In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Atticus think caused Bob Ewells death?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Sheriff Heck Tate and his friend Atticus Finch are discussing the death of Bob Ewell, who had been threatening Atticus and all those around the lawyer, including his children, Jem and Scout.  When Ewell is killed, following his attack on the children, Sheriff Tate is compelled to launch an investigation.  It is in Chapter 30 of Lee’s novel that Atticus, a man of impeccable integrity, reveals that he suspects that the person who fatally stabbed Ewell was his own son, Jem, albeit in self-defense.  In the key exchange, the sheriff asks Atticus whether he thinks his son was the one who stabbed Ewell:

“Mr. Finch, do you think Jem killed Bob Ewell? Do you think that?”

“You heard what Scout said, there’s no doubt about it. She said Jem got up and yanked him off her—he probably got hold of Ewell’s knife somehow in the dark… we’ll find out tomorrow.”

Atticus suspects Jem was the one who killed Bob Ewell because of the latter’s attack on Jem and Scout, with the young girl being particularly vulnerable given the costume she was wearing at the time.  As the story progresses, however, it becomes increasingly likely that it was Arthur “Boo” Radley who actually carried out the fatal act – an act that constituted, in the context of the story, justifiable homicide.  


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