Why does it seem like Atticus really wants Jem to suffer the consequences if he killed Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird?
Following Bob Ewell's attack on the Finch children, Atticus displays one of his rare moments of uncertainty. At one point, he seems to believe that Jem may have stabbed Bob Ewell instead of Boo Radley. Atticus ponders what it will be like if Jem has to testify; naturally, Atticus' deep-rooted honesty will not allow him to consider other options. But, Sheriff Tate sets him straight.
"Mr. Finch, do you think Jem killed Bob Ewell? Do you think that?"
"You heard what Scout said, there's no doub about it. She said Jem got up and yanked him off her--he probably got hold of Ewell's knife somehow in the dark... we'll find out tomorrow."
"Mis-ter Finch, hold on," said Mr. Tate. Jem never stabbed Bob Ewell."
Atticus thanks Heck for his "good heart," but refuses to allow the Sheriff to start "hushing this up." Tate promises that "Nobody's gonna hush anything up."
It finally becomes clear that it is actually Boo Radley who stabs Bob Ewell, but the author never clarifies why and if Atticus plans to allow Jem to take the blame. Does Atticus really believe Jem killed Bob? Does he finally realize that Boo used the knife? Or is he simply willing to let Jem take the blame so Boo does not have to publicly appear for the trial? In the end, Sheriff Tate does "hush up" the killing by officially declaring that "Bob Ewell fell on his knife." But it is also clear that Atticus was prepared to allow Jem to accept the blame for what would have been a very clear case of self defense.