Why does Atticus believe Bob Ewell's threats are harmless?

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engcor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Bob Ewell threatens Atticus for humiliating him during the trial.  We learn that “Mr. Bob Ewell stopped Atticus on the post office corner, spat in his face, and told him he’d get him if it took the rest of his life” (Lee).  Atticus said “We don’t have anything to fear from Bob Ewell, he got it all out of his system that morning” (Lee).  The other characters do not seem to understand his viewpoint, so he explains:

“Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that houseful of children out there.” (Lee)

Atticus seems to be under the impression that Bob Ewell only needed to save face and uphold his public image, which wasn’t that great to begin with.  Atticus tells Jem that the mere act of spitting on him and issuing a verbal threat was enough to defuse the anger contained within the man.  He further explains that Bob would have taken his anger out on his family if not for the incident, but Bob probably took it out on his family as well.

However, I don’t believe that Atticus actually believes Bob Ewell is going to let it go.  Throughout the story we hear about the Ewells, specifically how they consider themselves to be outside of the law.  They were allowed to hunt and trap out of season because Bob spent his relief checks on alcohol, disregarding his children’s basic necessities.  I believe that Atticus knew the threat was valid, and was attempting to spare the children the anxiety he was feeling.  Of course, it turns out that the threats were valid.  Atticus is too intelligent and analytical to believe that a man like Bob Ewell is going to let spitting on him be the end of it.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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