What family is Atticus describing when he says that they "lived like animals"?  

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Harper Lee slides in important information about the Ewell family early on in the novel. As Scout is discussing her school woes with her father, Atticus says the Ewell family live like animals. They are a contrast to the Cunnnghams, who, although poor, live with pride and work hard. The...

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Harper Lee slides in important information about the Ewell family early on in the novel. As Scout is discussing her school woes with her father, Atticus says the Ewell family live like animals. They are a contrast to the Cunnnghams, who, although poor, live with pride and work hard. The Ewells, however, are white trash. The children don't go to school and the father is an alcoholic. The family is on the lowest possible rung a white family can be in Maycomb, scorned and shunned by their neighbors.

This is important information, because it shows how complete the racial apartheid is in Maycomb. Even the obviously false accusation a member of this disgraceful family makes carries weight because the family is white. The white community will rally even around this family to insure that racial boundaries are kept intact. As human beings, the Robinsons are more respectable and contribute more to the local community than Ewells, but that is not enough to overcome the fact that Tom Robinson is a black man accused of rape by a white woman.

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Atticus is describing the Ewell family by commenting on how they lived like animals. 

In Chapter 3, Scout discusses her rough first day of school with her father. She tells Atticus that she doesn't have to go back to school because Burris Ewell is allowed to miss the entire school year after he comes on the first day. Atticus then discusses Burris Ewell's family history with Scout. He begins by telling Scout that the Ewells have been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations, and none of them have ever done an honest day's work in their lives. Atticus says, "They were people, but they lived like animals" (Lee 20). Scout listens as her father goes on to explain how Bob Ewell is an alcoholic who spends all of his money on whiskey. Throughout the novel, the Ewells disrespect others, cause numerous citizens harm, and are viewed with contempt throughout the Maycomb community.

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