In chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird, describe what Bob Ewell is like as a father and his demeanor during his questioning.

Bob Ewell is described as a terrible father, who allows his children to miss school and live in filth. Bob is also a notorious alcoholic, and his children search for scraps of food every day in the Maycomb dump. He spends his relief checks on whiskey and abuses his children. During questioning, Bob acts cocky and bold. He also lacks discretion, uses racial slurs, and displays his ignorance. However, Bob is suspicious of Atticus and cautiously answers his questions.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 17, Bob Ewell is called to the witness stand to testify and is depicted as a cocky, ignorant man who is arrogant, ill-mannered, and irritable. Before Bob Ewell testifies, Scout offers a brief background on the Ewells and portrays them as the most despicable family in Maycomb. As a father, Bob Ewell does not value education, and none of his children attend school. In addition to not attending school, the Ewell children live in filth, and Scout mentions that no public health officer could free them from "congenital defects, various worms, and the diseases indigenous to filthy surroundings." Bob and his children rummage through the Maycomb dump every day and rely on welfare checks to survive. Bob Ewell is also a notorious alcoholic, who abuses his children and spends his relief checks on whiskey. Essentially, Bob Ewell is a terrible father, and Mayella takes on the responsibility of raising her siblings, which is revealed in chapter 18.

Despite his horrible reputation, Bob Ewell assumes an air of confidence on the witness stand and lacks discretion when answering questions. He boldly repeats his fabricated story to Mr. Gilmer and uses racial slurs to describe Tom Robinson. Bob Ewell unabashedly describes what he witnessed on the evening of November 21 by saying, "I seen that black n***** yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!" Despite his cocky demeanor, Bob Ewell is suspicious of Atticus and answers his questions with caution. After Bob signs his name and proves that he is left-handed, he realizes that he is has been "tricked" by Atticus and loses his temper. Bob claims that Atticus took advantage of him and reiterates his story that Tom Robinson raped his daughter.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial