What is the significance of Bob Ewell's real name in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Bob Ewell, Robert E. Lee Ewell is certainly a far cry from his namesake. A top graduate of the United States Military Academy, and the son of Revolutionary War Officer, Robert E. Lee was a man of prestige and honor who was raised mostly by his mother and taught patience and discipline. As a cadet, Lee graduated second in his class with no demerits for his entire career at the Academy (a record still unmatched today).

Of course, General Lee is known as the leading general of the Confederate States of America, and, perhaps, this is the reason Ewell's mother named him as she did. The irony is that Ewell certainly lacks any of Lee's sterling characteristics, but may admire what cost Lee his loss of citizenship in America (although President Gerald Ford later restored it): his having fought in the Civil War and led the South in its fight to maintain states' rights and slavery. 

True to his degenerate nature, Ewell probably finds the slavery issue as the most important to have defended in war. But, his motivation contains nothing that is defensible; for, he simply wants blacks beneath him so that he can feel better about himself. In truth, he is probably descended from an indentured servant of the early South, a man little better off than the African slaves at the time. Thus, the older citizens of Maycomb would find his being named after Lee "a disgrace."

In Harper Lee's [interesting that she shares this name] narrative, her ironic use of the "Hero of the South's" name on Bob Ewell is rather satirical. For, would certainly draw a reaction from the court audience, and both white and black would be appalled that such a man should carry the name of either their hero or their enemy, depending upon their beliefs and social standing. The additional significance of his name points decisively to the racial issues of the innocent Tom Robinson's trial.

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