knew people believed a Black man instead of him.

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Atticus rarely has a bad word to say about anyone, but the Ewells are an exception. He describes them best when he tells Scout that

... the Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations.  (Chapter 3)

One can only imagine what Bob's father and grandfather must have been like since the present Ewell patriarch is positively the most evil character in the novel. Bob does not have a job--"None of them had done an honest day's work in his recollection," says Atticus--and drinks up his welfare check instead of providing for his children. He spends most of his time drinking and hunting out of season. Described as a "little bantam cock of a man" who bore "no resemblance to his namesake (Confederate hero General Robert E. Lee)," he absolutely gloats when giving the untruthful testimony about Tom Robinson raping his daughter. Tom's and Mayella's testimony actually suggests that Bob had beaten Mayella--and possibly even had other improper relations with her. Later, unsatisfied that Tom has been found guilty and faces the death penalty, Bob stalks the people he most despises--Tom's widow, Helen; Judge Taylor; and, apparently, Atticus's own children. In the end, he attempts to make good his threat to get even with Atticus "if it took the rest of his life." Sheriff Tate practically rejoices when he finds Bob's body: Bob

"... wasn't crazy, mean as hell. Low-down skunk... (the) kind of men you have to shoot before you say hidy to 'em. Ewell 'as one of 'em."  (Chapter 29)

Appropriately, the family lives in an old Negro cabin adjacent to the town dump: It is author Harper Lee's way of inferring that they are "white trash" without ever using the term. Bob's wife is dead, and he pays little attention to his children, instead allowing his oldest daughter, Mayella, to keep watch over them. The children are filthy, lice-ridden and illiterate.

They were people, but they lived like animals. (Chapter 3)

Burris--"the filthiest human I had ever seen"-- crudely curses and threatens his first grade teacher, Miss Caroline, calling her a "snot-nosed slut." Mayella, who does arouse some sympathy from Scout (and the reader) because she tries more than the other family members to provide a bit of beauty in the household with her lovingly-tended geraniums, nevertheless sinks to her father's level when she backs his story that Tom had raped her. Mayella comes across as both pitiful and untrustworthy, and

I guess if she hadn't been so poor and ignorant, Judge Taylor would have put her under the jail for the contempt she had shown everybody in the courtroom.  (Chapter 18)

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tpisano | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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The Ewell family is disfunctional.  The father, Bob Ewell, is an alocoholic; the daughter, Mayella Ewell, is a lonley girl who has to suffer the abuse of her father; and, the other Ewell children only go to school each year on the first day.


They are a poor family and they are looked down upon by the community.

imaninmalik's profile pic

imaninmalik | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

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i would say they are diffrent and low class people...they stay behind the grabage dump and they arent very socailizable

zumba96's profile pic

zumba96 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The Ewells are basically "white trash". The whole situation of Tom Robinson began because of the Ewells. They are also dangerous and they are racist. Bob Ewell beats on his daughter and this crime was forced on an innocent man. Because of people like this, the morals of the town become similar to theirs, with no morals whatsoever. 

srrmcneil's profile pic

srrmcneil | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

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 i would describe his family kinda mean and need to get it together cause bob is a alcholic that need to be help cause he is beating on his daughter

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