What explanation does Atticus give for Bob Ewell’s attack? What does Heck Tate give as the reason for attack?
Do you think the sheriff’s explanation or Atticus’s is the more likely to be true?
Chapter 29 To Kill a Mockingbird
Atticus feels that Bob Ewell has desired revenge against him, but he cannot believe that Ewell would harm his children; on the other hand, Sheriff Tate sums up Ewell as a "low-down skunk with enough liquor in him to make him brave enough to kill children."
Chapter 29 of To Kill a Mockingbird opens with Scout's narration,
Somehow I could think of nothing but Mr. Bob Ewell saying he'd get Atticus if it took him the rest of his life.
Sheriff Tate seems to have a correct assessment of the character of Bob Ewell since Ewell is truly a scoundrel. He has gone into Judge Taylor's home when he was out, he has followed and harassed poor Helen Robinson, and he has spit in the face of Atticus Finch and threatened him.
In Chapter 30, Sheriff Tate explores further what has happened with Scout and Jem and Bob Ewell. Atticus believes that Jem has killed Ewell; however, Mr. Tate says, "Jem never stabbed Bob Ewell." Atticus still believes that Jem has killed Ewell, but the sheriff contradicts Atticus. He insists that Ewell fell on his knife in the scuffle with Jem, contending that "Scout was too scared to know exactly what went on."
The truth is that Boo stabbed Jem as he came to the defense of the children. But Sheriff Tate sees no reason to involve Boo "with his shy ways," as Boo could not handle the attention that would result from an investigation. Instead, they can quiet the whole affair by "let[ting] the dead bury the dead" and saying that Ewell fell on his knife. Atticus agrees because Scout suggests involving Boo would be "like killing a mockingbird."
Atticus's initial reaction is that Jem has killed Bob Ewell while trying to defend his sister and himself from attack - it is quite understandable that in his shocked and distressed state Atticus would not be thinking straight. Heck Tate, who has examined the crime scene and discovered two knives, correctly works out that Boo Radley has killed Bob Ewell but he does not want Boo exposed to all the publicity that due legal procedure would bring, and so is determined to present it as a case of Ewell falling on his own knife during the attack on the children. Therefore neither version is true and the truth will not come out, which is a big irony when you consider that two of the figures who most represent justice and right in the novel conspire at the end in a cover-up. Of course it is a satisfying ending to the novel but it is still a cover-up. Sheriff Tate's conclusion is that Bob Ewell has finally paid the price for the death of Tom Robinson and he sees justice in this. As he says, 'Let the dead bury the dead.'