Who are the Ewells in To Kill A Mockingbird? What Are Their Purpose in the Book?

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The Ewells are the most despicable family in Maycomb County, and the head of their household, Bob Ewell, is the antagonist of the story. The Ewells live behind the Maycomb dump and have thrived on county welfare money for three generations. Bob Ewell is a notorious alcoholic, who is physically abusive to his daughter, Mayella. The county continually makes concessions for the Ewell family like allowing Bob to hunt out of season and disregarding their truancy issues. Scout mentions that no one knows for sure how many Ewell children there are but Mayella is responsible for raising her numerous siblings. Burris, Mayella, and Bob Ewell are all depicted as rude, conniving, morally debased individuals, who try to take advantage of others and have no regard for anyone but themselves.

The main function of the Ewell family is to drive the plot of the story by falsely accusing Tom Robinson of committing a serious crime. Bob Ewell accuses Tom of assaulting and raping his daughter, and Mayella attempts to corroborate his story. As a result of their false accusations, Atticus is forced to defend his black client in front of a prejudiced jury. During the trial, both the Ewells offer conflicting testimonies, and Atticus reveals that Bob was actually the perpetrator. Despite winning the case, Bob feels embarrassed and seeks revenge on Atticus and his family. In his attempt to get revenge, Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout while they are walking home alone from the Maycomb Halloween festival. Fortunately, Boo Radley intervenes and ends up killing Bob before he can seriously harm the children. Overall, the Ewells are the epitome of evil and are depicted as morally depraved throughout the story, and Bob is considered the novel's antagonist.

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The Ewells are one of the poorer families in Maycomb.  Mr. Ewell is often referred to as the town drunk.  He cannot keep a job and does not support his family.  His eldest daughter, Mayella, is often left with the task of caring for the family.  The Ewell's are often looked down on or pitied because they are uneducated and often unclean.  If Mr. Ewell tried to support his family instead of drinking, the town's opinion of him and his family might be different.

This family plays a key role in the story because it is Mayella that accuses Tom Robinson.  It is this accusation that sparks a trial and many other difficulties for the small town.  Atticus and his family are treated differently because he defends Tom in court.  We see that even though the town's people do not like the Ewell's, they will certainly take their side over that of a colored man.  This shows just how deep the prejudice and discrimination runs. 

Bob Ewell also plays a key role at the end of the story.  It is his attack on Scout and Jem that reveals the true nature of Boo Radley.  We have seen hints of it throughout the story, but this final act of rescue seals the reader's opinion. 

While the Ewell's may seem like secondary characters.  They play an important role in many aspects of To Kill a Mockingbird.

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