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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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How does Mr. Ewell behave on the witness stand in Chapter 17 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Bob Ewell displays the arrogance, ignorance and untrustworthiness that is to be expected of the man who is the head of the family that has been "the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations." Scout notes that he "shows no resemblance to his namesake," the legendary Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Instead, he appears as a "little bantam cock of a man... [who] strutted to the stand, the back of his neck reddening at the sound of his name." Freshly bathed--a rarity for any of the Ewells--Bob immediately insults prosecutor Horace Gilmer before making a crude remark about whether he may not have been the father of his daughter, Mayella. Warned to behave himself by Judge Taylor, Bob soon turns the once "serene" courtroom into chaos by pointing at Tom Robinson and claiming that

"--I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin' on my Mayella."  (Chapter 17)

As Judge Taylor attempted to restore order to his courtroom, Bob sat

... smugly in the witness chair, surveying his handiwork.  (Chapter 17)

Bob reminded Scout "of a deaf-mute," but his "smugness" soon disappeared after Atticus began his questioning. Feigning a look of "dogged earnestness," Bob "fooled Judge Taylor not at all." Bob seemed not to understand many of Atticus's questions, but he soon "seemed to have forgotten his previous humiliation..." But Atticus had a few more embarrassing questions up his sleeve, and Bob does not react well to the queries about whether he can "read and write" and if he is "left-handed." Bob becomes angry when he is asked if he is "ambidextrous," responding that

     "I most positively am not. I can use one hand good as the other."  (Chapter 17)

Jem was probably not the only person to laugh at Bob's unwitting malapropism. Bob fails to understand the importance of being left-handed, and his crudity, general ignorance and confusing testimony should have signalled to the jury that he was a man who could not be trusted.

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