What does the reader learn from Bob Ewell's evidence in Chapter 17?
Ironically, Bob Ewell reveals more about himself than he does about Tom Robinson when he testifies under oath in the Maycomb County courtroom.
- Ewell claims Mayella was raped, yet he does not summon a doctor or take her to a hospital. When Atticus questions him, asking if he were not worried about his daughter's condition, he replies that he has never called a doctor "to any of his'n in his life."
- He lies under oath, testifying that Tom Robinson slapped Mayella was "rutting on her." This remark causes Judge Taylor to reprimand Ewell for his crude language, and order him to use language appropriate to a courtroom.
- He testifies that he did not touch Tom Robinson or go after him as he was too concerned about Mayella..."she was lyin' on the floor squallin'--"
- Ewell states that he ran immediately for the sheriff (despite Mayella's condition). Then, he complains about the neighbor hood that the Robinsons live in, saying it is "dangerous to live around 'sides devaluin' my property--" [the Ewells live by the garbage dump].
- Unsuspecting that he may implicate himself, Ewell smugly "hold[s] with everything Tate said" about the injuries inflicted upon Mayella's right eye and her neck.
- When Atticus repeats his question, Ewell feels that "Atticus is an easy match."
- When asked if he can read and write, Ewell replies, "I most positively can....How do you think I sign my relief checks?" and the people listening chuckle.
- After he signs his name on the back of an envelop, Bob Ewell looks up complacently and notices the intentness of the judge and lawyers. He asks, "What's so interestin'?" and Judge Taylorr says, "You're left-handed." Not comprehending the significance of this condition, Ewell replies angrily that he does not see what his being left-handed had to do with anything, and further embellishes his accusations against "the n****r."
Clearly, from his evidence, it becomes apparent that Ewell is a liar and an abusive parent; he has beaten his own daughter because he has found her in their house with a Negro, the only "type "person who can be below him and his family in the eyes of the Maycomb community--the only "type" whose association can embarrass him. His racial bias is apparent in several of his remarks; furthermore, he hopes to somehow elevate himself from being a horrible parent by lowering Robinson to a rapist and miscreant. Not only is his behavior reprehensible and his character unethical and vindictive, but Bob Ewell is crude, ignorant, close-minded, and antagonistic.
The major piece of evidence provided by Bob Ewell in chapter 17 is that he is left handed. Because Tom Robinson's left arm was severely injured as a child, it's not possible that he could've hit Mayella with his left hand. All of Mayella's injuries are on the right side of her face. By illustrating that Bob Ewell is left handed, Atticus is showing the jury that it's possible he was the one who beat up Mayella.