What are some adjectives used to describe Sheriff Heck Tate in To Kill a Mockingbird? Provide a quote or two to explain your answer.   

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator


Tall.  Sheriff Heck Tate is described as being "as tall as Atticus, but thinner."  (Chapter 10)

Polite.  Tate addresses everyone as "Mister" or "Miss," including Atticus. Interestingly, Atticus always calls Tate by his first name, yet the sheriff always addresses Atticus respectively as "Mr. Finch."

Competent.  Tate is not a brilliant man: He answers incorrectly at first when Atticus asks him which side of Mayella's face is bruised, and he doesn't seem to understand the importance of there being bruises around her entire neck. He also falls for the old "snipe hunt" ruse on the night that Tom nearly gets lynched. But he knows Atticus is the right man for killing the mad dog, and he immediately determines what happens on Halloween night after he finds Bob Ewell's body and listens to Scout's story.

Humble.  Heck is a local boy who admits that "I'm not a very good man... I may not be much..."  (Chapter 30)

Authoritative.  Tate takes charge at the end of the story, deciding that he must make the decision as to what is best for the community--and for Boo Radley. Tate will call Bob's death self-inflicted, knowing full well that Boo must have stabbed Bob. But Tate realizes blaming Bob is best for everyone--Boo, Jem, Atticus, and the town--and he will stick to his version of the story.

"...I'm still sheriff of Maycomb County, and Bob Ewell fell on his knife."  (Chapter 30

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Humble: Sheriff Tate is aware of his abilities and limits as a marksman. In Chapter 10, Sheriff Tate refuses to take a shot at the rabid dog that is staggering down the main street of Maycomb. Instead of letting his pride get in the way, Sheriff Tate calls for Atticus's assistance. He says, 

"For God's sake, Mr. Finch, look where he is! Miss and you'll go straight into the Radley house! I can't shoot that well and you know it!" (Lee, 60).

Cautious: Before the Tom Robinson trial, Sheriff Tate and some other community members stop at Atticus's home to discuss possible precautions. Sheriff Tate mentions that he is worried about some community members causing trouble that night. He tells Atticus, 

"I don't look for any trouble, but I can't guarantee there won't be any..." (Lee, 90).

Sympathetic: In Chapter 30, Sheriff Tate says to Atticus that he will tell the town that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife. However, Tate realizes that Boo Radley intervened and saved the children. As a way to prevent Boo from receiving unnecessary attention, Heck Tate refuses to tell the community the truth. Sheriff Tate demonstrates his sympathy by thinking about what is best for Boo Radley. Sheriff Tate tells Atticus,

"To my way of thinkin', Mr. Finch, taking the one man who's done you and this town a great service an' draggin' him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that's a sin. It's a sin and I'm not about to have it on my head" (Lee, 169).

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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