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In Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Maycomb is a microcosm of Southern society in the 1930s as all economic and social types and races of a typical Southern town are represented through various characters. The Ewells, stereotypically, represent "white trash." This caste has been protrayed by many an author, such as Mark Twain, Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner, etc.
These families are usually large. They live in despicable shacks with leaky roofs and shutters in place of windowpanes. They are characterized by a colorlessness of skin and hair, suggesting the lack of character withiin them. The men are abusive to their wives and children, and when not hunting and fishing they spend their time drinking. Like the children, gardens and other belongings are left uncared for. In short, they are the least ambitious elements of white Southern society. Yet, among both the rich and the poor white there existed a sense of fraternity when faced with the treatment of the blacks. This is why the jury--with the "usual disease" of Maycomb County, as Atticus says--convicts the decent and kind Tom Robinson. Another factor that enters into the hatred of Mr. Ewell for the black Tom Robinson is the fact that after the abolition of slavery, the "poor white" became forced to compete on a basis of worth, rather than color. It is this condition that effects the rage of Ewell when he sees his daughter with Robinson, for he does not want to submit to equality with a black.
Yet, although blacks have been freed from slavery, the Jim Crow Laws of the South did little else. Only the most menial jobs were available for them and attitudes of their inferiority persisted in Southern society. So, while they had jobs, these jobs paid little. Thus, blacks had to find whatever they could to eat when they could not purchase groceries, especially meat. So, Tom and his family eat squirrel, possum, and rabbit--whatever they can find to sustain them.
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