In chapter 30 of To Kill a Mockingbird, who does Atticus think caused Bob Ewell’s death? Why does Heck Tate insist that Bob Ewell’s death was self-inflicted? In what way is this partly true?

In chapter 30 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus initially thinks that Jem caused Bob Ewell’s death. The reason Heck Tate insists that Ewell’s death was self-inflicted is to protect Arthur Radley. There is some truth in the idea that Ewell caused his own death because he had been stirring up trouble. In this case, he instigated the violence by attacking the Finch children. Radley stabbed him to save Scout.

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Atticus is convinced that Jem killed Ewell in self defense. To Atticus, this seems like the only possibility. He gets in an argument of sorts with Sheriff Tate over Jem's guilt. Atticus is so convinced on this idea of Jem protecting Scout from Ewell that he believes that any other explanation would amount to a "cover up." It's clear that Atticus, who as Heck notes is under tremendous strain, is not thinking clearly. His determination that Jem should tell the truth, that he cannot start life with this "hanging over him," is less about Jem than it is about his own emotional well being. As he explains to Tate,

Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him...if I connived at something like this, frankly I couldn’t meet his eye, and the day I can’t do that I’ll know I’ve lost him. I don’t want to lose him and Scout, because they’re all I’ve got.

Tate is impatient with Atticus because his contention that Ewell fell on his own knife, while not strictly true, is meant to protect not Jem and Atticus, but Ewell's real killer, Boo Radley. Heck knows the attention Boo would get from the public if the truth got out would mortify him. When Atticus comes to realize that Boo, not Jem, is Ewell's killer, he relents.

In a way, Ewell did kill himself, even if he did not fall his knife as Tate claims. As Tate says, Ewell was the kind of man "you have to shoot before you can say hidy to ‘em," and his death was brought about by his own actions.

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During Bob Ewell's attack, Boo Radley intervenes and saves Jem and Scout by stabbing and killing Bob Ewell. Following the incident, Sheriff Tate arrives and explains to Atticus that he found Bob Ewell dead with a kitchen knife stuck up under his ribs. In chapter 30, Atticus and Sheriff Tate walk outside, where Atticus expresses his concern for Jem. Atticus is under the impression that Jem stabbed and killed Bob Ewell. Given Scout's brief testimony, Atticus has reason to believe that Jem fought Bob and ended up stabbing him with his own knife. However, Scout was wearing a cumbersome ham costume, which significantly impaired her vision, making it impossible to identify Boo Radley during the scuffle.

Despite Atticus's initial belief that Jem stabbed Bob Ewell, Sheriff Tate is adamant that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife. Although Sheriff Tate understands that Boo Radley intervened and killed Bob Ewell, he knows that the news of Boo's heroics will spread throughout Maycomb and give the shy man unwanted attention. Sheriff Tate also tells Atticus, "Let the dead bury the dead" (280). In Sheriff Tate's opinion, Bob Ewell deserved to die by pursuing the Finch children, which lead to his ultimate demise. In other words, Bob Ewell had it coming, and his reckless, vengeful actions resulted in his death. Sheriff Tate's decision to report that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife protects Boo Radley and puts the traumatic incident to rest.

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Chapters 29 and 30 of To Kill a Mockingbird present the aftermath of Bob Ewell’s nighttime attack on the Finch children as they walk home from the school pageant. After an unidentified person intervenes and takes the children home, the doctor sees to them, and Sheriff Tate comes to the house. Scout is awake, but Jem is still unconscious. During the attack, Ewell was stabbed and died. It turns out their savior was Arthur “Boo” Radley, whom Scout meets for the first time.

In chapter 30, as Scout, Radley, Tate, and Atticus sit on the porch, the sheriff and Atticus discuss how to proceed. Atticus tells Tate that Ewell was killed through an act of “self-defense,” assuming that Jem stabbed him. He further expects that Jem will be arrested and tried, but not convicted. Tate counters that Jem did not do it; rather, Ewell accidentally stabbed himself. Atticus is displeased to think that Tate is suggesting that they conceal Jem’s role, and he then realizes that Tate knows that Radley was responsible.

Tate explains his decision not to pursue the matter further based on all the unwelcome publicity it would generate for Radley. He reasons that Ewell deserved his fate, given his numerous lies and violent acts. He tells Atticus that Radley has “done you and this town a service.” Had Radley not intervened, Ewell might have killed the children.

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1) Atticus believes that Jem is the one who killed Bob Ewell; this is why he is so adamant that the letter of the law be followed in documenting Ewell's death.  He doesn't want anyone to believe Jem was given special treatment because he is Atticus's son. 

Heck Tate understands the truth of the situation, which is that Boo Radley killed Bob Ewell.  Heck Tate also understands that to publicize this information would bring a lot of attention on Boo Radley, something Boo himself would never want.  To protect Boo's privacy, Heck Tate insists that Bob Ewell's death be reported as accidental; they will say that Ewell fell on his own knife.

It could be said that Bob Ewell's death was his own fault, since he died in an attempt to attack children.  Boo Radley was only defending Scout and Jem; had Bob Ewell left the Finch kids alone, he would not have died in this manner.

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