From the descriptions of the Ewell children and from the description of the Ewell place, the reader learns indirectly that Bob Ewell is an absent and dissipated father, and the children are ignorant and neglected. In Chapter 3, one of the older members of Scout's class informs Miss Caroline that Burris Ewell has no mother and his father is "right contentious." Later, her father explains to Scout that the Ewells have been "the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations" and she recalls Burris in her class, dirty and lice-ridden and defiant of learning anything. The Ewell children do not attend school and the father breaks the law frequently, such as hunting out of season. Atticus tells Scout that the Ewells "live like animals" down by the city dump; Bob Ewell spends his relief checks on "green whiskey," and he is the only man ever heard of who was fired from the WPA for laziness."
In Chapter 17, Scout narrates that her father has taken them to the dump after Christmas as the mayor requested that the citizens dispose of their own trees. When they pass the Ewell house on the way, the Finches see that the Ewell's scavenged at the dump and brought things into their own yard. There was also the remains of a Model-T Ford up on blocks,
discarded dentist's chair, an ancient icebox,...old shoes, worn-out table radios, ...One corner of the yard, though, bewildered Maycomb. Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson....People said they were Mayella Ewell's.
Nobody was quite sure how many children were on the place. Some people said six, others said nine; there were always several dirty-faced ones at the windows when any one passed by.