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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Why is it ironic when Mr. Ewell claims black people "devalue" his property in chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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During Bob Ewell's testimony, he refers to the area surrounding his property as a "nigger-nest" and says that he's been complaining to authorities for fifteen years to clean up that quarter close to his home. He also mentions that it is dangerous living in such close proximity to black folks and claims that their households are "devaluin’" his property. It is ironic that Bob Ewell would say that the black citizens' homes are devaluing his property, because his cabin is in much worse condition than the homes of his black neighbors. Scout mentions that the Ewells' yard is littered with trash and broken objects everywhere. Their home is also an eyesore, and the Ewell family does absolutely nothing to take care of their property. If it were not for the racist, segregated society of the times, the black homes would actually raise the value of the Ewell's property, which is why Bob's comment is ironic.

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Mr. Ewell is the epitome of "poor white trash," and his family lives in what amounts to a junkyard:

"Maycomb's Ewells lived behind the town garbage dump in what was once a Negro cabin....Its windows were merely open spaces in the walls, which in the summertime were covered with greasy strips of cheesecloth to keep out the varmints that feasted on Maycomb's refuse." 

If he cared so much about the value of his property, he would take some pride in it and clean it up.  The close proximity of the black people in the neighborhood has nothing to do with the poor value of his house and land. Had prejudice not been so rampant at this time and place in history, people could have recognized that the presence of the black neighborhood - better cared for than the Ewell's place - actually improved the property values.

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