What are a few examples of the lack of human dignity in Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Synonyms for and phrases defining the word "dignity" include: self-respect, appreciation for formality, and noble character. The first character that comes to mind who does not display any of these traits is Bob Ewell. This man shows no self-respect because he is drunk most of the time and can't hold down a job. As a result, he shuns any responsibility for his children by allowing them to run wild, find their food in the dump, and live without medical attention. 

". . . their relief check was far from enough to feed the family, and there was strong suspicion that Papa drank it up anyway--he sometimes went off in the swamp for days and came home sick . . . if you wanted to wash you hauled your own water; the younger children had perpetual colds and suffered from chronic ground-itch" (183).

Then, he has no appreciation for any formality because he shows no respect for others in public situations. For example, during his time on the witness stand, and in front of men, women, and children, Bob Ewell demonstrates a lack of manners and respect for others by the way he crudely speaks about the night and crime in question.

"Well, Mayella was raisin' this holy racket so I dropped m'load and run as fast as I could . . . and I seen . . . I seen that black ni**** yonder ruttin' on my Mayella!" (175).

There was no reason for him to be so graphic with his wording in a public situation such as a trial. One might argue that his lack of education is the reason he speaks so crudely, but it's more likely his lack of human dignity for himself and others.

Finally, Bob Ewell is not a noble character because he doesn't respect human life. Not only is he a bad father who seems not to care about the well-being of his own children, but his racist attitude drives down his own dignity and those of others by the way he speaks to Helen Robinson in chapter 27.

"Calpurnia said it was hard on Helen, because she had to walk nearly a mile out of her way to avoid the Ewells, who, according to Helen, 'chunked at her' the first time she tried to use the public road" (249).

After Link Deas tells him to stop doing that to Helen, he follows her all the way to work one day, which intimidates and threatens her. Deas threatens him with assault charges if he continues to harass Helen, but the fact remains that Ewell has no respect for anyone.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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