Who is Heck Tate in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Heck Tate is a lifelong resident of Maycomb. A decent man, Mr. Tate is the county sheriff and plays a significant role in the narrative of To Kill a Mockingbird.

A tall and slender man of almost forty-three years of age, Sheriff Tate is a lifelong resident of Maycomb county. He first appears in Chapter 10 in response to the call about the rabid dog in Atticus Finch's neighborhood. When he and Atticus step out of the squad car, Atticus tells the sheriff, "He's within range, Heck." But Mr. Tate tosses the rifle to Atticus, knowing that Atticus is the better shot. After Atticus hits the dog accurately, Sheriff Tate smiles. He tells Atticus that he will call Zeebo, the garbage collector, to come and pick up the dead dog.

Later in the narrative, Sheriff Tate plays an important role. At Tom's trial, Heck Tate's testimony assists Atticus's defense for Tom, since his account of Mayella's purported rape confirms that Tom could not have choked Mayella. Tom has only one useful hand, his right hand. Sheriff Tate describes bruises on both sides of Mayella's neck, as well as a black eye on the right side of her face, a hit that a person would make with his left hand. But Tom's left hand is useless. As she listens, Scout observes,

If her [Mayella's] right eye was blacked and she was beaten mostly on the right side of the face, it would tend to show that a left-handed person did it. (Ch. 17)

Sheriff Tate plays a vital role in the conclusion to the terrible events following the attack upon Scout and Jem by the reprehensible Bob Ewell. When Atticus thinks that Jem has killed Bob Ewell, Tate—determined to protect Bob's killer—insists, "Bob Ewell fell on his knife. I can prove it." (Ch. 30)

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Heck Tate is the sheriff of Maycomb County. He is an old friend of Atticus Finch--Atticus calls him "Heck," but the sheriff shows Atticus his utmost respect by calling him "Mr. Finch." Scout describes him as having a long nose and being as "tall as Atticus but thinner." He wears a belt full of bullets and carries a rifle, but he apparently does not consider himself a better shot than Atticus, since Heck willingly turns the weapon over to him when it comes time to take out ol' Tim Johnson. Sheriff Tate plays a bigger role in the later chapters, but I won't spoil the story for you by revealing how.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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