Why are the Ewells treated differently than other people in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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schulzie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee makes a clear distinction between the Cunninghams and the Ewells. Both of them are poor, but Scout tells her first grade teacher that everyone around there knows,

"The Cunninghams never took anything they can't pay back --no church baskets and no scrip stamps.  They never took anything off of anybody, they get along on what they have.  They don't have much, but they get along on it."

The Ewells, on the other hand, have been on welfare for three generations. They go to school for the first day and then never return for the rest of the year.  Burris is in first grade for the third time.  When he leaves this year, he yells out

"Ain't no snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher ever born c'n make me do nothin'!" (pg 28)

Even Atticus, who is one of the most tolerant people in the South at the time of this novel,  separates the Ewells from the rest of society. He tells Scout that they have been a disgrace to Maycomb for three generations.

"None of them have done an honest day's work in his recollection." (pg 30)

He told Scout that one day when he was taking the Christmas tree to the dump, he would show her where and how they lived.

"They were people but they lived like animals." (pg 30)

Atticus tells her that laws are bent for people like the Ewell's.  Mr. Ewell was permitted to hunt and trap out of season.  When Scout argues that it was against the law to do tha --a very wise observation for a seven year old--Atticus tells her,

"....when a man spends his relief checks on green whiskey, his children have a way of crying from hunger pains.  I don't know of any landowner around here who begrudges those children any game their father can hit." (pg 31)

When Jem is explaining about the different kind of people who live in Maycomb, he differentiates between the Cunninghams and the Ewells.  He puts the Ewells second to last, just one step above the Negroes.  The Ewells

  "....lived as guests of the county in prosperity as well as in the depths of a drepression." (pg 170)

The truant officers could not keep the Ewell children in school and the county health officer could not cure them of the diseases they contracted living in a dump, such as hookworm. They were filthy, lived at the dump, and searched the dump for treasures every day. They would bring items back from the dump and place it in their yard. It

"....made the plot of land around the cabin look like the playhouse of an insane child....." (170)

When the trial was over, Mr. Ewell had been embarrassed by Atticus, and he attacks Atticus and spits in his face.

So, the Ewells are uneducated, filthy, foul-mouthed, disease-carrying people who live off of everyone else's tax dollars. They are not respected and are considered a blight on the society.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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